Thursday, 16 June 2011

Of shoes - and ships - and sealing wax, Of cabbages - and kings...

About yesterday's posting on the taper box, Adrian commented "This is has always baffled me.....why didn't they put a wick into the sealing wax stick. There must be a good reason."

My initial reaction was to comment back - "You're living in the wrong era, Adrian. If you'd been around a few centuries ago you could have made a fortune by patenting it! Having said that, I have a vague recollection that the sealing wax my Mum used (always the traditional red, of course) had a wick in it. Perhaps it was the posh stuff, mine never has had!"

Then I decided to Google it and discovered there is sealing wax with a wick so my memory was correct. So then I searched out my seal and Mum's seal and discovered that the wax with Mum's seal has a wick.

(The sealing wax bottom left is mine - no wick.  The other two were Mum's. The steel seal is Mum's - a letter F.  Mine is a sort of sunny face.)

However, I also discovered why wax with a wick is not generally favoured - "Regarding sealing wax sticks with wicks. It is our considered opinion that a sealing wax stick with a wick in it is an annoyance. It’s our least favorite type of wax, and we don’t sell such sticks. It’s the slowest way to melt sealing wax, and the wick is in the way. The wick prevents you from using the stick as a stir tool to shape the puddle. Some wicks produce a lot of carbon soot. The wick keeps you from controlling the process."

That information came from

The site is brilliant because it also solved two problems I've had. For a while after Mum died I tried using sealing wax and eventually gave up for two reasons. One - the match caused carbon deposits to make the seal red and black instead of red. Simple answer - use a cigarette lighter (the long sort you can buy in garden centres for lighting candles).

Secondly, and far more significant. The seal - even if used on the inside of the letter rather than the envelope - never survived the rape and pillage of the postal service. All that was left was a red stain on the paper and few crumbs of broken wax.

Sealing wax was, of course, fashioned to do just that. There was no point in creating a sealing wax with the sort of plastic qualities that would enable someone to tamper with it. It was designed to just break at the merest hint of interference. So nowadays the answer is not to buy traditional sealing wax but to buy specially manufactured flexible sealing wax which, being ornamental rather than tamper-proof, is specifically created to survive the aggression of the mail service.

Thanks for the comment Adrian - I've learned a lot.


  1. Thank you for yet another instructive and at the same time entertaining post!
    In the early 1980s, during our very early teens, my sister and I used sealing wax and seals with our initials for a while. It was fun and smelled nice, but a bit more time-consuming than simply closing the envelope the normal way and maybe putting a pretty sticker on it.

  2. Hah. When you come up in July CJ I'll show you my sealing wax treasures. I think (I'm not at home as I write this) I have Nana's seal as well as a family glass seal with a swan and a whole box of different sealing waxes. Peut-être un autre blog!

  3. In over 8 years with Royal mail I don't think I have ever seen a letter with sealing wax. I have some myself and recall using it as a teenager frequently.
    interesting post
    thanks for sharing

  4. That's a shame, Martine. We'll have to have a campaign to bring it back!


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