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Wax Seals And Snail Mail

published icon  |  category icon journaling

When we got married in 2016—it feels like a long time ago—I wanted our invitations to go out in style. No, not in style, but in our style. Since we both love journaling, we decided to create a picture of a page of each others' journal that overlapped, forming a unique message. The envelope it went out in was to be sealed with a wax seal in true vintage snail mail fashion.

Designing that wax seal was a bit of a hassle as I wanted it to reflect the design of our wedding rings, that combines the letter W (Wouter) and K (Kristien) into a fluent line. We’re far from great designers so just threw around a few wild ideas that the gold smith molded into a less chaotic and more doable design. For my ring, the lines representing the letters are carved in, revealing an inner layer of another color. For my wife’s, the line was put on top and protrudes a little bit.

The end result is this:

Top: ring design. Left: my ring. Bottom: wax seal designs and a FIMO attempt.

After attempting to draw a few simplified versions of what a wax seal design would look like, I simply carved it out of a 2.5 cm FIMO circle and baked that. The intention was to glue that to a sanded wooden stick. The poor man’s wax seal! I made one crucial mistake: of course the design should have been mirrored.

Another problem is the stickiness of the FIMO clay. The first few attempts to imbue the design in molten wax failed miserably. I tried spraying and rubbing mineral oil on it with limited success. In the end, I think I managed to finish all the invitations based on sheer timing luck: melt a bit of wax, wait a second or two, press the FIMO circle on it, do not wait too long, and pull it off. The result is the red seal I tried out in my journal to the left of the yellow circle in the above photo.

We got married. A couple of years passed. Every time I write a letter, I still feel inclined to pull out the wax, light the fuse, and start dripping—except that the FIMO experience was far from optimal, so in the end, I don’t. Still, that feeling never went away, to, you know, properly send a snail mail, instead of rushing off to write and quickly stuff it in an empty envelope. To me, not only the writing process is a lot of fun—provided you use fountain pens and take ink and paper choice into consideration—but also the prospect of adequately sealing the envelope and effectively posting it.

More years passed. Last month, I got tired of that annoying itch to want to seal letters but refraining from doing so because of my feeble FIMO thing. I resorted to and ordered a custom wax seal, pressed checkout, and “sealed” the deal (ha!). You can send in a design that the seal maker will turn into a neat pure messing seal. My first wild idea was to make a cool coat of arms depicting a brain and a bread, but in the end, the same logo as the self-made one would be a perfect candidate for a try-out.

A wax seal with the brass design W+K pressed into it.

The end result looks very clean compared to my artisan attempt. The impression of the W+K it leaves is perfect, the brass never sticks to the sealing wax, and I can happily start writing and properly sealing letters!

The only other challenge I encountered during the try-out was the material of the wax itself. I used to buy small sticks of real wax which had an embedded fuse, just like a typical candle. Light the fuse, catch the molten wax in a small puddle in the center of your envelope, and you’re good to go. However, that wax became hard to find, and my last shopping trip to town netted me a stick of “wax” they call in Dutch zegellak (sealing lacquer) instead of zegelwas (sealing wax). It turns out this is a form of plasticine that acts as wax, but is more of a mess to work with as it doesn’t contain a fuse. First, cut up a small piece (it crumbles easily). Then, melt it by putting it in a heatproof teaspoon on top of a tealight. Directly exposing it to the flames discolors the lacquer, ruining your seal.

I’m all lacquered up and have my brass signet at the ready! I’ve been meaning to join international pen-pal clubs before but never got around to it. If anyone is reading this and loves to get in touch the good old fashioned snail-mail way, please drop me an e-mail so we can exchange mailing addresses. I promise we’ll have a lot of fun and I’ll send you my best handwriting yet, no strings attached—just wax.

tags icon wax seal writing

I'm Wouter Groeneveld, a Brain Baker, and I love the smell of freshly baked thoughts (and bread) in the morning. I sometimes convince others to bake their brain (and bread) too.

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