“Of Shoes-And Ships-And Sealing Wax”


This quote from Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and The Carpenter” probably confuses a modern reader. What on earth is sealing wax? But when I was in high school I developed a love of sealing wax and metal stamps to make an impression in the wax. I wrote many letters then and throughout college, and I always used sealing wax for a dramatic touch.

The wax came in several colors, such as those displayed above. I lit the wick and let the wax slowly drip onto the flap of the envelope. When a sufficient blob had formed, I pressed into it with one of my metal stamps. I had several, including my initial, a unicorn and a free form squiggle. The wax dried very quickly into a hard form which sealed the letter. If anyone tried to read the letter the seal would break. For my friends with prying siblings, this was meant to guarantee that there would be no unauthorized snooping.

I bought my paper, envelopes, pens, ink,  sealing wax and metal stamps at another vanished retailer–the stationary store. Until last year there still was one remaining stationer in a nearby town and it was a true delight to walk through and admire all the goods. Apparently there is no longer enough demand for these things, so it closed. Even my local Hallmark store, long time source of greeting cards, now carries clothing, “gift items” and toys. Cards are consigned to a small back corner. So cards, too, have fallen out of favor.

I treasure old letters and old cards. It is hard to imagine future generations having any connections with old emails. It is the hand of the writer that I love, from my grandfather’s near illegible scrawl to my husband’s endearments when we were dating. Maybe letter writing will come back. I hope so.

19 thoughts on ““Of Shoes-And Ships-And Sealing Wax”

  1. I LOVED sealing wax too–it made everything seem more official and mysterious and grownup somehow, when I wrote to my cousins and friends as a preteen for the most part. I had the initial D for first and lest names, so that worked fine, and was pleased to find the little kit among my old belongings in the last year or so, so I still have it somewhere. It is intriguing that they used to be sent freely in the post and usually arrived without having been cracked. I simply don’t think that I could count on that these days.


      1. I know one can request ‘hand cancelling’ for a big letter, but then it scoots down the chute to whoknowswhere. These days I too-often receive completely empty envelopes, or items found by the postal service and sent to us in bits–they are mostly books or photos or written material. I am unsure what sort of steamroller machines are in use now and what processes the letters go through.


  2. Speaking of old letters I still have them even those letter sent by a friend when I was in high school and those letters I got during my college life.


  3. I treasure letters almost like memoirs. The letters I kept from
    My mother and husband, when put together in chronological order from sender to recipient, those letters tell a life story. There’s nothing like getting a hand written note.


  4. I wonder if they allow sealed letters now. With the new machinery (younger monkeys) they might jam? Something to check into. I may get an old stamp/seal kit just for nostalgia sake. I like old things.


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