Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Historic questions, thoughts and other interesting stuff

Moderator: Moderators

BinkyCat
Posts: 5
Joined: Tue Aug 28, 2012 4:42 pm

Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby BinkyCat » Tue Aug 28, 2012 4:53 pm

Hi all,

I'm new to the forum and having started a year ago am relatively new to reenactment too. I reenact the Wars of the Roses period and I have a bit of a closet obsession with wax seals. I have a large collection and use them all the time at home but am wanting to set up my own LH display. Tons and tons of information online, but the one thing I haven't been able to find is exatly how medieval people would have used the seals - by which I mean the personal seals, rather than the large official document seals.

- Did they chip off chunks of wax into a spoon-type-thing and melt it over a flame? Or did they have wicked sticks of wax as we do today? (I'm planning on making my own sealing wax (or at least trying to! :? ) and I'm going to have a go at making wicked sticks of wax)

- Who would have made the sealing wax? Would people have made their own, or did the chandlers perhaps make it, or was it a job in its own right?

- Likewise, who made the actual seals?

I'd be really grateful if anyone could help me out with these questions, or at least point me in the right direction as to where to look. I'm hoping to make a research trip to London over the winter season, but it was suggested I put the questions out on here too.

Thanks!

BinkyCat



Langley
Post Centurion
Posts: 763
Joined: Thu Aug 14, 2008 1:36 pm
Location: West Midlands

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby Langley » Thu Aug 30, 2012 11:02 am

Have a look at the Scriptorium and contact the webmaster who I am sure will be able to help. "Melles" who runs it is a master scrivener and very knowledeable. http://thescriptorium.co.uk



User avatar
gregory23b
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2923
Joined: Sun Jul 17, 2005 9:46 pm
Location: Gyppeswyk, Suffolk

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby gregory23b » Thu Aug 30, 2012 11:25 am

They did not have wicks, the recipe for true sealing wax exists, it is in essence beeswax and rosin 2:1 slowly cooked until they melt together.

You do see what appear to be rolled or formed sticks of wax, but save yourself the bother of a wick, that would only melt the wax to a liquid and that is totally useless unless you want waterproof paper.

You can soften sealing wax in your hand on hot days or use warm water on cold ones. For very large seals of state they used moulds and cast them.

The wick wax we often see at events is not even wax, it is shellac and limestone plus a colouring and comes into use in the 17th century.

Sealing wax is dead easy to make, follow the above recipe and add powdered pigment - synthetic vermilion for red, lamp black for black etc, or without pigment.

Not a specific job as the recipes are contained in a number of treatises.

You can just as easily use pure beesewax.


middle english dictionary

Isabela on G23b "...somehow more approachable in real life"

http://medievalcolours.blogspot.com

"I know my place." Alice the Huswyf

User avatar
sally
Post Knight
Posts: 1805
Joined: Mon Jul 18, 2005 2:31 pm
Location: Sunny Wales
Contact:

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby sally » Thu Aug 30, 2012 11:38 am

I found when I made it that it took ages to get the wax and the resin to combine together, may have been something to do with my resin source it was some pine resin I harvested years ago so possibly not as pure as the bought stuff. Anyway, perservere, and it all comes right in the end. I did mine black with a bit of lampblack added to colour



guthrie
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2347
Joined: Sun Aug 14, 2005 8:54 pm
Location: Polmont-Edinburgh

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby guthrie » Tue Sep 04, 2012 2:49 pm

I made some at the weekend. Proportions were very rough, using Gregory23b's recipe, but it stayed sticky for quite a while but eventually was not. Best to grind the rosin and cut the beeswax up small so it all combines and melts together better. Took up to half an hour with regular stirring to be sure of making it properly.
I just need to get some pigments for it, still not sure what to get from Cornellissens.



User avatar
gregory23b
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2923
Joined: Sun Jul 17, 2005 9:46 pm
Location: Gyppeswyk, Suffolk

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby gregory23b » Tue Sep 04, 2012 7:03 pm

Guthers my lord.

Lamp black
Synthetic vermillion

a little goes a long way.


Yours


middle english dictionary

Isabela on G23b "...somehow more approachable in real life"

http://medievalcolours.blogspot.com

"I know my place." Alice the Huswyf

BinkyCat
Posts: 5
Joined: Tue Aug 28, 2012 4:42 pm

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby BinkyCat » Wed Sep 05, 2012 6:22 pm

Thanks so much all. My rosin supplies have arrived and the beeswax is good to go. This weekend's project will be mixing them together!

