Signet-Rings-art – 8/4/06

 

ÒA Brief Historical Summery of Signet RingsÓ by Lord Gustav Minnesinger.

 

NOTE: See also these files: finger-rings-lnks, finger-rings-msg, jewelry-msg, sealing-wax-msg, seals-bib, seals-msg, Med-Seals-lnks.

 

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NOTICE -

 

This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.

 

These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org

 

Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.

 

While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.

 

Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org

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A Brief Historical Summery of Signet Rings

by Lord Gustav Minnesinger

 

Signet Rings in Ancient Times

 

For how long rings in have been around, we cannot truly say.  They have been mentioned in fable, legends and religious books back to the dawn of time.  Seals have almost as long a history, first being made of clay and stone, and then made of various metals as the technology and materials became available.  What we can say is the oldest known formed metallic object was a copper pendant from around 9500BC.  [1] And rings themselves could have been made in and around the same time.  And soon there after, the personal seal of power, the Signet Ring, was just around the corner.  As a sign of wealth and power, it will only later be surpassed by the crown.  

 

Fig 1  Seal Ring

 

In what is the Middle East by todayÕs standards (Ur, Babylon, Persia of the early Copper Age), we find the predecessor of the first signet rings in the form of a Seal Ring (2000-1600BC).[2] They were finely carved cylinders of the finest stone with intaglio and cameo carved scenes of battle or their gods.  The ring shank itself was a simple band of wire or twisted wires with a loop on each end to hold the stone in place.  All the artwork and time that must have gone into just the carving of these stones must have been just immense.  The Neolithic artists must have had all the devotion and focus of their art that can rarely be seen in this day and age.  They sat and carved the stones slowly and precisely over time with only bone, wood, stones and various sands as their only tools.

 

Fig 2  Signet Ring, Pivot ring

 

As trade routes move ideas and goods from place to place, we find that around 1700BC Signet Rings begin to appear along the Mediterranean trade routes.  In the Minoan and Mycenaean [3] colonies, we find the Seal Ring takes a slight evolutionary change due to the lack of skill of the artistÕs hand.  The carved stones no longer are cylindrical but are flatter and more coin like.  They were still bound to the ring shank by a pivot, but over all they had a more traditional ring shape to them.  And if the number of rings and wear patterns is any evidence, this new was far more popular and comfortable.  We also see that the artists use either intaglio or cameo workmanship into the stoneÕs face, but not both as we had seen in Babylon.  Along the same time periods (1700BC), we see that Egypt [4] takes those same evolutionary steps but also goes one step beyond and permanently fixes the stone in a bezel to the ring shank.  This we can only suppose to keep the stones from getting lost or broken during normal wear.  The ring had gone from being something used symbolically or as a functional tool, to being a piece of daily wear jewelry.  And it is this general shape that would carry on to the modern era.

 

Of how exactly the Seal Rings were used in Ancient Babylon and Ur, we can only guess at.  If you roll the seal across a piece of wax or soft clay, the beautiful images will reveal themselves.  But the stones had to be removed from the ring in order to do this.  And over time, I can see where the stone and the bending of the metal bad would break over time.  But the myths had begun.  The God Marduke handed over his ring of power to one of his men/general to seal up a plague of daemons in an endless pit.  The Signet was a symbol of power.  Being the band was of gold, it was also a symbol of wealth. But very few of the rings still survive today and none (that I know of) of the original impressions that they made.

 

In the Minoan and Mycenaean colonies we find that they made impressions with a cameo or intaglio without distinction.  We also find stories of how the signet ring could also be use as a sign of the actions of that King or Nobleman.  By giving your signet to a trusted man and telling him to do something, you are telling him and all others that he is acting on their behalf.  The acts of the trusted man are those of the owner.  Now this usually meant that the trusted man was out on a mission to burn down a village or to do away with another nobleman.  But in at least one story, it was to carry out the final wishes of the owner as he made his last stand.

