What are intaglio seals?

Welcome to the world of Seal & Scribe! We are a line of fine jewelry that is centered at the intersection of antique intaglio seals and precious adornment. Not sure what intaglio seals are? You've come to the right place!

Intaglio seals have been around since at least Egyptian times, and became extremely popular in the 1700's and 1800's. Ultimately, an intaglio seal is a 'stamp' of sorts that is used to secure all types of hand-written communication. The letter is either scrolled up - as in ancient Egyptian and Roman times - and hot wax is melted on the edge of the scroll or paper, to secure it from prying eyes. The stamp  was used to denote from whom, or from where the communication was coming from. Stamps are written backwards on the seal, so that when they are stamped into the hot wax, the imprint remaining is written forwards and can be read by the recipient. So, for example, if the Emperor of Rome wanted to communicate with someone, he would have his own seal with his emblem or monogram (also known as a cipher) on it, so that anyone who handled the document would know that this was a very important piece of communication from the Emperor himself.

Seals were quite popular in Georgian and Victorian times, when the art of handwritten correspondence was at its best and most prevalent. The Georgian Era (1714 - 1837) is a period of British history spanning the reigns of the first four Hanoverian kings of Britain, all of whom were named George; whilst the Victorian era (1837 - 1901) denotes the reign of Queen Victoria. During these two eras, communication between and among the royal and higher classes became more common, and indeed even among the middle and lower classes who could read, letters of communication became more commonplace. As a result, seals were in high use during this time, and most often were created to be used either as a desk seal - a larger seal that literally sat upon one's desk to be used only at home - or set within fobs that were hung as ballast on the other end of pocket watches, which were quite fashionable in Georgian and Victorian life. Some desk and fob seals were set in luxurious high carat gold, silver and sometimes encrusted with a myriad of semiprecious gemstones, whilst the middle and lower classes had fobs set in 'pot metal', which was just simple non-precious base metals that sometimes were dipped in copper or brass to make them look more fancy and appealing.

In addition to owning one's own seal, there were many who were too poor to own such luxuries even in base metal fobs, as well as those who were illiterate and could not read nor write, but who might like to correspond with loved ones far away. In such cases, these people would go to their local scribe, to whom they would dictate their letter, and the scribe would write it out for them. Then they would select a seal to use to affix the envelope as the scribe would often have a selection of seals that their clients could choose from. These types of seals usually carried cheeky, sage, or sentimental messages as an added bonus message from the sender.

Today, we still see the use of seals in British royal documents, and the use of stamps and wax seals is still a common thing for children to do when sending letters home from summer camp, or as a decorative touch to wedding invitations. Alas, with all the modern electronic trappings we have nowadays for communicating with one another, we seldom use intaglio seals for their intended purpose, and this is why we chose to celebrate these tiny artistic delights, each like a tiny etching in need of a new frame!

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