Frances Simpson’s engraved seal and stories from The Beaver

This nineteenth-century engraved seal was used to secure the contents of a letter as well as to identify the sender.

Written by Maria Cristina Laureano

May 15, 2014

This nineteenth-century engraved seal was used to secure the contents of a letter as well as to identify the sender. Seals were used for centuries prior to the invention of letter glue. Typically, letters were hand-folded and sealed with hot wax. Using a lit candle, the letter sender poured melted wax at the open edge of the fold and then stamped it with the seal. The resin and other materials in the wax create a hard, glossy seal, enabling impressions made in the soft wax to retain their shape after the hot wax cooled. This particular seal, which belonged to Frances Simpson (wife of Hudson’s Bay Company Governor Sir George Simpson), has a face made possibly out of sard — a reddish-brown translucent variety of chalcedony, which is a type of quartz. Engraved with Simpson’s first name, the seal has a handle decorated with a thin layer of gold and is adorned with a blue ribbon. The Simpsons, who were first cousins, married in 1830. Frances was twenty-six years younger than her husband and bore him five children, four of whom survived infancy.

This article originally appeared in the June-July 2014 issue of Canada’s History magazine.

This article is also available in French.

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