Skip

To make thy wax, takest thou first 4 parts of shellac, and place it in a pan over a heat of the second degree.
November 19, 2010 8:43 AM   Subscribe

"On the other hand, a seal made of shellac shall also n'er serve, for that it is too intemperate and hard and will too easily break upon the lightest blow. And belike as not, it will not adhere to a paper when attached thereto, so that oftimes it would pop loose without any encouragement, and bear false witness against the messager." —The Manufacture of a Good and Faithful Sealing Wax, circa 1683.

If you're fresh out of vermillion, you can still buy ready-made sealing wax from the same company who supplied Louis XIV or cheat and use glue gun sealing wax.

Of course, you'll also need a fancy seal.
posted by usonian (31 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
When poſteſt thou upon Internets greater or leſſer, aſſure thyſelf not only of the quality of thy Poſt, for this lacking thou ſhalt be mocked by endleſs Peers; but be as well mindful the Type Face choſen; ſuch as Comick Sans, by which any Meſſage or Writ, howsoever nobly conceived and purſued, ſhall ſurely be rendered odious and like unto the writings of a demented Child.
posted by saturday_morning at 9:07 AM on November 19, 2010 [24 favorites]


Your father's still perfecting ways of making sealing wax.
posted by Sailormom at 9:09 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]



"The purposes of a sealing wax are threefold; imprimus - to seal a missive so as to protect it against unwonted investigation, secundus - to seal a missive so as to invigilate against falsification, et tertius - to give witness that the missive comes from the hand from which it purports to arise, by carrying the imprint of a greater or lesser seal."

This is all kinds of smileworthy.

But 300 hunnert years ago they used "it's" as a possessive....inconsistently?


"It must be of such a nature so that when any attempt is made to prise or cut it from it's paper that it shall fly into a thousand shards. Yet it must also be so durable so that the passage of time or the thousand little insults that might ensue unto its normal life, shall not break or mar it."

Hmph.
posted by Jezebella at 9:21 AM on November 19, 2010


If you like this kind of stuff, I recommend On Divers Arts - a sort of medieval artisan's cookbook. My favorite part? To make green pigment, put some copper in an earthen jar, then piss in the jar. Seal it up and bury for a month. Dig up the jar and scrape the green stuff off the copper!
posted by Rock Steady at 9:22 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


After reading through a few times, I'm inclined to go make some of this stuff and send random letters to unsuspecting friends, but I don't have a servant to help me with the stirring. I wonder if it will still work.

Also, "Goodly Beeswax" is the new name for both my indie rock band AND my steampunk financier dandy alter-ego.
posted by saturday_morning at 9:26 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sealing Wax is watching you manufacture.
posted by Floydd at 9:26 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


"The Manufacture of a Good and Faithful Sealing Wax"

Didn't they also try to make wives like that back then?

Also, when I was a kid listening to Puff the Magic Dragon, I thought it was "ceiling wax"
posted by mmrtnt at 9:26 AM on November 19, 2010


Thank you for this post, and thank you also to Rock Steady for suggesting a book that will teach me about pissing in jars.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:35 AM on November 19, 2010


Your father's still perfecting ways of making sealing wax.

I thought it was "perfecting wings of paint and sealing wax".

But, we've already seen my facility with lyrics...
posted by mmrtnt at 9:42 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, mmrtnt, the recipe does talk of marrying two 'opposite' substances together. So I guess one of them (the wax or the shellac) is the wife?

This is fascinating, usonian, thanks.
posted by sandraregina at 9:48 AM on November 19, 2010


It just occurred to me that little Jackie Paper wasn't bringing Puff strings and "ceiling wax".
posted by squarehead at 9:54 AM on November 19, 2010


or what mmrtnt said but more-so.
posted by squarehead at 9:54 AM on November 19, 2010


Rock Steady, that looks amazing. Just ordered a copy -- should be some great travel reading for next week.
posted by saturday_morning at 10:15 AM on November 19, 2010


This probably does come, at least in part, from a genuine 17th-Century arts, crafts and alchemy recipe book such as William Salmon's Polygraphice (there's no 1683 edition that I can find - only 1681 and 1685, but it was widely reprinted, pirated and quoted: I haven't compared the recipes closely). The more immediate source (faux-17th Century language, anachronisms such as 'colorant', 'shellac' and all) seems to be a 1994 Usenet post to an SCA newsgroup.

