Fire source (matches, lighter, etc.)
Choosing Your Wax
1. Wax Type
The wax types available today mainly differ as to their flexibility or suppleness. Modern wax companies have tinkered with the formulas of old in order to create wax seal stickers that can make it through the machinated processing used by today’s postal service.
On one end of the spectrum you have traditional wax, made similarly to the wax of centuries past. Traditional wax was designed to preserve confidentially, and thus dries hard, and breaks when you tamper with it. The upside here is authenticity, the downside is that the receiver may not like dealing with the little pieces that break off, and you can’t send this type of seal through the mail.
On the other end you have seals that are made with a glue gun or even come pre-made with adhesive. These look plastic-y, are very supple and easy to apply, and are designed for mass mailings like wedding invitations. For obvious reasons (using a glue gun, the disappearance of the most fun thing about seals – playing with fire), this type of wax is not recommended.
In the middle are waxes that look close to the traditional variety, but have been formulated to be more flexible so that they can survive mailing.
It may be possible to use regular candle wax, by the way, but because it lacks resin, candle wax will not stick as well on the paper, nor hold up to much handling. It’s not recommended.
Wicked vs Wickless Wax
Traditional and flexible waxes typically come in stick form, with or without a built-in wick. Wickless is the most traditional; wicked the most convenient. With a wickless stick, you must hold the stick of wax in one hand, and the match or fire source in the other, keeping it close to melt the wax. With a wicked stick you simply light the end, and then let the flame go to work in melting the wax. The downside of the wicked stick is that they’re slower in melting the wax and can produce more soot residue, which creates a marbling appearance in your seal that you may or may not like. The downside of the wickless stick, particularly in a traditional variety, is that it takes longer to melt the wax than it does for the match to burn down to your fingers. And the wax can drip onto a disposable lighter. In fact, wax seal enthusiasts actually recommend using a butane torch lighter with traditional wickless sticks to avoid these problems — not a move the amateur sealist will likely take.
You don’t have to go either or on sealing waxes. Use a flexible wax when sending things through the mail, and traditional wax for hand-delivered notes or decorative purposes.
2. Wax Color
Once you choose the type of wax you want to use, you must choose its color. Red and black are the most traditional for men. In 1891’s Letter-writing: Its Ethics and Etiquette, with Remarks on the Proper Use of Monograms, Crests, and Seals, Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton opines that “no other color but black and red are good form,” and that black is an appropriate color for mourning-related correspondence.
That being said, if you’d like to let your wax seal freak flag fly with green or blue, you go right ahead. You can also do a bi-color seal, by pressing your stamp first into gold or silver “ink” and then into the wax, but I’d say this is a little too fancy pants for a manly letter writer.
3. Choosing a Wax Seal Stamp
Most seal stamps these days are made with a metal seal – often brass — attached to a handle; the seal can be removed and switched for another. Signet rings (traditionally engraved with a family crest or coat of arms and worn on the left pinky) are also available, but I’d feel a little silly getting one myself unless I had truly descended from some aristocratic Old World family. Although if you do get one, be sure to make guests kiss it when they enter your home.
A variety of seal shapes are available; the circle is the most traditional for men, while the oval shape has classically been the domain of the ladies.
What kind of design should you get on your seal? Again, far be it for me to stop you from getting a dolphin, but traditionally, the accepted designs for a man’s seal were the first letter of his surname, a monogram, or a family crest — if you are fortunate enough to have one. That being said, companies can make custom designs, so the sky is the limit. For correspondence that will circulate amongst the members of a club or lodge, a symbol of the group, like a skull, would be quite appropriate.
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