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Out of wax that day!

Red and Golden Stamp wax seals

The Delaware Public Archives is my home away from home this year. Yes, they have a ton of stuff scanned and searchable online. But when you’re talking about hundreds of years of history and hundreds of thousands of documents, the scanned material is just a tiny fraction of what’s available. And so you’ve got to make the trek.

portrait of Dave Tabler at Archives

One day I was doing some research on land grants in early Kent County, DE for my “Delaware Before the Railroads” book. You can’t just stroll into the back storage area and start rummaging through stuff. Ohhhh, no. You sit at a large desk, and the archivist brings out one box at a time of maybe 50 original documents, each protected by a plastic sleeve. 

view of Archives desk with old document in sleeve on desk

As a quick aside, archives differ on whether the guest should be required to wear white gloves or not. The Delaware Public Archives feels that white gloves block manual dexterity enough that the guest might actually rip or tear a document accidentally due to them. And so one gets to handle these fragile treasures with no gloves. But  the Archives does require you wash your hands before beginning, which makes perfect sense.

This particular day I found a real treasure, but not the one I was searching for. You’re no doubt familiar with the notion of using red wax to seal a document in the years before gummed envelopes. The seal not only closed up a folded document, but also indicated the authenticity of the sender.

two old documents- one with wax seal, one with hand drawn seal

Well. Imagine my surprise and amusement coming across the document shown here that yes, required a wax seal from an authority, but no, doesn’t have one. How is it that the doodle approximating a wax seal was accepted as official? And yet here it is, calming staring back across the years at the viewer. The doodler got the last word that day!

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