I realise that the number of people who care about the source of a 17th-Century sealing-wax recipe is a small subset of those who care about the recipe itself ... but this is metafilter, amiright..?
posted by GeorgeBickham at 10:22 AM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


...but this is metafilter, amiright..?

Would you like those beans plated, or would you prefer to overthink them yourself?
posted by mmrtnt at 10:44 AM on November 19, 2010


Does a good recipe also include cabbages and kings?
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:45 AM on November 19, 2010


Would you like those beans plated take things you read on trust, or would you prefer to overthink them yourself look things you are interested in up?

Why, i'faith, sirrah I do prefer the latter. Thinking, now that's too hard for my poor noggin...
posted by GeorgeBickham at 11:05 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, and I thank you Mr. GeorgeBickham for pointing out the dubious provenance of the original link!
posted by usonian at 11:55 AM on November 19, 2010


You're welcome! Now, I reckon what we really need is a history of ink post... Lemme see...
posted by GeorgeBickham at 12:05 PM on November 19, 2010


> This probably does come, at least in part, from a genuine 17th-Century arts, crafts and alchemy recipe book

I disagree, unless by "in part" you mean "using a few genuine 17th-century terms and turns of phrase." This is a modern concoction, and not particularly well done. Aside from the anachronistic "it's," there's the use of "unwonted" to mean "unwanted" (an impossible mistake before the twentieth century), "fly into a thousand shards," "the thousand little insults," "to erase any indication that," and (for chrissake) "pop loose without any encouragement"—these are all impossible for the era. It may make a fine seal, though.
posted by languagehat at 12:35 PM on November 19, 2010


Why, i'faith, sirrah I do prefer the latter.

Please forgive me my ill-conceived attempt at humor! I didn't mean to sound critical. I had just discovered the term "bean-plating" recently and thought I was being cute.

It has been a rough MetaFilter day for me - I picked the wrong time to stop smoking heroin, I guess.
posted by mmrtnt at 12:46 PM on November 19, 2010


This probably does come, at least in part, from a genuine 17th-Century arts, crafts and alchemy recipe book

I disagree, unless by "in part" you mean "using a few genuine 17th-century terms and turns of phrase."


By "in part" I meant some of the ingredients and processes, not the phrasing, which is obviously out. Some of the syntax is also very obviously anachronistic, even if you don't have access to OED [paywalled]. In short, we are in agreement.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 12:48 PM on November 19, 2010


Please forgive me my ill-conceived attempt at humor! I didn't mean to sound critical. I had just discovered the term "bean-plating" recently and thought I was being cute.

No worries!
posted by GeorgeBickham at 12:50 PM on November 19, 2010


> By "in part" I meant some of the ingredients and processes, not the phrasing, which is obviously out.

By my troth, thou art a good wight!

*gives GeorgeBickham seventeenth-century fist bump*
posted by languagehat at 1:03 PM on November 19, 2010


I'm looking forward to usonian's future posts on shoes, ships, cabbages, and kings.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:03 PM on November 19, 2010


*gives GeorgeBickham seventeenth-century fist bump*

And here's the manual for that, too.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 1:10 PM on November 19, 2010


Here's a genuine recipe for sealing-wax, from Robert Dossie's Handmaid to the Arts (1756):

Sealing-Wax is a cement formed of the resins, gum resins, or bodies of a similar nature, tinged with some pigment to give the colour desired: which cement ought to be capable of resisting moisture, and of being melted or growing soft by a gentle heat, and becoming hard and tenacious on its again growing cold.

