Research since 1800

The nineteenth century‚Äôs strong commitment to positivist history and to archival organization, so well expressed in the creation of state-controlled record offices, fueled a monumental production of inventories designed to make patriotic historical treasures available to all. The cataloguing of seals was very much part of this vast enterprise of publication. Significantly, however, the seals that were catalogued were not the original wax impressions but modern casts taken from them. Seal preservation had been the primary rationale for seal casting. Casting, however, had the effects both of re-enforcing the earlier apparent analogy between the seal and the coin or medal, and of privileging seals that seemed aesthetically impressive or thematically significant. Students of seals were thus provided with catalogues that are incomplete in three ways with respect to the archival holdings they purport to publish.

  • Firstly, these catalogues include only those seals that were still materially extant, ignoring those whose existence was still attested, though only textually.
  • Secondly, such catalogues often excluded seals in poor states of preservation, and those bearing modest iconographic devices.
  • Thirdly, for a given seal type, for instance the great seal of William the Conqueror, only the best impression was recorded, obscuring the uniqueness of each impression (color of wax, method of attachment, nature of document to which it was appended) issued from the royal seal matrix.