You mention that using a wick would turn the wax to liquid... I'm a bit ignorant here but I use a lot of the modern wax sticks as you described and am used to actually melting the wax onto the page and then imprinting the matrix into that.

Should the homemade wax just be warmed up and pressed onto the page then? Would you bother using a matrix with it?

Does this kind of sealing wax dry brittle as modern ones tend to do?



guthrie
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2347
Joined: Sun Aug 14, 2005 8:54 pm
Location: Polmont-Edinburgh

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby guthrie » Wed Sep 05, 2012 7:57 pm

BinkyCat wrote:Thanks so much all. My rosin supplies have arrived and the beeswax is good to go. This weekend's project will be mixing them together!

You mention that using a wick would turn the wax to liquid... I'm a bit ignorant here but I use a lot of the modern wax sticks as you described and am used to actually melting the wax onto the page and then imprinting the matrix into that.

Should the homemade wax just be warmed up and pressed onto the page then? Would you bother using a matrix with it?

Does this kind of sealing wax dry brittle as modern ones tend to do?

No, it doesn't dry brittle, I wouldn't say dry either, just harden.



User avatar
gregory23b
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2923
Joined: Sun Jul 17, 2005 9:46 pm
Location: Gyppeswyk, Suffolk

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby gregory23b » Thu Sep 06, 2012 8:57 pm

Items to have ready:

Heat source
Pot for wax melting
pigments - very little
Flat board or baking tray covered in baking foil, ensure you have a lip around the edge


As High Lord Guthrie rightly says, make sure the rosin is ground to sandy texture, do this with a mask on as the rosiin particles are hazardous to lungs.

Have the wax broken into small pieces, try freezing it and whacking with a hammer (within a plastic bag)

Ideally you should use a baine marie, but I make mine simply by being sensible with a gas hob.

Heat the wax slowly until it melts, then slowly add the powdered rosin, allowing each bit to dissolve completely, you will need a stick to stir it, once the stick no longer has a string of melted rosin you know it has combined, repeat until the mix is complete.

Add less pigment than you think you will need, many seals retain their translucency, as I am sure you know. You can always reheat the mixture later if you want to add more pigment. Use a mask when adding the pigment, they should disperse easily enough.

I would allow the mixture to cool of slightly for say ten minutes or so stirring it regularly, this makes it easier to set on the baking tray and keeps the pigment in suspension (it can settle out if the wax is kept liquid for too long).

Pour steadily the wax mix into the centre of the foil lined tray/board, allow to settle by itself.

When it is almost set you can slowly peel it off the foil.

Cut it into rectangles the desired length and then roll them between your hands, job done.

When you need to seal something, break off a bit, say half an inch, soften it and put it into your seal tab or slit etc then impress with your matrix (I lick mine beforehand).
It must be soft enough to bond with your paper/parchment otherwise it falls off too easily, it is as much to do with how you attach the seal as the wax itself.

SImples.

Let us know how you get on.


middle english dictionary

Isabela on G23b "...somehow more approachable in real life"

http://medievalcolours.blogspot.com

"I know my place." Alice the Huswyf

guthrie
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2347
Joined: Sun Aug 14, 2005 8:54 pm
Location: Polmont-Edinburgh

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby guthrie » Thu Sep 06, 2012 9:04 pm

No melting at all? My mix of wax and rosin needs to at least be warmed before it'll do anything, otherwise it is too solid.

Rosin can be broke between two pieces of wood or metal or whatever, or use a mortar and pestle. I made my mixture in a small ceramic pot in front of a fire, just had to judge the right distance to get the temperature high enough to melt but not so high as to vapourise everything. An electric hob would be fine, and you could use a glass jar.
I had to add more pigment, more than I thought I would need.



User avatar
gregory23b
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2923
Joined: Sun Jul 17, 2005 9:46 pm
Location: Gyppeswyk, Suffolk

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby gregory23b » Fri Sep 07, 2012 5:51 pm

You live in Scotland and are a cold blooded scientist, so you have little natural warmth to mould the wax.

If my wax is cold I put it in warm water, it should not be liquid but pliable like putty, that way you can thread it in the seal tabs etc. A lot of seals have fingerprint and deeper impressions showing how they were formed and put into place.


middle english dictionary

Isabela on G23b "...somehow more approachable in real life"

http://medievalcolours.blogspot.com

"I know my place." Alice the Huswyf

guthrie
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2347
Joined: Sun Aug 14, 2005 8:54 pm
Location: Polmont-Edinburgh

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby guthrie » Fri Sep 07, 2012 10:55 pm

Ah, you've seen lots of real ones. I need to see some myself, but the fingerprints etc are fairly conclusive.

