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'The time has come,' the Walrus said,
'To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings.'
- The Walrus and The Carpenter, Lewis Carroll.

Having already written about shoes, ships, cabbages and kings, we felt obliged to pen a story about sealing-wax. This is it.

You rarely see a wax-sealed letter these days, but you may spot wax seals on professional certificates proudly displayed in doctors' and dentists' waiting rooms. Whether it is in the waiting room of a dentist South Jersey or a doctor South Jersey, doctors and dentists legally have to display their degrees and certifications. And they're sometimes used to decorate formal wedding invitations.

An unusual website, Medieval Mayhem, in Lake Ronkonkoma, Long Island, New York, says: "The use of wax seals for officiating and securing correspondence can be traced to the origins of the written word."

In 1215, England's King John affixed a large wax seal to indicate he accepted Magna Carta, the document which founded British and American freedom. Historians believe John was illiterate, so could not sign his name. Queen Elizabeth II became the only monarch to sign the charter, in a ceremony at Runnymede in 1965.

The Edinburgh (Scotland) firm Waterstons has been making sealing-wax since 1752. It says:

Times may have changed, but nothing can add a touch of elegance and traditional charm to your gifts and correspondence like a well crafted seal. Still made using age old handcrafted techniques, our wax uses only natural products.

Sealing is an age-old tradition. Initially used to safeguard correspondence from tampering. Sealing is now used as a way to decorate and personalise gifts and stationery. Our range includes single initial seals, many designs from fleur de lys to wedding bells and the monogram seal which can be personalised with up to 3 initials.

I recall watching my father, in the1920s, gingerly melting a stick of red wax about the size of a lipstick over a lighted candle, until the hot wax dripped on to the back of a sealed envelope. He would then press his signet ring on it, leaving a clear impression of his initials.

He may well have been following these instructions which a US website, Pendemonium , says were found in a boxed set of wax seals from the early 1900s:

The Art of Sealing a Letter

Do not begin by thrusting the end of the wax into the flame and conveying it in a flaming spatter to your envelope. Take plenty of time and hold the wax above the flame of the candle, but not near enough to burn; a burnt wax makes a streaky seal and is hard to manage. When the wax has gradually softened, apply it with a circular movement upon the place to be sealed, rub it around and down until you have a circle of proper size and thickness and apply the seal. The result should be a clear-cut impression.

Pendemonium is a full time writing equipment shop owned by Sam and Frank Fiorella in Fort Madison, Iowa. Its website says "We are one of just a handful of full time writing equipment dealers in the world."

It advertises a 21st century update of time-honoured sealing-wax:

Faux sealing wax is all the rage! Flexible seals can survive mailing far better than old fashioned sealing wax, so if the seal must go on the outside of an envelope, this wax is the one to use. Plus it's simple to use, no flame involved. Just pop a stick in your mini glue gun and squeeze out 6-10 seals per stick.

Beautiful colors and perfect for seals on Holiday Cards, Anniversary Announcements, Bridal Shower and Wedding Invitations, Birthday Cards, Gift Wrapping, Paper Embellishments and just about anything else you want to add a little touch of class to.

FOOTNOTE. Back in WWII, soldiers and their girlfriends/lovers/wives often sealed their letters not with wax, but by writing SWALK on the back of their envelopes... an acronym for Sealed With A Loving Kiss.



Story first posted January 2005

Copyright 2005

Eric Shackle

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