 

In Egypt, the land of eternal documentation, we find almost at the start that they made a distinction between the use of an intaglio and a cameo in a signet ring.  Intaglio carved stones left a beautiful impression and raised designs, and was found in great use for Ômaking oneÕs markÕ on documents and other goods (the original rubber stamp).  Cameo carved rings though, became more symbolic: a symbol of power, of wealth, of devotion, of trust.  Everything from the Gods to the crest or the ruling Pharaohs can be found carved in cameo.  But still, the rings and stones themselves were so out of reach of only the most powerful and wealthiest of the nobles, that the rings themselves became magical and powerful unto themselves.  The trusted man was very trusted and loyal.  The priest held great power and devotion.  These were more than just symbols to the people; they were seals of power.  [5]

 

Signet Rings in the Greco-Roman World [500BC-500AD]

 

      In the Hellenistic Period of the Greco-roman world, the demand for Signet Rings continued to grow and grow  [6].  More and more people were gaining enough wealth to make it desirable to be able to officially impress their documents and to show off their new found wealth.  But the big drawback or expense to this was the supply of the cut stones.  The better and more detailed / artful the stone was, the longer it took to cut the stone [7].  The more beautiful and rare the stone was, the more expensive it was as well.  And though the vast majority of the signet rings with cut stones had a traditional shaped bezel (round or oval), we do find a few appearing that had a rectangular or square stone/bezel  [8].  It was to a point that the cut stones were expensive enough that we begin to find signet rings that are made of nothing but metal.  In some ways this liberated the goldsmith from the boundary of having to from the bezel of the cut stone, and gave him a little more freedom as for the shape and comfort of the impress plate.  Most of these were still round or oval, but we also see the long octagon and square pop up as well  [9].  Though there may have been some made in the Egyptian era made completely of metal, I currently do not have evidence to support it.  

 

Over all though, the Greco-Roman world did little to the over all shape or form of the ring, but in their own way, they refined the shape for comfort and daily wear.  The band was solid and simple to comfort to the wearers finger and the bezel was thick and highly polished in order to show off itÕs stone and to protect the fragile gem from any accidental knock-about. And where trade routs were being opened up all over the place (India, Africa, Gaul), even more precious stone were being imported to be cut and carved for rings and other jewels [10].  Here we find the height of the gem-cutters skills that would not be seen again for almost a thousand years  [11].  And where the prized signet rings with stones were almost always made of gold, the all metal signet rings have been found in gold, silver, gilded bronze, and bronze.  We can only surmise that the further we get from the prized rings with stones, the poorer or lower class the wearer must have been.  And wherever the Roman Empire went, there we could find signet ring appearing in one form or the other, and being copied by the artists in the countries that they were in.

 

Fig 3 carved Greek signet ring

Fig 4 carved roman signet ring

Fig 5 collection of rings from gaulish dig

 

      It is also from this time period that we see a little more formal use of the signet ring (and other seals) used for legal reasons.  But it was also seen as the symbol of power, wealth and mastery over the household as well  [12].  We find the sonÕs fighting over the dead fatherÕs hand to get to the ring and the handing over of the ring as a symbol that of inheritance.  All the drama we expect from the Roman Empire.  We also see them being used as prizes for work well done or as a challenge [13], and also being handed over to a trusted man to act on their behalf as in the days of old  [14].  But also like good Romans, we find them also creating rules as for which finger to were it on [15], and the omens as for if the ring should fall off in the middle of the night  [16].  They also went as far as assigning how devoted your where to a God or a person by the type and expense of the cameo worn in your signet (a person spending their money in where their interests lie)  [17].  Some were cameos of the emperor or a God that they were fond of, but it could also be a favored ancestor, hero, philosopher or lover; it was a matter of taste.  But it was also a matter of money as well.  It was the equivalent of dropping $100,000-$500,000 (2006) just to have a symbol of your devotion and love towards someone or ideal.

