Using it seems like a ritual that brings past times before our senses: the flickering candle, the smell of melting wax. Two alternative ways of sealing letters in one breath: wax or wafer. I was astonished to learn how ubiquitous sealing wafers once were, and how nearly forgotten they are now! Enticks dictionary of 1791 gives three basic definitions, focus on is the last wafer in Enticks entry: paste made to close letters. This was sometimes called the common wafer to distinguish it from fancier variants.
The common wafer was very simple: a thin disk of dry paste that becomes sticky when wet. How wafers were made gives us a sense of their properties. Recipes for making wafers at home are readily available in the many receipt-books that borrowed or pirated?
Heres one from the New Family Receipt Book of 1811. Take very fine flour, mix it with the glair (or whites of eggs) isinglass, and a little yeast; mingle the materials, beat them well together, spread the batter, being made thin with gum water, on even tin plates, and dry them in a stove; then cut them for use. You may make them of what colour you please. Once I knew what to look for, I found wafers on many letters from Jane Austens era- on letters Jane wrote, no less!
Even if youre looking at images online that dont show the whole letter in detail, the perfectly round shadow of a sealing wafer is often very distinctive- even expert sealing-wax users rarely make a perfect circle of wax. Another thing to look for is the tell-tale mark of the wafer seal.While the wafer was still moist, a cross-hatched tool was often pressed into the paper to help it bite into the softened paste. The waffled seal impressed a distinctive pattern of little points or diamonds in the paper. A wafer seal could easily be used on sealing wax as well.
The item "FABULOUS RARE VICTORIAN CARVED LETTER OPENER/DIP PEN/WAFER DESK SEAL/STANHOPE" is in sale since Wednesday, October 9, 2019. This item is in the category "Antiques\Silver\Solid Silver\Other Solid Silver". The seller is "silver_treasures" and is located in ledbury. This item can be shipped worldwide.