My list of things re-enactors should know is so huge by now that we need a book.



User avatar
gregory23b
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2923
Joined: Sun Jul 17, 2005 9:46 pm
Location: Gyppeswyk, Suffolk

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby gregory23b » Sat Sep 08, 2012 6:00 pm

I would not lie and say 'lots', but the ones that I have seen and the ones that are well displayed on line, plus a chat with a former sigil conservator from the NA points me 'generally' to hand form them, I stress that is for the informal letters and letter closures. For larger sealing that would be a different matter. I have a late medieval paper letter wrap, this has the residue of a wax seal about an inch or so across with the cross pattern of the string that held it together, the paper is stained but not deep enough to make the paper waxy, but must have been soft enough to bond with the fibres to hold the lot together.

Make sure you have a stock of good quality paper to play with, the Griffen Mill Old Cleeve is a great replica medieval paper and takes a seal really well.

Yours in service Oh Guthers.


middle english dictionary

Isabela on G23b "...somehow more approachable in real life"

http://medievalcolours.blogspot.com

"I know my place." Alice the Huswyf

BinkyCat
Posts: 5
Joined: Tue Aug 28, 2012 4:42 pm

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby BinkyCat » Sat Sep 08, 2012 9:36 pm

Today was the day and I am now the proud owner of 9 sticks of homemade sealing wax. Thanks for everyone for the help, it was good fun to do. I had a bit of trouble rolling the wax into sticks first time around (think I tried to do it too soon) so had to remelt all the broken bits and start again. I also found that the foil fractured and stuck to the wax in places which was a pain. Next time will try baking paper.
Where pigment is concerned less is definately more! I only put a teaspoon in (thinking I would need a ton) and have some very bold coloured wax, which I don't dislike but I will use less next time.

Thanks again - big success!



BinkyCat
Posts: 5
Joined: Tue Aug 28, 2012 4:42 pm

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby BinkyCat » Sat Sep 08, 2012 9:37 pm

I was also surprised how many sticks I got out of using quite a little of the ingredients!



User avatar
gregory23b
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2923
Joined: Sun Jul 17, 2005 9:46 pm
Location: Gyppeswyk, Suffolk

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby gregory23b » Sat Sep 08, 2012 10:57 pm

To say I have a lot of it, is an understatement ;-)


middle english dictionary

Isabela on G23b "...somehow more approachable in real life"

http://medievalcolours.blogspot.com

"I know my place." Alice the Huswyf

guthrie
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2347
Joined: Sun Aug 14, 2005 8:54 pm
Location: Polmont-Edinburgh

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby guthrie » Sun Sep 09, 2012 12:23 am

'Tis good that it worked. I have been pouring the wax into a rolled up tube of very thin brass, held rolled up by masking tape. This then unrolls and the wax virtually falls out. Of course you need a nice flat surface to put the tube onto so the wax doesn't all run out the bottom.



BinkyCat
Posts: 5
Joined: Tue Aug 28, 2012 4:42 pm

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby BinkyCat » Sun Sep 09, 2012 11:50 am

guthrie wrote:'Tis good that it worked. I have been pouring the wax into a rolled up tube of very thin brass, held rolled up by masking tape. This then unrolls and the wax virtually falls out. Of course you need a nice flat surface to put the tube onto so the wax doesn't all run out the bottom.


Nice idea, thanks, I might give that a go next time too. Might save on the breakages and remelting!



User avatar
gregory23b
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2923
Joined: Sun Jul 17, 2005 9:46 pm
Location: Gyppeswyk, Suffolk

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby gregory23b » Sun Sep 09, 2012 11:54 am

I just roll them by hand when they are part set, lifted from the greaseproof/foil.


middle english dictionary

Isabela on G23b "...somehow more approachable in real life"

http://medievalcolours.blogspot.com

"I know my place." Alice the Huswyf

guthrie
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2347
Joined: Sun Aug 14, 2005 8:54 pm
Location: Polmont-Edinburgh

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby guthrie » Wed Sep 12, 2012 6:54 pm

Of course I forgot to demand from Gregory where he got the recipe from. There's no mention of sealing wax in the index of the goodman of paris, but that's about the only 'household' book I have in my library at the moment.



