Why use wax seals?

Answered by Phillip Nicastro

Wax seals were primarily used during the Middle Ages and beyond as a means of securing letters and documents. During this time, letters were quite expensive to send, especially over long distances. As a result, people sought ways to protect their correspondence and ensure that it reached its intended recipient intact.

One of the main reasons why wax seals were used is because they provided a simple and effective method of sealing letters. Instead of using envelopes, which added additional cost to the mailing process, the sender could fold up the written page and close it with wax. This not only saved money, but also made the letter more compact and easier to transport.

The use of wax seals also added a layer of security to the correspondence. By melting wax onto the folded page and then impressing it with a unique seal, the sender could ensure that the letter remained sealed until it reached its destination. This meant that any tampering or unauthorized opening of the letter would be immediately evident.

Furthermore, wax seals added a touch of personalization and authenticity to the correspondence. Each individual had their own unique seal, often engraved with their initials, coat of arms, or other personal insignia. This allowed the recipient to easily identify the sender and ensured that the letter was indeed from the person it claimed to be from. It also added a sense of importance and formality to the communication.

In addition to their practical uses, wax seals also held symbolic significance. They were seen as a mark of authority and power, often used by individuals in positions of influence such as nobles, monarchs, and high-ranking officials. The act of breaking a wax seal was seen as an act of trust, as it implied that the recipient had the authority to access the contents of the letter.

From a historical perspective, the use of wax seals became even more prevalent as travel and colonization increased. As people ventured to new lands and established colonies, letters became an essential means of communication between distant family members, business partners, and government officials. The use of wax seals ensured that these letters remained secure and confidential during their long and often perilous journeys.

The use of wax seals served multiple purposes. They provided a cost-effective alternative to envelopes, added security to letters, personalized the correspondence, and held symbolic significance. The widespread adoption of wax seals during and after the Middle Ages was a testament to their practicality and importance in the realm of communication.