Most of the resinous bodies, as seed and shell-lac, mastic, sandarac, gum gutta, gamboge, resin, turpentine, and bees-wax, have been applied to this purpose, and even sulphur (though improperly, from its disagreeable fumes on burning) has been added. There are two kinds of sealing-wax in use, the one hard, intended for sealing letters, and other such purposes, where only a thin body can be allowed: the other sort, designed for receiving the impressions of seals of office to charters, patents, and other such instruments of writing.

As there is with respect to the hard kind of wax a better and a more common kind in use, I will give one good recipe for each sort: but shall omit all those ingredients, which, though formerly used, produce no effect but what will be equally found in these simpler and cheaper compositions.

Composition of the best hard red sealing-wax.

Take of shell-lac, well powdered, two parts, of resin and vermilion powdered also, each one part. Mix them well together; and melt them over a gentle fire; and when the ingredients seem thoroughly incorporated, work the wax into sticks. Where shell-lac cannot be procured, seed lac may be substituted for it.


If that's not good enough for you, Dossie also gives a recipe for perfumed sealing-wax, as follows:

Take in proportion to a pound of the wax, of Benjamin half an ounce, of oil of rhodium one scruple, of musk ten grains, and of civet and ambergrise, each five grains. Powder the Benjamin, musk, civet and ambergrise together; and then rub the oil of rhodium among them: and when the wax is ready to be wrought into sticks, sprinkle in the mixture; and stir it well about, that it may equally diffuse among the wax.

'Benjamin', in case you're wondering, is benzoin, a word with an interesting history.
posted by verstegan at 1:42 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Candy maker"? CANDY MAKER? Wow, for something purporting to be a genuine English 17th century sealing wax recipe, this person did not do their research. That is one glaringly American phrase. The word 'candy' was first used to mean crystallized sugar in the 18th century, and wasn't used to mean sweets until the 19th century, and then usually only in America. FAIL!
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 2:09 PM on November 19, 2010


"Candy maker"? CANDY MAKER? Wow, for something purporting to be a genuine English 17th century sealing wax recipe, this person did not do their research. That is one glaringly American phrase. The word 'candy' was first used to mean crystallized sugar in the 18th century, and wasn't used to mean sweets until the 19th century, and then usually only in America.

That one jumped out at me, too, but it surprisingly turns out [again, thanks to the paywalled OED, to which your local college or public library might have a subscription] that 'candy' was used for crystallised sugar in England as early as 1420.

But 'Candy-maker', I agree, seems wrong.

But what we really ought to do, instead of (or rather as well as) discussing the language is to run a bake-off between the three recipes we have so far...
posted by GeorgeBickham at 2:41 AM on November 20, 2010


True Fact: most surviving seals are red or green, because the pigments in those colors are strongly cidal, thus inhibiting wax-eating molds.

True Fact: we're not sure if most seals were red or green, since most didn't survive. In fact, seal bags (bags tied around the seals, expressly to contain the pieces should the seal get broken, so the image can be pieced together to ascertain validity) sometimes contain nothing but dust. But since most seal tags don't end in seal bags...

BTW, seals are of great importance, even centuries later. The documents they are attached to can be of great importance. I know of a medieval case where a church established its rights (land, assizements, exemptions from law - I forget specifically what rights) before the Crown by producing an ancient document with seal. Modern techniques have proven the document legit, but the seal was forged.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:37 AM on November 20, 2010


Good work on the prose, languagehat et al. Something seemed off about it to me, but I thought it might just be the Comic Sans.

I was big into sealing wax as a teenager. I wanted to press my ring into warm wax like you see in movies, but the wax I had was deadly hot and the one drop I got on me scarred the skin for years. (Scented candle wax is also a poor choice for your Gothy letter-sealing needs. The wax will still burn your fingers, plus the oils in the candle wax will stain the paper and the whole thing will stink.)
posted by Countess Elena at 9:57 AM on November 20, 2010


« Older Not a sport for gentlemen   |   Tanks in Afghanistan Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post