Friday, 22 July 2022

Sealing wax - but not string.

My paternal grandfather kept a stick of red sealing wax in the top drawer of his desk, the desk my brother now uses.  I remember watching him seal letters with a dab of it and an impression from a brass seal. 

The letters were I suspect business letters, letters with cheques, legal documents and the like. I know that letters he wrote to his cousins in Caithness were not sealed in that way.  My grandmother never used it in my presence, indeed probably did not use it at all. I suppose they also received letters with those sort of seals although I do not recall seeing any. 

The seal my grandfather used was his personal seal, made for him no doubt by one of the many skilled craftsmen in and around the port in which he had his business. A cousin has it now. 

Occasionally my grandfather would seal a larger packet of papers as well but I cannot remember him sealing a parcel tied in string that way. Parcels simply got tied with the right sort of seafaring knots Grandpa had grown up seeing, then learning and using. Other things got tied with knots too - and the knots that Grandpa tied did not come undone until they were supposed to come undone, if at all. 

I know you could buy sealing wax at the big stationery shop in the city. That shop has long since gone. We children found it fascinating. It was also the place which supplied all the schools in the state with pencils, our old dip pens (and the boxes of nibs), boxes of crayons, coloured pencils, brown "kraft" paper and packs of both matte and shiny coloured squares of paper. There were filing cards in white, blue, green and pink, and paper pads as well as school notebooks. Even now when I go into the major stationery hub near our state showground I think back to that other and much smaller shop. 

The other attraction for us was the collection of children's books upstairs - waiting to be bought by school libraries across the state. Our parents would order the school prizes from there. The woman who ran that section knew a great deal about children's literature. She would always ha When the shop eventually closed she obtained a job with the school library service and I managed to learn even more from her.  

But the sealing wax was sold downstairs. It came in a long, flat grey box with strange marks on the outside. The strange marks of course were what I later recognised as Chinese characters...the old fashioned sort rather than the modern simplified characters. Inside the box were the long sticks of red sealing wax - Chinese red. The company which supplied them had probably been supplying stationery stores around the years ever since the British went to China...and before that. I never saw sealing wax in any other colour although I believe blue sealing wax was sometimes used on court documents. 

Now you can buy sealing wax in many colours. You can buy made to order brass seals for stamping it in many designs. It is used mostly for paper crafts. I recently ordered some and a seal like a bee to give to Middle Cat for her birthday. (It is all right she does not read this blog.) I know she will get pleasure out of making small cards from it.

Middle Cat is not old enough to remember our grandfather using the sealing wax but Brother Cat and I can remember it. We can remember watching in fascination as the wax dropped slowly on to the envelope in exactly the right spot and then our grandfather gently placing the seal in the middle of the soft wax. 

I think I need to show this to the children in the street in the summer. It might even be better fun to let them use a seal.  


Adelaide Dupont said...

What a wonderful idea to show the children in the street a seal!

I think it is in lots of art and craft shops - including the ones online.

And I wonder if some of the children know about knotcraft?

[on another blog I realised I had had no idea about what the little ones know and can do in the art and craft world].

catdownunder said...

Mmm.. knotcraft. Most of them are not quite old enough for that but I could show them a couple. I have a book here called "The year of knots" (Windy Chien) - do you know it?