Vintage Indie would like to welcome Denise Couling for our latest Reader Collection feature. Denise Couling is an attorney and the founder of Just So! , a jewelry design studio in Brighton, Michigan. An avid collector of vintage wax seals, her collection makes for great eye candy. Denise has turned her love for these seals into an art form while creating jewelry from originals and her own designs.
(Click Images to Enlarge)
Above: Victorian-era British glass seal set in its original box (top left). French seal “Pez machine” in sterling silver (bottom left). A variety of other gilded, brass, glass and semi-precious gemstone seals (bottom right).
What made you start collecting vintage wax seals?
It really was my love of jewelry that led me to collect vintage wax seals. I was hunting around for a special idea for an interchangeable earring base I was designing. I definitely wanted a timeless silver “coin” look. I found a vintage seal set with “portraits” of Roman gods and then worked with a fine jeweler to create the finished project. Although that project moved me closer to seriously pursuing my interest in jewelry design, the seals themselves just intrigued me. My husband, who is from England, has become almost as fascinated by antique seals as I have and helps me look out for new seals and research them. I love how vintage seals can be very clever and they’re not all sugary sweet—sometimes the motifs can be very funny or irreverent. I particularly love the fact that so many Victorian-era wax seals specifically were designed to be worn as jewelry. I think seals are irresistible because they still are wonderful to use in creative projects today.
Above: British and French “wheel” seals. The French one (top right) is gilded, inset with stones and has a mother-of-pearl handle. The small individual seals have cute shapes: one is in the shape of a bird cage (bottom left), one is shaped as a basket of fruit and the other is shaped like a bell. These little seals were worn as pendants or watch fobs. (The necklace is one of my own. The charm is a 14K gold “Forget-Me-Not” seal with a citrine briolette.)
What is your favorite piece from your collection?
Probably because it makes me smile, the individual seal I like the most depicts a wheat sheaf and says: “You Deserve Thrashing.” It takes people by surprise, I suppose, because they often expect something sentimental. I always love it when someone looks at that seal, reads it and starts to chuckle.
Above: The amethyst glass seal reads “WHO THE [DEVIL] CAN THIS BE FROM?” and the citrine-colored seal shows Cupid catching a fox (on what looks like a leash). It says “I CATCH THE MOST CUNNING.” Sometimes, there’s no escaping love!
My very favorite wax seal set was this year’s Christmas present from my
husband. It’s an amazing collection of faceted glass seals from
England from the 1800s, still in its original silk-lined leather box.
A close second is a French seal set in sterling silver. It is a true
work of art (with 26 beautiful seals in the handle). It works
something like a Pez candy dispenser. Every seal in these two sets is
a treasure. They must have been prized possessions for their original
owners … and the seals were charming little messages and puzzles to
send to their friends.
ABOVE: A sample of my collection of vintage brass seals, including one from Italy, a collection of Edwardian alphabet seals and a favorite “cherub” seal (bottom right).
What is missing from your collection, that you dream of owning?
For me, the most tempting seals have charming messages and were designed to be worn as rings or pendants. In Victorian times, wax seals occupied a really interesting niche where correspondence and writing instruments often converged with jewelry. They sent a message about the owner’s education, personality, family ties and even social status. I have seen some wonderful jeweled seals where a faceted amethyst or citrine has been carved with a clever motif or family crest. I would love one of those, but I might have to settle for seeing them in a museum or collector’s guide!
ABOVE: My beautiful French “Pez” seal. The French phrase with the bird flying out of the open cage (left) means, “Whoever neglects me loses me.” The center seal depicts Aesop’s fable of how, after a lion showed mercy on a mouse, that mouse one day saved the lion’s life. (I suppose today we’d call it “karma.”) I love the seal with the fairy flying by the candle flame (right of center). It says “Illusion.” The seal at the far right refers to a poem by Lord Byron, celebrating the lasting nature of friendship. This is such a sophisticated set, yet it is every bit as charming as it is elegant.
What makes a great collection or collector?
I think collecting is great when it’s as much about sharing as “owning.” Long before the gummed envelope existed, wax seals added real charm and personality to a hand-written letter. These were little messages and puzzles that were intended to be shared among friends and loved ones. I am always fascinated by how relevant these vintage seals still are today. You instantly grasp their emotion and humor. When these antique seals sit in a collector’s drawer, it’s a bit sad. So, I think the ability to transform these tiny treasures into something that others can enjoy today is my privilege. It’s my way of not only enjoying the process of collecting but of breathing new life into them.
Above: A beautiful seal with a cherub and a lion became on charm on this collection of Pearl, gemstone and sterling chain necklaces.
We would like to thank Denise for sharing her extensive collection with us. We encourage you to head over to Just So! She offers a beautiful bridal collection as well as many other wax seal styled jewelry.