Let's Talk of Sealing Wax
And meet Kathryn Hastings, an amazing wax seal artist
The time has come, the Walrus said, To talk of many things: Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax — Of cabbages — and kings — And why the sea is boiling hot And whether pigs have wings.
~ Lewis Carroll, “The Walrus and the Carpenter”
Looking for unique epistolary tidbits to share with you has led me down some delightful rabbit holes. That’s how I discovered the fascinating and unusual world of Kay Collier (also known by her artist name, Kathryn Hastings). Her business—Kathryn Hastings & Co.—promotes the centuries-old creation and use of wax seals, so of course, I thought of the Lewis Carroll quote above.
I first found her wonderful podcast “1 Sealed Letter,” available on all the major podcast programs and apps (Apple, Spotify, and more). Its own description is, “The legacy of letter writing and how to bring this beautiful art form into the 21st century.” As of Oct. 4, 2023, she has recorded an impressive 70 episodes since, and you’ll find a wide-ranging and eclectic offering of conversations—sometimes interviews—about every imaginable aspect of letter-writing.
But Kay is so much more than a letter-writing aficionado and podcaster. She is a meticulous and talented wax seal artist dedicated to bringing this lost art to modern writers.
I tried my hand at simple seals when I was a teenager corresponding with friends and love interests away at boarding school. Kay Collier’s world of wax seals is infinitely more complex since she has studied its history and become a collector of antique tools (the tool itself is called a matrix and the seal/design part is the intaglio).
The free introductory course on her site taught me that wax seals were used over two thousand years ago, and found their way into various cultures throughout history. In medieval Europe, for instance, noble families and monarchs used them to secure and mark their letters and documents. Each seal was unique, bearing a distinctive design or family crest, and was impressed into the molten wax with a signet ring or stamp.
In the late 17th and 18th centuries, the Georgians were more innovative by using symbolism in their seal designs that conveyed subtle messages or emotions:
anchor ~ hope
bay leaf ~ loyalty
sparrow ~ true love
dog ~ fidelity
hazelnut ~ breaking conflict
During the 20th century, the symbolism in seals decreased and the designs were less intricate. The use of decorative initials or a monogram became popular.
Kathryn Hastings & Co. offers exclusive high-end products that have been carefully chosen and described with attention to detail. Even if you’re not ready to invest in the supplies yet, the shop is such fun to browse. I purchased some peel-and-stick seals to use now and some sealing wax, melter, and a spoon to give it a try soon.
I appreciate the commitment and dedication Kay Collier brings to her work. In her introductory video, she expressed why she feels incorporating wax seals into our note and letter-writing can be both fun and meaningful. I’m paraphrasing here:
“Antique wax seals connect us with people from the past and make us part of a lineage of beauty and meaning. Be intentional in your choice of seals. They represent love, friendship, and artistry.”
If you’ve worked at all with wax seals, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.
Coming Up Next Week
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