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Culture:American
Title:seal
Date Made:1860-1880
Type:Written Communication Tool; ; Documentary Artifact
Materials:base metal: nickel silver; pitch
Place Made:United States; Connecticut?
Measurements:overall: 3 3/4 in x 3/4 in; 9.525 cm x 1.905 cm
Accession Number:  HD 2008.10.5
Credit Line:Gift in Memory of Theodore Woolsey Dwight
Museum Collection:  Historic Deerfield
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Description:
Stamped seal with a two-part nickel silver handle decorated with rococo-style scrolling and four lines of beading and ending with a fleur-de-lis like tip, which has an attached circular seal with script initial "D." The seal descended in the family of Timothy Dwight V (1778-1844), son Timothy Dwight IV (1752-1817), the eighth president of Yale College (1795-1817). Timothy Dwight V lived in New Haven, Connecticut, where he became a wealthy hardware merchant. In 1809, he married Clarissa Strong (1783-1855), the daughter of Massachusetts governor Caleb Strong (1745-1819), uniting two prominent New England families. The Dwight Professorship of Didactic Theology at Yale was named for him, and he financially supported the chair for the remainder of his life. Timothy V and Clarissa's son, Timothy Dwight VI (1811-1895) married Lucy Starr Olmstead (1816-1876) of Moreau, NY, in 1842, and was a merchant in New Haven; later a manufacturer of tool and coach lace in Seymour, Connecticut and cars in Chicago; spent many years in Beloit, Wisconsin; and finally a manufacturer of paper bags in Chicago, Illinois, where he and his family moved in 1870. Timothy Dwight VI was the donor's great-grandfather. This seal, which was was used for sealing envelopes with wax seals, is attributed to Connecticut based on the many silver plating factories located in Connecticut in the 19th century. It is unclear if the seal was originally attached to this handle or was made up? The handle has a lot of white polish residue. According to research from Old Sturbridge Village: "Medieval sealing wax was Venice turpentine (a yellow or green-yellow oleoresin [oil-resin mixture] from the European Larch tree [i.e., cooked evergreen sap], although sometimes regular resin was mixed with regular spirits of turpentine and sold as Venice turpentine) mixed with Beeswax and coloring, usually vermilion, a red mercury compound. By modern, as in post-medieval times, the stuff contained NO WAX. The 1798 receipt said the best stuff was made with two parts shellac, one part resin, and one part vermilion, heated slowly over a moderate fire in an earthen pot. The sealing wax would then be molded into sticks in oiled tin molds, then heated over a charcoal fire or spirit flame to smooth and glaze them. Cheaper versions were made by substituting Venice turpentine for resin, and seed lac (a less refined version of shellac) for shellac. ("Lac" is the dried resinous secretions of an insect found mostly in India, and goes by different names at different stages of refining.) Still courser versions had less shellac and more resin, and red lead was substituted for part of the vermilion. Red was the most common color, but black (from ivory black) or other mineral pigments were also used. The early 20th century reference states that chalk, magnesia carbonate, and other minerals were sometimes used as "fillers" in cheaper grades. The coarser grades were used for sealing wine bottles, packages, and such, and a softer kind was made for "official" seals on documents such as charters and the like. By re-heating it, sealing wax becomes plastic again, so a drop on a letter would seal it tenaciously. A watchkey, ring, or any little unique device, even one made expressly for the purpose, could then be pressed in it while still soft to personalize it. This traditionally ensured authenticity of an important document, or more practically, ensured that no one had secretly opened your letter and resealed it."

Link to share this object record:
https://museums.fivecolleges.edu/detail.php?t=objects&type=ext&id_number=HD+2008.10.5

Research on objects in the collections, including provenance, is ongoing and may be incomplete. If you have additional information or would like to learn more about a particular object, please email fc-museums-web@fivecolleges.edu.

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