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Early Office Museum

~ Antique Seal Press Gallery ~

seal pressWax 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, D.C.)






1806_Seal_on_document.jpg (21207 bytes)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 is U.S. Patent No. 3,127, issued to John Fraser of New York in 1843.  Fraser's seal press was intended for office use.

  1854_Evens_Percussion_Patent_1854.jpg (37611 bytes)   Evens_Lever_No._2_Cin_O.jpg (23088 bytes)

Photos above: "Evens' Percussion Patent 1854" Seal Press
(left) and "Evens' Lever No. 2" Seal Press

The 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 PLATT_EVENS_Cin_OH_label_Evens_Lever_Press_No._2_Don_Grampp_OM.JPG (39486 bytes)Evens [Jr.].... At this point [1853], 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 Evens_Percussion_C.F._Hall_Cincinnati.jpg (38252 bytes) 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." (
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
Jarrett's Improved Embossing Press
Exhibited 1851 (London) & 1855 (Paris)
Griffith Jarrett
London, UK
1851_1855_Jarretts_Improved_Embossing_Press.JPG (69293 bytes)
Seal Press
Patented 1852
This large cast iron seal press has a human face on the left end above the die, which reads:
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.
1852_Seal_Press_OM.jpg (50064 bytes)
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 manufactured
by J. B. Knox & Lang, Worchester, MA (1860-63)
1854_Evens_Percussion_Patent_1854.jpg (37611 bytes)
Evens' Lever Seal Press and Evens' Lever No. 2 Seal Press
Platt Evens, Jr.
Cincinnati, OH
Evens_Lever_Press_Don_Grampp.JPG (19425 bytes)
Evens' Lever
Evens_Lever_No._2_Cin_O.jpg (23088 bytes)
Evens' Lever No. 2
Fly Stamping Press
Exhibited 1855 (Paris)
Waterlow and Sons
London, UK
1855_Fly_Stamping_Press.JPG (36071 bytes)
Lever Stamping Presses
Exhibited 1855 (Paris)
Waterlow and Sons
London, UK
1855_Lever_Stamping_Presses.JPG (57632 bytes)
Seal Press
Advertised 1855-60
Cutter, Tower & Co.
Boston, MA
1855_Seal_Press_and_Stamp_Cutter_Tower__Co_Boston.jpg (58484 bytes)
1860_Cutter_Tower_seal_press.jpg (115570 bytes)
Seal Press
Advertised 1859
John Garrett
New York, NY
1859_Seal_Press_John_Garrett_NYC.jpg (71332 bytes)
Seal Press
Advertised 1860
M. B. Bigelow & Anson Hardy
Boston, MA
1860_Bigelow__Hardy_seal_press_Boston.jpg (92131 bytes)
Lever Seal Press
Advertised 1860-63
J. B. Knox & Lang
Worchester, MA
1863_Lever_Seal_Press_J_B_Knox__Lang_Worchester_MA.jpg (57352 bytes)

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."

1875_Hand_Seal_Press_OMc.jpg (12171 bytes)
 Chandler Seaver's American Seal Press, 1862-67
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 long ago.  
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.

1862_1867_C._Seaver_Jr_Advertising_Card_OM.jpg (125110 bytes)

Photographs to the right show abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Anna E. Dickinson. 
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.

 Seaver_Specimens_of_South_Carolina_Shoemaking_front_OM.JPG (33595 bytes)  Portrait_of_Family_Chandler_Seaver_Jr_27_Tremont_St_Boston_MA_OM.jpg (354790 bytes)

Earlier, in 1856, at the age of 17, Seaver was in a partnership, Seaver & Butler, located at 140 Washington St., Boston, MA.

1856_Boston_Almanac_Dagerreo._Miniatures._Seaver.jpg (124587 bytes)
Excerpt from 1856 Boston Almanac

Chandler_Seaver_Jr._Southern_Series_No._46_Group_of_Natives.OM.jpg (182126 bytes)
In the early 1870s, a number of stereographic photos taken by Seaver in the southern US were published by Charles Pollock, Boston, MA, 
under 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.







