Have you ever noticed that a lot of our material has red and black seals on it?
Well our fascination with the seal has been growing steadily as they have been uncovered, displaying the great variety we have found in the collection from simple to ornate, textual to pictorial and small to large. Each has its own unique charm and indeed each has its own particular function. We felt that these fascinating objects deserved their own discussion and so together they make up this month’s star finds.
What are wax seals?
The use of wax seals goes extremely far back in human history to Ancient Mesopotamia and other contemporary cultures.
Mesopotamian limestone cylinder seal and its impression - worship of Shamash
Traditionally, wax seals have been used to verify the creator’s identity, confirm a document is unopened and as decoration for a document and our collection shows all three of these uses. Originally such seals were yellow/green but in the 16th century the wax was coloured red with vermillion, which is the majority of those in our collection. However, by 1866 many other colours were available including the black seal below using lamp black, traditionally produced by collecting soot from oil lamps.
Sealing wax would have been in the form of sticks or as granules. The stick is melted at one end or the granules heated in a spoon, normally using a flame, and then placed where required. While the wax is still soft, the seal (preferably at the same temperature as the wax, for the best impression) is quickly and firmly pressed into it and released. The stamp itself, could be purpose made or a signet ring but it was usually in intaglio (cut below the flat surface) and therefore the design on the impressions made is in relief (raised above the surface).
Not only do these beauties look fantastic but you also had to play with fire to make them – no wonder they were popular!
Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s Collection
Our examples are naturally depicting company logos, which represent organisations that worked with Lloyd’s Register throughout our history. The vast majority are from chain and anchor testing companies that had to use the seals to prove certificate authenticity.
One of the most prevalent is that of the Liverpool Corporation Chain Testing Machine. This was the first public machine for testing chain cables and anchors of merchant ships. The maritime elements of the seal of Liverpool are obvious and you may also notice the Liver bird in the centre, which was Liverpool’s symbol. The liver bird is a mythical creature represented by a cormorant holding a branch of Laver in its mouth. The figures on either side are Neptune with his trident and Triton blowing a horn, both holding flags.
Liverpool's Coat of Arms on the Transport/Tramways buildings Hatton Garden, 1905
The seal below is that of Henry Wood & Co, a firm from Liverpool that supplied ship anchors and chains from 1899. The beautifully clear wax shows a 3 masted barque on the open sea, surrounded by a chain that frames the image.
The stunning calligraphy in the next wax seal belongs to Brunswick Chain Cable and Anchor Manufactory, which did exactly what it says on the tin!
The following seal belongs to Henry Persehouse Parkers and Co of Tipton Green Chain and Anchor Works, Tipton, Staffordshire established in the 1820s (one of their adverts is shown below). The depth of the wax is quite thin so the image is harder to work out than those we have already investigated, however it looks like there may be a griffin on top of a shield. Inside the shield may be some kind of anchor or perhaps even a cornucopia; our research has been able to tell us very little about the seal- if you know any further information we would be glad to hear it!
Here are employees at Netherton Iron Works in Dudley, working on the Titanic’s cables. (The company has now been acquired by N. Hingley Works)
I hope you enjoyed seeing some of the seal highlights that we have found in the archive so far. If you know anything about them or the company that they represented, we would be delighted to hear more from you! I’m sure as the project progresses more seals will present themselves!
See some more examples below.