Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Letters & Seals

As Clarissa considered her own letter writing to be a form of "compact", it is interesting how letter writing itself in the eighteenth century had issues with identity and tampering. Seals were not only attached to envelopes, but the pages themselves. According to the Wikipedia article on "Seal (device)," the process was complicated by the addition of cords and knots to the wax. Also below is an image of a seventeenth century seal. I am currently looking for more images to add to the blog.

"The use of seals, in wax, in lacquer or embossed on paper, to authenticate documents, is a practice as old as writing itself. Seals of this nature were applied directly to the face of the document or attached to the document by cords in the owner's, or to a narrow strip of the document sliced and folded down as a tail but not detached from the document. This helped maintain authenticity by not allowing the reuse of the seal. If a forger tried to remove the seal in the first case, it would break. In the other cases, although the forger could remove the seal intact by ripping the cords from the paper, he'd still have to separate the cords to attach it to another document, which would destroy the seal as well because the cords had knots tied in them inside the wax seal. Most governments still attach seals toletters patent. While many instruments required seals for validity (i.e. the deed or covenant) it is rather uncommon for private citizens to use seals anymore."

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