About the Seal

A seal is the impression of a deepened side-inverted engraved stamp,
mostly rare from brass, less from precious metal, from steel or stone.
Such seals were casted, pressed or poured off in earlier times in tone,
lead or wax. After the invention of the sealing wax (1560) - a mixture
from rosin, shellac, venetianisc turpentine and colour-pigments - one
mostly uses this easily fusible mass. But all such impressions were very
sensitive to abrasion? and therefore fastened in shaped wood caps
with cover (less in silvered or gilded metal-cans). Through holes or slots
at cap and document one pulled stripes of vellum or colored strings.
So a separation of seal and document was not possible without damaging.
The papal seals, called Bull (lat. bulla = capsule) was from pure gold
(the "Golden Bull"!). The purpose of a seal was obvious to to sanction
a contract, a document, a diploma totally.

Signet engraved side-inverted deepened in silver.
Olaf Schotenröhr.

The precautions and safety precautions, connected with the laborious,
unique engraving work of the seal cutter, made it possible that e.g. a
founder of a religious order or a monastery with sealed document returned to
months-long, dangerous journey from Rome to any wilderness and could begin
his work unquestioned, the seal of the Pope had full reliability for everyone.
We understand that a seal was of extraordinary importance, it was valid also
without possibly another legalization means, even many kings neither could
read nor write (even emperor Karl the large is said to have learned only in his
late years this "art").

Blank signet ring direktly after cast Signet ring polished and engraved
Each nobleman or knight had at his waistbelt a leather tape with
a short seal stick, to be able for sealing (sign!) at any time.
For the safe keeping of the large royal seals or official seals
one created especially the high office of the Lord Privy Seal, it was
e.g. in England the lord chancellors, in France of the "guard de
sceaux" (today Ministers of Justice), in Germany to 1806 the Kurfürst
(elector) of Mainz. In order to avoid abuse with it and in this case
unpredictable consequences, any counterfeiters were been frightened with
draconian punishments (z. B. in a case cooking in an oil-fired
Elisabez Signet of the french
Queen Elisabeth
engraved manually as
historic seal-engravers did.
Click on image to enlarge.

GGood seal cutters were rare, therefore highly outstanding people,
even popes, kings and princes wanted to win their favour from
time to time or tried to poach them with generous gifts.
At that time a great intellect or a well practised hand had no border.
By a particularly interesting example once the life of the Swiss engraver,
stamp cutter and seal cutter as well as Medailleurs Carl Hedlinger are
to be described briefly. He learned 1708 in Luzern with a seal cutter
and a goldsmith, then operated in Paris and Stockholm at the Court
Karl XII, later in Amsterdam (Peter the Great already tried to poach him for
Russian services). Also the Danish and Polish court strove for this efficient
engraver. Later Hedlinger worked two years for the Tsarina Anna. In his
recordings he writes about it literally: "by most generous offers into Thy service
i was most graciously allured to be put into service." Probably it must have
concerned much money, so Hedlinger was a typical child of Switzerland, who
wanted to resent him? He made a long and productive journeyto Italy, where
he developed a large medal for Pope Benedikt XIII. For the specialist it is
amazing that Hedlinger on his many journeys must have had all its tools with
himself. On the return journey it visited the courts of Vienna and Dresden and
came also to Prague and Preßburg. Probably he contracted rheumatism on that
not so comfortable journeys at that time, because he visited in between the
warm baths of his homeland. At the for that time very high age of 79 years
he died in Schwyz of apoplexia, without suffering.

Karl XII - 1 Riksdaler 1718
Engraved by
Johan Carl Hedlinger.
His motto read "lagom" (not too much, not too little). Hedlinger was a typical
contemporary of one of the glamourousest periods of history: turned,
speak-well-informed, even in the use of a sword not inexperienced and naturally
before everything a hardly over-bidding a master of his trade. It gave some such
expert also of low birth. Who however once had acquired the admiration-worthy
ability to such work, did not need to falsify, therefore it will hardly have given
seal counterfeiter (who wants to be simmered?). If a seal was lost, it immediately
was declared invalid. If a seal was expressed in a person (not
office), it was normally destroyed in public after death and given also to the grave.
Today castings of seals in wax or sealing wax are used more for decorative
purposes. More frequently one uses the colorless relief paper embossing seals,
here paper or cardboard is stamped into the deepened seal engraving by a press.
In addition one needs a poitive stencil. By the way everyone, which sends letters
or packages away with insured contents of higher value, should have
a seal, signet or signet ring.

Seal of Pope John Paul II.
Engraving by my taskmaster
Rudolf Niedballa
Click on image to enlarge.