 

      Legally, we also see the development (amongst the most powerful and wealthy) of using separate signet rings for the matters of ones estate and a different one for personal correspondences or matters  [18].  Just as there were seals for the house, the legion, the temple, et cetera and privet seals of the individual; the same began to appear in the signet rings as well.  This also spread onto the sonÕs of the wealthy as well.  They could have one signet as a bachelor. Then, when he got married, this ring was give to the bride to seal the wedding gifts into the rooms where they were stored [19].  Effectively, this signet was one of the fist examples of the wedding ring (Rome, 200AD).

 

Early European Signet Rings [500-1100AD]

 

      The early years were a rather turbulent time for all of Europe: the fall of fall of Rome and the rise of the Church, the coming of Islam to the east, countries beginning to consolidate and come into their own (Spain, France, Hungry, etc.), the fluctuation of trade routs and the skills of tradesmen.  Turbulent and dark. Wars raged here and there across the landscape, plagues wiping out villages and towns, floods and famine, volcanoes and earthquakes.  We are lucky to have the information and art that we do.  When it comes down to it, rings in general are just portable money.  How much was lost, stolen or just melted down to make something new, we may never know.

 

      During this time, there were few changes that were made to the basic shape of the signet ring from the Roman era.  What did change was who used them and the goldsmithsÕ art of decorating the band and bezel of the ring.

Besides the Kings and wealthy nobles taking up the practice of using signet rings and seals to impress their documents for legal reasons, this had also spread to the clergy and bishops of the land as well  [20].  Taking into account the want of the Roman Church to keep things in order and to have a history of the lands that they controlled, it seems logical (aprox. 500AD) that what was good for the Legion would be good for the Church as well.  And the paperwork flowed.  Around this time as well, particularly in the northern lands, wealthy women began using their own signet rings with their own arms (aprox. 602AD)  [21].  They had the wealth, they had the power, they had a need to legally send documents, make treaties and to write contracts.  So out of legal necessity, the signet ring found its place amongst all the finery of the wealthy and powerful of all of Europe.

 

To the goldsmiths of Europe, the signet ring was something new.  So, in the beginning they copied the older styles of the Romans and made slight changes to them as fashion and their patrons dictated.  Around 470AD it became the practice of having ones name engraved around the bezel of the ring [22].  If the stone to be used was large enough, the name would be carved into it as well  [23].  But most of the stones that they were using were either recycled from older Roman and Greek rings, a practice that continued into the 1500Õs [24].  Or if it were a very wealthy patron, they went to all the expense of having a stone carved for them by the stonecutters in Rome, Athens or Constantinople  [25].  The reason being that they had to import the new cut stones or use stones recycled from other rings is that where the various metalsmiths had a tendency to travel to where the work was, but the gem cutters of the ancient world were proud and would not move from the ports where they received the raw stones.  If you want our work, you will come to us.  This problem continued even to 1147AD when the King of France complained as for the state of gem-cutters abroad [26].  But the skill of working the softer metals of gold and silver was within their grasp.  The difficulties they had with the gems was not a problem where it came to working and making beautiful all metal signet rings.  Even engraving the names around the small bezel for a recycled roman stone made their patrons happy.  And over time, the bands and bezels of the rings became more and more decorative.

 

Signet Rings in the Middle Ages [1100-1600AD]

 

      ÒIt was not the custom in the past for every petty Knight to have a seal.  They are appropriate for Kings and great men onlyÓ --- Richard de Lucy, Chief Justiciar of England, before the courts of Henry II  [27].  This may have been true in the mind of Richard de Lucy in about 1160, but as we can see, it was not historically the case.  Yes, wealth and power for the most part has gone hand in hand since the dawn of time, but there were many more reason to have a seal or signet ring.  And though they were few in number, they are not as rare as de Lucy would have us think.  For instance, signet rings were used as counter-seals to official letters and other legal documents by the 1200Õs, but was not widespread used by the noble families until the 1400Õs [28].  But just as there was a rise in the use of signet rings to counter-seal documents by the lesser nobles (still not real common by 1301 [29]), Bishops began to discontinue the practice of using a signet ring by the 1300Õs [30] in favor or larger, more detailed personal seals or seals of office.  In some ways it was a function of one-upmanship by the church to outshine the nobles.  The clerical rings then became more of a function or their office than a working tool, and over time they became more and more decorative as symbols of state.  But the use of seals and signet rings was spreading.  Wealthy tradesmen and merchants were taking the prerogative to having their own seals made by the 1200Õ[31] and signets were known by the 1300Õs  [32] out of legal necessity.  In fact, in the 1400Õs, all of the Scottish Chiefs were required by law to have their own seal [33].  Most were made of bronze and silver [34], but it was conceivable that some were made of gold or gilded bronze.

