Whilst on a work placement at the Essex Record Office, I had the opportunity to learn about the conservation of wax seals. The top images illustrate a wax before and after surface cleaning. It was cleaned using a stiff paintbrush and water containing a small amount of 0.5% Synperonic, in a circular motion. The moisture was then removed using cotton wool, and the wax seal rinsed with clean water in a similar manner. It was important to protect the surrounding parchment document from moisture when cleaning aqueously, as moisture can cause damage to the parchment. Thus a blotter was employed to surround the document in such a way that would protect it.
The image below depicts a wax seal that has been infilled using new beeswax. The process was quite lengthy and required much patience, but the end results were satisfying. A disc of beeswax was cast by melting the wax and pouring into a suitable container or tailor-made device. In this case a piece of mill board covered with silicone release paper was used, and the circular boundary was created from strips of Melinex adhered to the board. Creating a disc like this allows the conservator to create the thickness of wax that they require for the repair.
Shapes corresponding to the areas to be infilled were roughly traced and cut out. In this case the infills required quite thick pieces of wax, thus a double thickness was used by cutting out the infills, and melting two pieces of the same shape together. The edges of the new wax infill were then melted with a heated knife, and the infill is placed in position. The infill was then built up even more by pouring very small amounts of wax along the interface of the old and new wax. Finally, the entire infill was smoothed and shaped with a heated flat knife and any excess around the edges was trimmed and shaped in the same manner.
This type of infill repair was carried out because the wax seal was large and had several cracks and was very vulnerable to further damage. However in the case of smaller seals, it is possible to simply apply some melted wax to the vulnerable edges of the seal only, ie one does not have to rebuild the whole disc if it is not required. I also had the chance to practice this method of repair on some smaller seals, the results of which can be seen in the blog section of this website.