Sunday, 4 May 2008

The old letter and it’s seals

Collecting pre-philatelic letters and covers will sooner or later force you to take a good look at the sometimes beautiful wax seals on the back side. I cannot help wondering whether with the help of these seals more information could be retrieved about the sender of the letter and the date of the letter especially when the letter has no sender and no date or no full date ís indicated anywhere on the letter be it inside or outside.

In 1949 an Austrian Baron named Anton Kumpf Mikuli (1879-1968) published a thin book entitled „Der Brief als kulturgeschichtliches Studien- und Sammelobjekt“ (the Letter as an Item for Cultural History Studies and Collecting). This booklet is said to be the basic work on “the letter” and a must for all collectors of classic letters and covers.

The book is a joy to read provided of course that you know some German. It touches in a very thorough way on all subjects that relate to the letter like paper, its watermarks, script, titles and addresses, censorship, postmarks and even the topic of humor and letters and pictures on letters just to mention some of the headings.

Kumpf Mikuli presents the reader with a simple but most intriguing definition of the thrust a letter. "A letter is basically a message to somebody who is absent. If the receiver replies you have a correspondence.”

As you can understand the book itself merits a post of its own, but for now I limit myself to the topic of the wax seal.

Kumpf Mikuli writes about The Sealing of Letters. The seal originally was made of a special kind of soil which in the middle of the 16th century was replaced by wax later to be replaced by the wax seal which was widely used in the 17th and 18 centuries. Around 1700 the first wafers were introduced into which vignettes were pressed. Seal labels are seen already in the second half of the 18th century. Most wax seals were red but black wax seals are not that scarce since they were used on mourning letters. At certain times and in certain countries the colour of the seal was attached to rank: Red for the better off people and yellow for the less fortunate.

The symbol in the seal – which is supposed to be the core topic or rather question of this post – could be initials, names, images, portraits and cotes of arms. Kumpf Mikuli states in this context that the letter seals represent a special branch of the study of heraldry and genealogy.

Here is an easy targit because you can read the text around the symbols: "Hamburg Police Authority". But what do the symbols signify?

I am (only) a stamp collector and a philatelist. I need help from a heraldryst or genealogist.

I'll now show you more of my the seals which all have a connection to Schleswig-Holstein except for the red one in the center which belongs to a cover sent from Roskilde in Denmark to Schleswig Holstein. I would very much like to know more about them. What do they represent? What do the individual symbols represent. For instance the standing horse? The fox or is it a kind of long dog? The coat of arms. Just press the image and you will have a larger one on your screen.

And finally a black one with the text: Royal Rendsburg County House. Again there are symbols and does the colour signify death or mourning? Or was it just the colour of the day?


Johan Huizing said...

Just some comments on the upper seal, the seal of Hamburg. Hamburg developed around a small fortress in th emiddle ages, like the castle on the seal.
The oldest known seal from Hamburg dates from 1241, on which is shown a castle made of three towers. The middle tower could indicate the largest church, the Holy Mary Church. All other seals of the city show the castle, the shape, however, differs between the seals. On some smaller 13th -14th century seats the castle is standing on a river and the stars that are present mostly are replaced by a half-moon (crescent).
The helmet with the the feathers already appeared in the 16th century and are derived from the counts of Holstein. The lions appeared in the 17th century. The whole arms as they are now used, were first used in 1695 and were officially granted in 1835.

Anonymous said...

thanks for this nice post 111213

mom and dad said...

I have a collection of 1200 wax seals some dating from as early as 1295 ad most are identified by name and city only a few are dated.A few are larger and have royal attribution most are dime sized all in a very nice case from the 1870s. They are wrapped in newspaper from around 1914. thanks