 

      But what did these rings look like in the age of Chivalry?  How did they change over time?  Well, for the most part the early rings were very classical, being copies of the Roman rings themselves.  But they were so expensive.  Even if you were an adventurer, Crusader or wealthy traveler who went to one of the great Mediterranean cities, the time it took and the price that was asked for a new carved gem was beyond that of many of the nobles of the time.  So, many of the nobles had to do with rings whose stone were recycled from an earlier time, whether it was appropriate or not.  For instance, the personal signet ring or King Richard I of England (1128AD) had the standing figure of Minerva or Mercury, and Good King JohnÕs privet signet had the profile of a womanÕs head [35].  Some of the rings of the clergy though, makes us wonder about what was really going on: Tomas Becker at Canterbury (1162AD) had a signet of a standing nude Mercury or Mars wearing only a helmet, Huge de Nonant at Coventry (1188AD) had a stone with the word Allah in Arabic, Robert Wishart at Glasgow (1273AD) had one with a nymph adjusting her footwear while leaning on a giant phallus [36].

  

The early clerical signet were mostly round and like the examples above, used recycled roman stones, but whether by fashion or influence by the Indian trade, they began to take on more of an appearance of a two pointed oval or lozenge (yoni) shape (1072). [37] Round or oval signet rings would still be around for a few more years (mid 1100Õs), but by 1367 we see that the church in northern Europe began to order the commission of gems to be carved specifically for them. [38] It is also around this time that women began to use this shape of seal for themselves as well. [39]

 

      Over time, the art of the goldsmith was brought into play to make the signet rings more and more decorative.  Some of this was to overcome the fact that as jewelers, they were lousy at carving the intaglios or cameos themselves until about the mid 1400Õs. Some of this was to cover the fact that they may not have contained a prized signet gem, but were made of all metal.  What ever the case may have been, the jewelerÕs art would be put to the test as the winds of change blew the fashion trends away from the prized stones of the past to the more elaborate designs and engravings of ones personal Coat of Arms [40].  You have to realize that the vast majority of seals and signets up to the 1300Õs were only 3-4cm (1.18-1.56 inches) across [41], and from the 1300Õs onward they only got smaller (1-1.5cm, 0.4-0.58 inches) [42].  These rings also got very complex.  The early rings had various beasts and the ownerÕs name carved into them.  And the later rings not only had the persons coat of arms carved into the soft metal with supporters and the like, but also lengthy mottos as well [43].  It was a wonder that many more goldsmiths did not go blind in the whole process.

 

      By the 1400Õs, a personÕs signet ring became one of their prized processions.  The homestead could be sold and all of their jewels been made away with before they would part with their signet.  It was the lowest sign that they had been impoverished and disenfranchised.  Signet rings were being used as betrothal rings even by royalty, [44] and bequeathed to sons and favored lovers [45].  But the use and ownership was spreading.  The favored stones were still out of the price range for more of the people, but the jewelerÕs art in silver was just in the ballpark for many of the merchants as legal seals and personal signets.  By the mid 1400Õs, jewelers were marketing personal signets and seals as off-the-shelf items bearing a monograms and popular supporters like the lion or crown. [46]

 

Crest Rings, Privy Rings and Personal Signet Rings in the Middle Ages [1100-1600AD]  

 

During the Middle Ages, we find that they began to differentiate the type of rings that were being worn, used or given to trusted men in their command.  Where in the past, a person may have given their personal signet ring to a trusted man to show that he was acting under his command; crest rings were created with the arms in cameo or in enamel and given to this trusted man.  It was more than just being the servant of their noble lord, they were in fact acting as the right hand of their lord in whatever affair that they were commanded to do.  Few of these rings survive, but the tradition still continues to this day in some places like the Swiss Guard of Rome and the Tower Guards of London.  Occasionally we see the family members of an armigious house wearing the crest of arms of the house, but only the head of the house bearing the seal and signet of the house. [47]

 

      With the more wealthy nobles, they would have several different seals and signets that were used for differing purposes.  One would be for royal proclamations and another for sending orders to their generals or spies.  The later signets were rather anonymous and would only be recognized by the people who were meant to see the letter at all; away to tell the correct orders from ones that are false in times of war.[48]

 

      A second form of sometimes anonymous signet was the personal signet of kings and other persons of power. These were people who wore many hats and titles (prince, king, baron, head of a great family, head of a trading company or war company, etc.) and for each of these jobs they would have a seal or signet of that post.  But when the day was done and they wanted to send a document as themselves, then they would fall back to using their personal signet to seal the letter.  Sometimes, when it was not in their best interest to have it known that you were corresponding with a lover,[49] they would at times exchange seals or signets as a token of love between them.  So if they should correspond, the letters could be completely anonymous, mentioning no names to give away who they were, and still be able to identify to your lover from whom the letter had come from.[50] This became more and more popular towards the late 1500Õs and on into the 1600Õs, though we find this in practice as early as the 1200Õs.  Typically these were smaller than your average, so as to be easily concealed.

 

 

Side-notes on Signet Rings

 

The Shield Shaped Signet Ring

 

Throughout the whole of history of the signet ring, we can find the vast majority of all the signet rings to have a round or oval shape to the bezel.  The Egyptians first created it, the Greeks copied it and gave it a little polish, and the Romans spread it throughout the known world.  Over time there have been a few innovations here and there into different shapes (octagonal, lozenge, square or rectangle), but the rarest shape of all is the bezel shaped as a heraldic shield.  Of this type of ring, I have only found three examples: the privy counterseal signet of Thomas de la Roche (1301AD)[51], the anonymous ÔLoverÕs SealÕ (1316AD) [52], and the signet of Charles I as Prince of Wales (1612AD)[53].  Of the three, the ÔLoverÕs SealÕ has the most interesting story behind it.

 

As with many things in Briton, letters and other correspondences are lost, found, filed, lost again, moved, and then re-filed to be forgotten.  All of these letters speak of the history of a people that had hopes, dreams, romance and drama.  It is with some of these anonymous love letters that we are concerned with.  Preserved for many years, they are great examples of the love and poetry of a woman for a man, and a man for a woman. In them they devote themselves to one another and what hidden moments they may find in each otherÕs presence, of the few hours that they may have to see one another in their busy political worlds.  Though no names were mentioned, the places they talked of and the world that was theirs speaks to us of the daily lives of the upper nobility, and the power of love to overcome time, distance and political marriages.  And they had to be secretive.  If any should know of their intimate moments or of the years of longing, they would have been killed at the least.  The only markings were the seals; Her signet was the ÔLoverÕs SealÕ of the hunt, and his was a fallen stag beneath a crown.[54]

 

Fig.    .  Harvey&McGuinness, p89 ÔLoverÕs sealÕ

 

The next time we see the Shield-shaped Signet ring would be in some of the Pre-Raphaelite portraits of the mid 1800Õs and then again as a tourist token to some of the large fairs of northern Europe at the beginning of the 1900Õs.  They were cheap enameled crest rings to commemorate the various events.  From these two items, it then made it into movies, where many people come to think that such things are period.  As a merchant, I have found that about half of the people I run into think that the Shield shaped ring IS the period ring, the other half look to the round or oval as the ring of choice.  Of course, I try to educate.

