Sealing wax is a paste made from rosin, shellac, and turpentine, often tinted with vermilion or another mineral color. Sealing correspondence can be considered a very ancient method of sealing letters, writings, and documents, as well as closing packages, using a solid substance that becomes pasty with heat and hardens when cooled, showing some adherence to the object and brittleness.
It is known that the Romans were the first to use it in European lands, and it was very common in political-military documentation. Before the use of sealing wax, they used pitch to seal manuscripts and documents.
Traditionally, sealing wax has been the oldest method used to seal correspondence or packages due to its adherence and brittle consistency. It was also used to distinguish noble houses through the seals affixed to them. Made from beeswax or Venetian turpentine, it usually had a reddish color, although it could be dyed black with ivory black or green with verdigris.
While the exact recipes varied, in general, sealing waxes can be divided into those used before and after the opening of trade with the Indies. In the Middle Ages, sealing wax was generally made from melted beeswax mixed with Venetian turpentine, a resin of yellow-green color. The earliest wax seals were colorless; later, they were often made from wax dyed red with cinnabar. Over time, in the 16th century, a mixture of varying proportions of shellac, turpentine, resin, plaster or chalk, and colorants (often still cinnabar, red, or lead) was used, but not actual wax.
Venetian sailors brought them to Spain from India, where it was used to seal manuscripts and was likely first manufactured. From Spain, it was exported to France and later to the rest of Europe and America. For a long time, it was known as “Cera de España” (Wax of Spain).
Sealing Wax on Wine and Liquor Bottles
Relating sealing wax to wine bottles, King Ferdinand VI of Spain, known as “El Prudente,” ordered the placement of sealing wax with the Royal Seal on the necks of wine bottles, mainly brought from Bordeaux, as he began to notice that the contents of some were “evaporating” or being replaced by some other liquid. The bottle’s wax seal was only to be broken if the King ordered it, under penalty of death. This is the origin of the capsule that is placed on the neck of all wine bottles today.
Later, good wine bottles had melted wax applied over the cork to prevent air or other substances from spoiling it. Each winery would then stamp their seal onto this wax, a procedure later replaced by lead capsules and now plastic caps.
In addition to wine bottles, it was also used for preserves. Originally, the seal was red wax. Some users, like the British crown, assigned different colors to different types of documents. Today, a range of synthetic colors is available.
Sealing wax is typically available in the form of sticks, granules, or cylinders for use in a gun. The stick is melted at one end, or the granules are heated in a spoon, typically using a flame, and then placed, usually, on the flap of an envelope. While the wax is still soft, it is imprinted with a seal, often made of metal, with a design. When it cools, it becomes rigid, so when it breaks, it shows that the letter or package has been opened.
There are traditional sealing wax candles still produced in Canada, France, Spain, Italy, and Scotland, with the same recipe, molds, and technique of over 300 years.
Synthetic sealing wax is industrially used to seal the mouths of bottles as a capsule. This wax can be easily cut with a knife and removed without breaking thanks to its flexibility.
To use sealing wax in a gun, simply plug it into an electrical outlet, insert the sealing wax cylinder, and wait for it to heat up. Then, use the trigger to apply the wax to documents. The method is economical and is used for both sporadic and serial sealing, such as wedding invitations.
In the modern world, wax sealing has brought a myriad of applications, in most cases in decorative form. Since the advent of the postal system, the use of sealing wax has become more of an ornate detail for a special event rather than a security measure. Modern times have demanded new styles and the creation of synthetic sealing wax, allowing for package handling without affecting or breaking the seal. These new waxes are flexible for shipping and can be applied using a sealing wax gun, wax imitations, or flexible wax, allowing for more handling without affecting or breaking the seal.
Most noble European families, as well as some families in America, still use sealing wax to give a certain presence to a document, which is usually the family’s heraldic crest.