W_L_Garrison_C_Seaver_Jr_Tremont_Row_Boston_OM.jpg (15683 bytes)

1860s_Anna_Dickinson_abolitionist_C._Seaver_Jr._Photographer_27_Tremont_Row_Boston_OM.JPG (21903 bytes)

American_Seal_Presses_Don_Grampp.jpg (29227 bytes)
Left and Right Hand American Seal Presses. Courtesy of Don Grampp

American_seal_press_OMx.jpg (50894 bytes)

Seal Press
Advertised 1861
C. Whitcomb & Co.
Worcester, MA
1861_Seal_Press_C_Whitcomb__Co_Worcester_MA.jpg (31001 bytes)
Seal Press
Advertised 1868
1868_Seal_Press_adx.jpg (58649 bytes)
Lion Percussion Embossing Press
Design Patent No. 3,363 issued Feb. 9, 1869, to Robert B Carsley, Boston, MA
Joseph H. Merriam, Merriam & Co.
Boston, MA
Joseph 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 Saginaw.
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.
Merriam_Lion_Percussion_Seal_Press_OM.jpg (41678 bytes)
Merriam's Patent Embossing Press ~ Frog
Merriam & Co.
Boston, MA
Frog_Merriams_Embossing_Press_OM.JPG (43974 bytes)
Lion Seal Press
Advertised 1870
Power and Wallwork
New York, NY

Lion_Seal_Press_Don_Grampp.jpg (23203 bytes)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.



Lion_Head_Seal_Press_The_Pettibone_Mfg_Co_Cincinnati_OH.jpg (15994 bytes)The seal press to the left was made by the Pettibone Manufacturing Co., Cincinnati, OH, whichLion_Seal_Press_xOMx.jpg (61911 bytes) 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.

1880_Lion_Seal_Press_B_B_Hill_Springfield_MA_adx.jpg (61320 bytes)
B.B. Hill, Springfield, MA, 1880 
1883_Patented_Lion_Head_Seal_Press_OM.JPG (19417 bytes)
Patented 1883
1904_Lion_Head_Seal_Press_sdj.jpg (49537 bytes)
Patented 1904
Buffalo Embossing Press
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.
Bison_Seal_Press_L._C._Wilbur_Comm_Merchant_New_Bedford_MA.JPG (32646 bytes)
Bison_Seal_Press_abc.jpg (54946 bytes)
Seal Press
Boston, MA
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_Boston_Consumptives_Home.jpg (28886 bytes)
Seal Press with Man with Ram's Horns
Buffalo Seal Press
Buffalo_Lever_Seal_Press_OM.jpg (27329 bytes)
Eagle Seal Press
Eagle_Seal_Press.jpg (24346 bytes)
Columbian Seal Press
Patented 1883
R. J. Bennett, Maker
Detroit, MI
1883 Columbian Seal RJ Bennett Detroit OM.JPG (7561 bytes)
Stationers' Stamping Press
Advertised 1885
A. G. Mead
Boston, MA
"These presses are especially designed for the fine illuminated work now required. Have been in use by many of the principal Stationers for the past twelve years."
1885 Stationers' Stamping Press A G Mead Boston MA OM.jpg (7561 bytes)
Pocket Seal Press
Advertised 1893
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

Percussion seal press Simpkinson seal.jpg (91976 bytes)
Seal Press

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 Commonwealth countries.
Embosser_Craigpark_Electric_Cable_Co_existed_1897-1956_OM.JPG (72250 bytes)
Seal Press
Patented 1900
Pearce F. Crowl Co.
Baltimore, MD
1900_Seal_Press_mfr_Pearce_F._Crowl_Co_Baltimore_MD_OM.jpg (13368 bytes)
Long Reach Seal Press
Patented 1900 ~ Advertised 1910-c.1912
Emerson & Co.
Boston, Mass.
1900_Long_Reach_Seal_Press_OMS.jpg (19028 bytes)
Seal Press
Sigwald Corp.
Chicago, IL

This seal press was identified by Don Grampp
1856_Seal_Press_Committee_of_Vigilance_die_existed_only_in_1856.jpg (77318 bytes)
Percussion Seal Press
Seal_Press_France_OM.jpg (66977 bytes)
Percussion Seal Press
Advertised 1913
1913_Presse_coup_de_poing.jpg (143752 bytes)
Seal Press
The die in this press is for a notary.
French_notarial_seal_press.jpg (31082 bytes)
Rampant Lion Seal Press
Rampant_Lion_seal_press_Germany.jpg (49416 bytes)
Seal Press
Seal_Press_England_x_OM.JPG (25514 bytes)
Seal Press
William Jones Clifton & Co.
London, England
William Jones Clifton & Co., die-sinkers and engravers, was founded in the first half of the 19th century.
Trade publications dating at least from 1934 to 1946 identify the company as the manufacturer of Eziboss embossing presses.
The company's cable address is "Eziboss."
Seal Press England OM.JPG (19956 bytes)
Nymph Seal Press
William Jones Clifton & Co.
London, England
William Jones Clifton & Co., die-sinkers and engravers, was founded in the first half of the 19th century.
Trade publications dating at least from 1934 to 1946 identify the company as the manufacturer of Eziboss embossing presses.
The company's cable address is "Eziboss."
The_Nymph_Eziboss_Seal_Press_UK_Pat_No_377756.jpg (15285 bytes)

For photographs of additional seal presses, see Seal Press Information, including the Seal Press Collector Guide

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