 

Signet as Cipher: The Signet of Ponce de Leon

The Squirt Signet Ring

The Signet-Watch ring

Signet Rings in the Islamic World

 

 

Brief evolutionary timeline on the forms and shapes of signet rings

 

Pre2000-1000BC Persia/Babylon --- The predecessor of the Signet Ring was the Seal Ring.  A cylinder of intaglio carved stone attached to a band of gold to be worn on the finger.  The ring would have to be removed to roll and make the full impression in wax or clay.  The ring shank was very plain, being a solid round cable or a twist of small cables.[55]

 

1700BC Minoan and Mycenean --- Signet rings took on a different form of a carved stone (intaglio or cameo) with a band of metal around the bezel that was thus hinged or pivoted to the ring shank.  The stone was typically round or oval. The ring shank was very plain, being a solid round cable or a twist of small cables.

 

1500BC Egypt --- Though the pivoted signet rings are still being made, we find that solid band and bezel rings are being made.  They still contain carved stones.  The bands show a little simple carving; more for the less worn ceremonial rings and simpler for the more worn common rings.[56]

 

300-100BC Greece and Rome --- During the Hellenistic period of growth, we find that stonecutters could not keep up with demand for the intaglio or cameo carved stones.  Thus jewelers began making some rings of nothing but metal.  The bezels still mimicked the older forms and were round or oval.  These were for the lesser nobles that could not afford the carved stones or used as bachelor rings.  Still the bands were of a rather simple design. This is where the more modern signet ring stems from.[57]

 

3rd-4th Cent. AD Rome --- We begin to find a few departures from the typical round or oval bezel to a square or rectangular bezel of carved stone.[58]

 

470AD Rome --- We find that the engraving has begun to take on more form and decoration.  Romans begin to have their names carved around the metal bezel.[59]

 

500AD Rome --- Signet ring as art.  The bishopÕs rings take on more than use, it is a symbol of power and the amount of miniature engravings and carving around the band makes it more ceremonial than something to be worn every day. [60]

 

602AD France and Germany --- Powerful and wealthy women begin to have their own signet rings produced, all metal, baring their own coats of arms. [61]

 

700-1500AD Europe --- As the art of the Goldsmith was ever increasing in its skills, European gem carving was rather poor to non-existent. More and more, ancient rings are being melted down and the carved stones re-used for other peopleÕs signets.  Even the French bemoan of the state of their gem-cutters (1147) [62] and the cost to have Greek or Roman gem-cutters produce new stones for them.  The frequency of all metal signets begins to steadily rise.[63]

 

1250AD Europe --- We begin to see the rise of noble priestÕs personal signet rings whose bezels have more of a lozenge shape than a tight oval.  This continues into northern Europe where some of the more studious and traveled artists in the 15th Century took up the shape as well.[64]

 

16th Cent. AD Europe --- By this time, the winds of fashion had changed so much that oneÕs personal coat of arms (in borders, with supporters and/or motto) was the norm for use on oneÕs signet ring.[65] The carved stones were almost prohibitive to all but the most wealthy.  And the older rings baring the Roman or Greek carved stones were now out of fashion and were either not used, put away as a curiosity or buried with itÕs last owner.  Though most were of the standard round bezel with oval running a close second, we find that the square and rectangular shaped bezels still around, octagon and hexagon shaped bezels could also be found as well.[66]

 

1612AD England --- The only known signet ring whose bezel consists of shield shaped coat of arms.  It is the signet ring of Charles I when Prince of Wales; an intaglio carved diamond.[67] The only other example is of the LoverÕs Seal of 1316, but the ring has never been found.[68]

 

 

How Signet Rings were made in Period.

 

(This section will be up-dated as soon as I receive my copies of:

á       John Cherry, Goldsmiths, University of Toronto Press, 1992

á       On Divers Arts, The Treatise of Theophilus, John G. Hawthorne and Cyril Stanley Smith, translators

á       The Treatises of Benvenuto Cellini on Goldsmithing and Sculpture, C.R. Ashbee, translator. Dover 1967.