User avatar
gregory23b
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2923
Joined: Sun Jul 17, 2005 9:46 pm
Location: Gyppeswyk, Suffolk

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby gregory23b » Fri Sep 14, 2012 7:33 pm

i shall try and track down the sources, i sub resin turps with rosin.


middle english dictionary

Isabela on G23b "...somehow more approachable in real life"

http://medievalcolours.blogspot.com

"I know my place." Alice the Huswyf

guthrie
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2347
Joined: Sun Aug 14, 2005 8:54 pm
Location: Polmont-Edinburgh

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby guthrie » Fri Sep 14, 2012 9:09 pm

Certainly later recipes seem to involve shellac and turps, and one website claimed that there was a specific fir tree type of greenish rosin they used with beeswax, but I am sure that they would have easily used whatever came to hand if it worked and gave a similar result.



User avatar
Tod
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2882
Joined: Wed Aug 17, 2005 11:25 am
Location: A small part of Scotland hidden in middle England
Contact:

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby Tod » Fri Sep 28, 2012 10:52 am

Yet another totally inspiring discussion from those that know. :D



User avatar
Medicus Matt
Post Knight
Posts: 1470
Joined: Mon Jul 18, 2005 1:16 pm
Location: Zummerzet
Contact:

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby Medicus Matt » Fri Sep 28, 2012 11:17 am

There's an interesting recipie in the Mappae for making gold sealing wax that doesn't use any wax at all:-
gold wax.JPG


Red lead, arsenic sulphide and a caustic soda....nice.


"I never said that I was here to help."

User avatar
gregory23b
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2923
Joined: Sun Jul 17, 2005 9:46 pm
Location: Gyppeswyk, Suffolk

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby gregory23b » Sun Sep 30, 2012 12:24 pm

There are melted sulphur seals on medieval documents too.


middle english dictionary

Isabela on G23b "...somehow more approachable in real life"

http://medievalcolours.blogspot.com

"I know my place." Alice the Huswyf

guthrie
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2347
Joined: Sun Aug 14, 2005 8:54 pm
Location: Polmont-Edinburgh

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby guthrie » Mon Jan 21, 2013 3:37 pm

The book "A Guide to British Medieval Seals" by Harvey and McGuinness states categorically that:
"Seals in medieval Britain were always impressed in beeswax, to which in the later middle ages resin was added..."

So presumably the quantity of resin would vary depending on the recipe or person doing it, but for earlier than 14/15th you should probably use just beeswax.



Mark Griffin
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 4238
Joined: Wed Jul 20, 2005 2:28 pm
Location: Wales. Only just!
Contact:

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby Mark Griffin » Sat Jan 31, 2015 3:03 pm

Am in the middle of making enough to seal 2015 documents. yes you read that right. Its many kg's of wax, many hrs grinding rosin. Even made my own verdigris for some pretty green ones. If I'm not mad by this eve I'll let you know....


http://www.griffinhistorical.com. A delicious decadent historical trifle. Thick performance jelly topped with lashings of imaginative creamy custard. You may also get a soggy event management sponge finger but it won't cost you hundreds and thousands.

guthrie
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2347
Joined: Sun Aug 14, 2005 8:54 pm
Location: Polmont-Edinburgh

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby guthrie » Mon Feb 02, 2015 10:30 pm

Mark Griffin wrote:Am in the middle of making enough to seal 2015 documents. yes you read that right. Its many kg's of wax, many hrs grinding rosin. Even made my own verdigris for some pretty green ones. If I'm not mad by this eve I'll let you know....

Ah, so you found a use for the verdigris after all. Have you ground it finely first? I made some green wax but didn't, so it's a bit messed up.
The fake mercury sulphide from Cornellisons in London makes a nice red sealing wax.



Mark Griffin
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 4238
Joined: Wed Jul 20, 2005 2:28 pm
Location: Wales. Only just!
Contact:

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby Mark Griffin » Wed Feb 04, 2015 8:34 pm

No, I just scraped my copper sheets and poured the resulting dust/crystals into the wax and it dissolved straight away no problems. Its a jolly good colour too. As Gregory said, a little went a long way.

Unfortunately i couldn't find my jar of vermillion so I rushed to my nearest art supplier with pigments and ended up with cadmium. Wrong but I was a bit happier H&S wise and again, nice colour. I have BLOODY TONS of both colours left.. If anyone wants to make crazy paving with sealing wax, i have a some slabs at good prices....


http://www.griffinhistorical.com. A delicious decadent historical trifle. Thick performance jelly topped with lashings of imaginative creamy custard. You may also get a soggy event management sponge finger but it won't cost you hundreds and thousands.

guthrie
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2347
Joined: Sun Aug 14, 2005 8:54 pm
Location: Polmont-Edinburgh

Re: Medieval Wax Seals - Questions!

Postby guthrie » Thu Feb 05, 2015 12:42 am

Form it into sticks and sell it online. Genuine hand made welsh sealing wax, antique, vintage.




Return to “General History”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests