Early Office Museum
~ Antique Seal Press Gallery ~
Wax seals have been applied to official and other documents for over
a thousand years. The seal-die that is pressed into the sealing wax is
called a matrix. Modern discussions of medieval wax seals make references
to seal presses. For example, "If it was a two-sided seal,...the two
sides of the seal matched exactly and could be pressed together either by force
of hand or a seal-press." ("Declaration of Arbroath," Society of
Archivists) "The matrices could range from a small stamp, as on a
signet ring, to a double sided mould operated in a press, necessary to produce
such monumental objects as the great seal of England." The source of the
last statement, Medieval Writing,
presents the image reproduced to the right with the caption "A schoolbook image of
the great seal press. Bad King John [reign 1199-1216] in the background,
of course. A similar seal press to this, mounted on a hefty oak block,
survives in the library of Canterbury Cathedral." (Note: Large screw
presses somewhat similar in design to the one in the picture to the right have been
used to manufacture coins and medallions. Such screw presses are on display at
the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington,
The earliest seal press designed (apparently) to emboss a seal onto paper
rather than wax that we have
identified was made in 1782, although in all likelihood this was not the first. According to a history of the Great Seal of the United States, the
2.3" diameter seal of the Continental Congress and its seal press were made
in 1782. In 1793, the Governor of North Carolina wrote, in connection with
that state's Great Seal, "Let the screws by which the impression is to be
made be as portable as possible. The one now in use by which the Great Seal is
at present made is so large and unwieldy as to be carried only in a cart or
wagon and of course has become stationary at the Secretary's office." (J.
B. Grimes, The History of the Great Seal of the State of North Carolina,
1966) The image to the right shows an embossed
paper seal on a document dated
1806. The earliest paper seal of this type that we have seen is on a 1795
Pennsylvania land grant.
Lowell & Senter, Portland, ME,
exhibited seal presses in 1839 at the second exhibition of the Massachusetts
Charitable Mechanic Association, Boston, MA. Judges deemed these suitable
"for all public offices." Lowell & Senter (1836-70) was a
well-known maker and/or seller of navigational and surveying instruments,
watches, jewelry, and silverware. The earliest patent we have identified for a seal press
Patent No. 3,127, issued to John Fraser of New York in 1843. Fraser's seal
press was intended for office use.
Photos above: "Evens' Percussion
Patent 1854" Seal
Press (left) and "Evens' Lever
No. 2" Seal Press
following excerpts dealing with the Evens' Percussion Seal Press, which is
illustrated above left, are from Chauncey Loomis, Weird and Tragic Shores: The
Story of Charles Francis Hall, Explorer, Modern Library, a division of
Random House, 2000: "Charles Francis Hall was twenty-seven years old
when he arrived in Cincinnati in 1849.... Hall worked in True's seal-engraving
shop.... Cincinnati, with its multitude of new companies, supported five
seal-engraving businesses in 1850.... After three years with True, he went into
business on his own." Among other products, Hall advertised Hall's
Improved Percussion and Lever Seal Presses. "Most seal presses of the
time were either lever- or screw-driven; the operator placed the document to be
embossed between the dies, and then pressed down on a lever or turned a screw to
squeeze them together. Such machines, likely to weigh ten pounds or more, were
cumbersome, expensive, and, in the case of the screw press, slow. In the late
1840's two Cincinnati inventors, E. P. Cranch and James Foster, designed a small
percussion press that could be worked with a light blow of the hand, rather like
a stapler. Although considerable ingenuity was displayed in the design, the
Patent Office turned down Foster's first application for a patent.... Foster
reapplied a few years later.... Although Foster filed the application himself, he
had by then sold the rights to the device to one Platt Evens
[Jr.].... At this
point , just as the Patent Office was about to award the patent to Evens,
it received an angrily scrawled letter from Charles Francis Hall. 'I am deeply
interested in this matter,' Hall wrote, 'as I have now been engaged over two
years [since 1851] in the Manufacture and Sale of Percussion Presses & Seals.'"
Hall sold seal presses under the name "Evens' Percussion Press." Evens
sold them under the name "Evens' Patented Press," evidently even
before he was granted a patent.
The 1853 patent granted to Foster and Evens included a drawing of a seal press like the Evens
percussion seal press illustrated above. To the immediate right is a photo
of another Evens' Percussion Seal Press; engraved on the top of the knob is the
name of the maker, "C.F. Hall, Cincinnati, O." To the immediate left is
a photo (courtesy of Don Grampp) of the
label on an Evens' Lever No. 2 Seal Press. The label
shows the maker to be Platt Evens, Jr., Sole Proprietor, Cincinnati, O.
We have an 1851
advertisement for sealing and embossing presses, as well as copying, book and paper presses.
In 1864, the Confederate States of America purchased a great seal and press in
England. The seal and press were sent to America with Lt. Robert T.
Chapman, C.S.N. "After reaching Bermuda, Chapman apparently found the press
too cumbersome for running the blockade to America; and, according to some
sources, he left the press in Bermuda." (www.carolinadesignsonline.com)
Don Grampp has suggested that 19th century seal presses can be dated
approximately by the design of the underside. Seal presses made before
around 1860 seem to have bases with one or more flat surfaces. Beginning
around 1860, bases seem to have been similar to the earlier ones except that
they had one and later two small round holes into which molten metal was poured
to secure the bottom die. The photo on the left above shows a base of this
type with one pour hole. Later in the 19th century and in the 20th century,
bases seem to have had large indentations surrounding the pour holes, as in the
photo on the right above.
Model, Year Patented or Introduced, Maker
|Click Image to Enlarge|
Exhibited 1851 (London) & 1855 (Paris)
This large cast iron seal press has a human face on the left end above the die,
Weyer & McKee, Madison, Ind., Wholesale Grocers, Iron
& Commission Merchants.
According to historical documents, Josiah S. Weyer and R. S. McKee did business
in Madison as Weyer & McKee at least from 1848 through 1860. In 1861, President Lincoln gave
preliminary approval for Weyer to serve as U.S. consul to Jerusalem, but Weyer was not appointed.
|Evens' Percussion Seal
Press (a.k.a. Evans' Percussion Seal Press)
Introduced 1851 ~ Patented 1854 ~ Advertised 1860-63
Charles Francis Hall, Cincinnati, OH (see above)
Platt Evens, Jr., Cincinnati, OH (see above)
With a subtle difference in spelling, the Evans' Percussion Seal Press was
by J. B. Knox & Lang, Worchester, MA (1860-63)
|Evens' Lever Seal Pressand Evens' Lever No. 2 Seal Press
Platt Evens, Jr.
Evens' Lever No. 2
|Fly Stamping Press
Exhibited 1855 (Paris)
Waterlow and Sons
Exhibited 1855 (Paris)
Waterlow and Sons
Cutter, Tower & Co.
New York, NY
M. B. Bigelow & Anson Hardy
J. B. Knox & Lang
American Seal Press
Patented 1865 ~ Advertised 1870, 1880
Power & Wallwork, New York, NY (1870)
B. B. Hill, Springfield, MA (1880)
U.S. Patent No. 47,821 awarded to Benjamin B. Hill.
Advertised in 1870 with a patent lip attachment (included on Seaver's seal
press, shown immediately below).
"This is especially
designed for embossing envelopes, it embosses the face of the envelope,
leaving the back free
from any mark."
Chandler Seaver's American Seal Press,
Seal press die reads: Chandler Seaver,
Photographer, 27 Tremont Row, Boston.
This machine was owned by Chandler Seaver, Jr. (1839-79), who had a photography studio
at 27 Tremont Row during 1862-67, when he was 23 to 28 years old.
The building he used at 27 Tremont Row, in downtown Boston, was demolished
The building that replaced it was subsequently replaced by a large
municipal government office building.
The photograph below shows an
advertising card for Seaver's studio at 27 Tremont Row.
Photographs to the right show abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Anna
These photographs were taken by Seaver during 1862-67 while he was working at
27 Tremont Row, as were the photographs below showing shoes made in South
Carolina and a family of five gathered around
a table. The table was a studio prop that appears in other group
photos taken by Seaver at 27 Tremont Row.
Earlier, in 1856, at the age of 17, Seaver was in a partnership, Seaver & Butler,
located at 140 Washington St., Boston, MA.
Excerpt from 1856 Boston Almanac
In the early 1870s, a number of stereographic photos taken by Seaver
in the southern US were published by Charles Pollock, Boston, MA,
the title The Southern Series. The photo above shows a man
and eight boys in Jacksonville, FL, c. 1874.
Seaver died at the age of 40 in 1879.
Left and Right Hand American Seal Presses. Courtesy of Don Grampp
| Seal Press
C. Whitcomb & Co.
Patent No. 3,363 issued Feb. 9, 1869, to Robert B Carsley, Boston, MA
Joseph H. Merriam, Merriam & Co.
H. Merriam operated a die-sinking and medal business in Boston from
1850 to the 1860s.
He moved to 18 Brattle Square, the address on the press, in 1857.
The die in the seal press to the right reads "Asahel
Chase, East Saginaw, Mich." Chase lived from 1824 to
1886. According to research by Kelly Swartz of the Public Libraries
of Saginaw, Chase was in East Saginaw during at
least 1867-80 and was city clerk during at least 1870-73. According to
other information, he was editor of the Evart Review in 1875, and he was
buried near Evart. Evart is about 80 miles west of Saginaw.
The die in an identical seal press reads "L. H. Ion, Real Estate and
Insurance, Charlotte, Michigan."
Charlotte is in south central Michigan, about 100 miles southwest of
Launcelot H Ion was born in England in 1807. During
1843-48, he served as a justice of the peace, town clerk, and supervisor
in Grand Ledge, Michigan, 16 miles from Charlotte. In 1855, he was a
founder of the Eaton County Agricultural Society in Charlotte. The 1870
US Census reported that he was a Fire Insurance Agent in Charlotte.
Embossing Press ~ Frog
Merriam & Co.
|Lion Seal Press
Power and Wallwork
New York, NY
Many companies offered lion seal presses for many years and in a range of
sizes. In 1908 Tower Mfg. and Novelty Co. advertised lion head seal presses weighing 3.25 lb., 5.25 lb., 14.75 lb., and 36 lb.
The most common size is 5 lb - 7 lb. The photo to the left is
courtesy of Don Grampp.
seal press to the left was made by the Pettibone Manufacturing Co.,
Cincinnati, OH, which described itself as "Fraternity
Publishers" and suppliers of "Military, Band and Society
Goods." At least from 1887 to 1896, the Pettibone Manufacturing
Co. published literature and manufactured a wide range of goods for use by
fraternal lodges. The die in this seal press is for the Order of the
Knights of Pythias, Lodge No. 525, Belle Point, OH. James F.
Pettibone continued to publish related materials in the early 1900s, and
Pettibone Bros. Manufacturing Co. still supplies uniforms.
B.B. Hill, Springfield, MA, 1880
Patented 1871 ~ Advertised 1870s
R. B. Carsley & Co., Chicago, IL
The Buffalo Check Protecting Stamp Co., New York, NY
The die in this machine reads: "L.C. Wilbur, Produce, Commission
Merchant, Union Street, New Bedford, Mass." Research by
Dolores Henry of the New Bedford Free Public Library found that Wilbur
died in 1885 at the age of 57. His obituary stated "Mr. Lemuel
C. Wilbur in early life went whaling, rising to the position of
mate. For ten or twelve years he was an assistant marshal on the
police and for a time kept a fruit store."
R. B. Carsley & Co., Chicago, IL, "exhibited the Buffalo
embossing press" in 1873. (Interstate Exposition
Souvenir...Great Inter-State Exposition of 1873, Chicago, 1873, p.
189, no illustration.) Carsley was issued the 1869 design patent for the
lion seal press marketed by Merriam & Co. (see above)
Some examples of the Buffalo embossing press have the patent date July 25,
1871. We have not located this patent. However, the Buffalo
embossing press appears in the illustration for Patent
No. 152,329, which was awarded to Carsley in 1874.
The die reads "Trustees of the Consumptives' Home. Founded
1864. Incorporated 1871."
Until the development of antibiotics well into the 20th century, there was
no medical treatment for consumption, as tuberculosis was known in the
19th century. Dr. Charles Cullis (1833-92), a homeopathic physician,
founded the Consumptives' Home in Boston in 1864 to care for destitute,
incurable tuberculosis patients, who were refused care at public
hospitals. Cullis was a prominent practitioner and advocate of faith
healing. The healing power of prayer was an important tenet of the
evangelical Holiness movement in the US between the Civil War and the
early 20th century. By 1871, the Cullis Consumptives' Home was relocated
to suburban Dorchester, MA, where Cullis also set up homes for patients
with spinal diseases and for orphans. In Walpole, MA, he set up a home for
cancer patients. These homes were financed by private contributions.
In 1901, Dr. Duncan Macdougall conducted experiments at the Cullis
Consumptives' Home. He weighed patients at the moment of death. He
claimed to have found that there was a loss of weight at the moment of
death for humans but not for dogs, which he interpreted as support for the
existence of a human soul. (On MacDougall, see Mary Roach, Stiff: The
Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, 2003.) According to one report,
the Consumptives' Home closed around 1917. The Simmons College
Library has annual reports from the Consumptives' Home as late as 1921.
|Seal Press with Man
with Ram's Horns
|Buffalo Seal Press
|Eagle Seal Press
|Columbian Seal Press
R. J. Bennett, Maker
|Pocket Seal Press
Schwaab Stamp & Seal Co.
Milwaukee, WI; St. Paul, MN; Chicago, IL early 1900s
These were marketed by companies in the early 1900s as well.
Seal to right is for the Simpkinson Manufacturing Co., Cincinnati, OH
The die in this press is for a company that was founded in 1897. Its
headquarters were in Scotland, and it had branches in several British
Pearce F. Crowl Co.
|Long Reach Seal Press
Patented 1900 ~ Advertised 1910-c.1912
Emerson & Co.
|Percussion Seal Press
|Percussion Seal Press
The die in this press is for a notary.
|Rampant Lion Seal Press
|Nymph Seal Press
For photographs of additional seal presses, visit the Seal
Press Collector web site.
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