á       Metalwork and Enamelling, by Herbert Maryon. Dover 1971.

 

(The above books will also fill out a gap where I can write a good article on the jewelersÕ art and metalworking in general.  The below is from the original documentation.)

 

A Brief summery about period metal casting

 

      The jewelers of this time were less complete manufacturers, and more the artists of the final design; buying their metals and other materials from merchants.  In this way, they could concentrate more on the process and perfection of their art than spending the time going to find the materials and to refine them to their needs.

 

      The first step would be to mold and carve the masterwork from various forms of wax.  This would typically be animal paraffin and beeswax having been mixed, refined and filtered down to its purest form.  Then, using various carving and sculpting tools, they would begin the process of building up their work.  The tools may have been really anything that the artist had on hand: pieces of wood, bone or quills.  Being that the wax is still rather soft, it would be easy to carve, but also easy to leave behind an errant impression if not careful.  Care would also be taken into account how it would be poured or filled with the molten metal.  Vents, gates and spurges were also formed at this stage.  One miscalculation and the final product would never see the light of day.

 

      The second stage was to carefully cover the wax master with various grades of plaster, ceramics and clay in order to create an exact negative of the wax master to be filled in return with the molten metal.  The first couple of layers would be of the finest grade of ceramic clay that they could find.  The better the clay, the finer the reproduction and the reduction in rough spots there would be on the final product to be filled off at a later date.  They also took great care to make sure that there were no air bubbles as well next to the wax.  Any bubbles at this point would later be filled with metal and could potentially wipe out details that the artist had taken time to create to begin with.  The later layers of clays and plaster would be less and less fine, being probably the remains of old castings roughly crushed and mixed with the new plaster.

  

The once the final layers were placed around the wax image, then the entire plaster mold would be cured in a kiln in order to harden the plaster and to melt away the wax inside of it.  This was done in stages in order to hopefully save the wax for further use and to ensure that the plaster cast did not fracture in the process.  Slowly the heat would be brought up on the cast until the remaining wax literally burned out of the plaster.  Once this was done, then the cast was quickly brought up to a temperature near to that of the metal that would be poured into it.  This was to hopefully keep the metal a little more fluid as it was poured into the cast.  The more fluid the metal, the more it will flow into every nook and grove in the cast, and the finer detail that you would get in the final product.

 

The final stage was to pour the metal.  Once the cast had come up to temperature and the chosen metal had been melted in the furnace, then carefully the metal would have been poured from the crucible into the cast.  In some cases, the cast would then be placed into the cooling furnace or kilt in order to keep the cast and metal hot for a little while longer.  But eventually the moment of truth would finally be at hand.  The cast would be cooled and the plaster would be broken away from the metal to see if everything worked according to plan.  Hopefully it all came out after the weekÕs worth of work (or more). If not, melt it down and try again.

 

After the Casting

 

      After all of than was said and done, there was still more work to be done.  The lump of metal was dull, discolored and had just the rough outline of the detail wished by the artist. At this point, it would go to the next stage, which would be to give the casting the detail required.  In the 14th and 15th century, this would involve engraving and carving using hardened iron tools, hammers and various files. After much work and attention to detail, then it would pass onto the next stage: polishing.  As much work and materials went into polishing a single piece as did any other stage of its creation.  Files of higher and higher grain, then dry-stones, then wet-stones, then finer and finer powders imbedded in wax, wood and cloth.  Treadle and water powered tables and tools help in this process, but still it took weeks until a piece was to be given its final polishing.  

 

And then we have stone setting, patinas, engraving and enameling to consider as well.  But that is for another date.

 

[1] The Metalsmiths, p32

[2] Kunz, p115

[3] Kunz, p117

[4] Kunz, p117

[5] Kuntz, p115

[6] Kuntz, p124

[7] Kuntz, p124

[8] Kunz, facing p218.

