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Subject: Wax seals

Wax seals

From: Chris Woods <c.s.woods>
Date: Wednesday, December 5, 2001
Kirsten Elliott <loopyla8 [at] yahoo__co__uk> writes

>I am working on a printed document from England in 1786 which has a
>red wax seal applied to one corner. Does anybody know what type or
>nature of red pigments may have been used in wax seals around this
>date? From the literature I have found it seems that it could be a
>beeswax seal or a mixture of beeswax and mineral wax, is this

Jack Thompson's very helpful reply has answered your question about
the colour in the seal (more likely to be vermillion than any
other.)  However, the premise is problematic.  Given the date, it is
unlikely to be wax.  It is most likely to be shellac, a resin.
Indeed, since you say the document is printed, it could even be a
wafer seal, but since you have described it as wax, I imagine that
this is not the case.

It is worth being specific on the point of wax or shellac.  I am
guessing that you are asking about the pigment perhaps because you
need to know how it will react with treatment?  If this is so, you
need to be aware that wax and shellac react very differently to
conservation treatments.  The most serious risk to a shellac seal is
using an alkaline buffering or deacidifying solution for treatment
to the paper.  It will soften (as most resins do in alkaline
environments) and fade quite rapidly.  Equally, damage will occur if
you apply an alcohol to it (perhaps a pre-wetting agent prior to
washing)--all resins are soluble in cold alcohols--and of course
treatment temperature should ideally be kept below about 30 degrees
C if possible.

It may be worth getting an informed identification if you are
thinking about treatment options for the seal or for the document as
a whole.  If you need any other advice on materials,  I did a fairly
lengthy paper on the wax and shellac seals in the UK Society of
Archivists Journal some years ago (vol 15, no. 2 1994), the text for
which I'd be happy email if it will be helpful.

Chris Woods
Dorset Archives Service

                  Conservation DistList Instance 15:41
                Distributed: Thursday, December 6, 2001
                       Message Id: cdl-15-41-002
Received on Wednesday, 5 December, 2001

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