Wax Seals & Stamps
Anne Lister was a dedicated letter writer as were many of her friends.
Since the Middle Ages, sealing wax has been used as a closure with parchment and paper, applied directly to documents or attached as a pendant. This wax, applied directly to documents or affixed as a pendant, isn't reasily removed without visibly displaying evidence of tampering. As a consequence, it served as a dependable means to fasten correspondence and safeguard important papers from prying eyes between the time of having been sealed by the author until their eventual delivery to the intended recipient.
Frequently, the stamps used to make an impression in the wax seal bore an engraved motif connecting the seal with its rightful owner. Therefore these seals not only fulfilled the function of validating documents but also acted as a deterrent against forgery attempts. It was customary for people to use stamps bearing their initials, coat of arms, or other significant emblems as their personal mark on the sealing wax.
Throughout her lifetime, Anne acquired and gifted many stamps that were used in diverse items of correspondence, each finding purpose in diverse forms of correspondence, ranging from official business matters to intimate letters exchanged among her extensive network of friends. She meticulously chronicled the intricate processes involved in handpicking suitable mottos and selecting materials for the carving of these stamps within the pages of her journal.
Among the repertoire of stamps owned by Anne, several notable examples stand out. One such stamp boasted the esteemed Lister coat of arms, while another portrayed a new moon rising over the sea with the words "Si je te perds, je suis perdu", (If I lose you, I am lost), among otheres. Additionally, Anne treasured one of the oldest stamps among her personal collection, a cherished gift bestowed upon her by her mother, Rebecca Lister. This particular stamp portrayed a scene of a devoted pelican, diligently nourishing its fledglings.
Examples of custom stamps Anne commissioned for others as heartfelt gifts include a seal depicting a delicate violet flower nestled amidst a tuft of grass, accentuated by the motto "Il faut me chercher" (I must be sought) cut into an amethyst surface—a testament to her affection for Sibbella Maclean. Another emerged in the form of a bloodstone carving, exhibiting the bold inscription "Foi est tout" (Faith is everything) in block letters upon a scroll, thoughtfully crafted as a present for Ann Walker.
The process of affixing wax seals entailed the heating of wax sticks through the use of candles or lamps, allowing the wax to either drip or be skillfully applied onto the paper. Subsequently, a stamp would be employed to imprint an impression into the wax while still soft and pliable.
Different classes of seals were utilized for various purposes, ranging from royal and civic to private use. These seals displayed a diverse array of shapes, sizes, and colors, occasionally corresponding to the nature of the accompanying document. Notably, historical records and Anne's journal contain instances where black wax and black-edged paper were employed during periods of mourning. In some cases, this was noted as an extension or acknowledgment of the grief experienced by the recipient.
Photos by Shantel Smith, source: West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/897)
The potential hazards associated with employing an open flame in close proximity to delicate paper and parchment prompted the adoption of adhesive paper, commonly known as wafer seals, during the 19th century. These seals were crafted from wheat flour, meticulously transformed into a thin, smooth paste which, once heated and solidified, assumed the characteristics of a sticker-like adhesive. Although lacking the visually appealing aesthetics synonymous with wax seals, wafer seals provided a cost-effective solution by reducing the burden of postage fees attributable to the weight of a letter. This advantageous aspect contributed to their widespread popularity, particularly in the city of Paris.
It's worth noting that while Anne Lister displayed consistency and recorded the profound significance she assigned to factors such as paper selection, wax color, and seal choice, the same level of conscientiousness was not uniformly observed by all her correspondents.
There are examples that suggest Ann Walker, on more than one occasion, resorted to utilizing readily available seals for the sake of convenience. During her time in Scotland in 1833, Ann Walker affixed some of her letters with the seal belonging to Captain George Mackay Sutherland, which bore his coat of arms alongside a depiction of a cat and the clan's motto "Sans Peur" (Without Fear). Subsequently, while residing at Shibden Hall, she frequently dispatched letters employing certain seals belonging to Anne Lister, despite possessing many of her own.
Seals and stamps, from Anne Lister and her correspondents
Anne Lister's correspondence reveals a a rich and diverse variety of wax seals and stamps, each possessing the ability to unveil a fragment of their respective owners' personal histories. This spreadsheet is a collaborative effort to compile as many descriptions of the known seals used by Anne Lister and her correspondents as possible.
To view all the rows in the spreadsheet, click the 'Open Spreadsheet' button in the top right corner of the sheet.
This project is made possible through ongoing contributions from the following people:
Kathryn WilliamsLivía Labate
How to contribute to this project
Request access to edit the spreadsheet. Please include an email address that is associated with a Google account (this is the only requirement to participating in this project). If you don't have one, here's how to do it.
You will receive an email confirming you have editorial access.
Once granted access, you can add a new item to the list, organized by date.
Locate the correct volume and click the (+) to expand the rows.
Add your row to the appropriate place in the list.
Tip: Don't worry about completing each column for your entry. Add the information you have and hopefully others will have more information to contribute.
All information in this spreadsheet is in English, but please preserve the names of the people as written by Anne Lister and others.
Anyone can help research and add additional information for each references in this spreadsheet.