[9] Gerlach, p177, fig.18

[10] Kunz, p125

[11] Kunz, p125

[12] Kunz, p125

[13] Kunz, p126

[14] Kunz, p131

[15] Kunz, p136

[16] Kunz, p129

[17] Kunz, p128

[18] Kunz, p133

[19] Kunz, p133

[20] Kunz, p137

[21] Kunz, p138

[22] Kunz, p138

[23] Harvey&McGuinness, p14

[24] Kunz, p149

[25] Kunz, p145

[26] Kuntz, p145

[27] Harvey&McGuinness, p77, Secondary source: E. Searle (ed.), The Chronicle of Battle Abbey, Oxford, 1980, p.214-215

[28] Harvey&McGuinness, p9

[29] Harvey&McGuinness, p61

[30] Harvey&McGuinness, p71

[31] Harvey&McGuinness, p77

[32] Kunz, p144

[33] Harvey&McGuinness, p61

[34] Harvey&McGuinness, p77

[35] Harvey&McGuinness, p36

[36] Harvey&McGuinness, p70

[37] Harvey&McGuinness, p63

[38] Harvey&McGuinness, p70

[39] Harvey&McGuinness, p79

[40] Kunz, p149

[4[1]] Harvey&McGuinness, p79

[42] Harvey&McGuinness, p88

[43] Harvey&McGuinness, p89

[44] Kunz, p150

[45] Kunz, p149

[46] Harvey&McGuinness, p93

[47] Though this may be a modern use of the signet by the household, it is logical that it could have sprung from an earlier time of a lesser nobles house.  Greater nobles would have had lands enough to give each of their sons their own arms and individual signets as they needed.  I have no documentation for or against this practice due to the fact that crest rings were not used to impress documents in the middle ages, the crests used as just a piece of jewelry signifying their household and level of trust.

[48] Harvey&McGuinness, p34

[49] Because one or both of you were married, or it was the same sex, or different nationalities or political parties or religion, or et cetera --- all of these could get you killed or worse depending on the level of politics you were at and the political climate of the era you lived.

]50] Kuntz, p142

[51] Heraldic shield with arms, without border, motto or name. Harvey&McGuinness, p61.  Secondary Source: Lord Howard de Walden, Some Feudal Lords, p.15, 133, 134, 147

[52] The device made to make the 2x1.5cm (0.78Óx0.59Ó) impress has never been found.  Harvey&McGuinness, p89

[53] Kunz, p157

[54] http://www.bewilderingstories.com/

[55] Kunz, p  115

[56] Kunz, p 117

[57] Kunz, p  124

[58] Kunz, p.  133 facing, fig. 3 & 4 and bottom two

[59] Kunz, p  138

[60] Kunz, p  137

[61] Kunz, p 138

[62] Kunz, p 145

[63] Kunz, p  149

[64] Kunz, p 152 facing

[65] Kunz, p 149

[66] Kunz, p 137 facing, top figure

[67] Kunz, p 157

[68] Harvey & McGuinness, p 89

 

End-notes

 

 

Picture Credits

 

(No pictures credited at this time.)

 

 

Bibliography

 

Percy Knauth, The Metalsmiths, Time-Life Books, 1974

 

Oppi Untracht, Jewelry Concepts and Technology, Doubleday Books, 1996

 

Tim McCreight, The Complete Metalsmith, Sterling, 1991

 

Maria Laura, et al, The World's Great Treasures, Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 1998

 

Gianni Guadalupi, ed, The Great Treasures, Chartwell Books, 2002

 

PDA Harvey & Andrew McGuinness, A Guide to British Medieval Seals, University of Toronto Press, 1996

 

Dale M. Brown, ed., The Emergence of Man: The Metalsmiths, Time-Life Books, 1974

 

George Frederick Kunz, Rings for the Finger, Dover Books, 1973

 

John Cherry, Goldsmiths, University of Toronto Press, 1992

 

C.R. Ashbee, translator. , The Treatises of Benvenuto Cellini on Goldsmithing and Sculpture, Dover Books 1967

 

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Copyright 2006 by Jeff Vess, gustavminnesinger at gmail.com. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.

 

If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.

 

<the end>



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