A Rare Silver 'Screw-Out' Seal

A rare and very special personal seal, made of silver, with a centre section that screws out, away from the outer rim, allowing the user to choose which detail of the seal is impressed in wax.

Seal Detail

The seal has a trefoil-shaped ring above an everted hexagon terminating in petals. The circular screw-out centre is engraved with a barbed quatrefoil containing the Virgin crowned and seated with the Child at left and a kneeling supplicant at right, within a Lombardic inscription.

The inscription reads * sigillum willelmi de : lavgrave capellani (‘Seal of William de Lawgrave, Chaplain’).

The only specific literature on medieval screw-out seals is an article written in 1924 by H. S. Kingsford. Kingsford lists the eight then-known examples and dates them between 1300 and 1350, since all have inscriptions in Lombardic capitals, as in the present example. He explains that the interest ‘lies in the fact that the centre portion, on which is engraved the device, is made to screw out about an eighth or a quarter of an inch, thus enabling the device to be used, without the legend, as a secret’. All but one of the seals are silver, and as far as Kingsford knew they were made and used only in England, since none have been recorded abroad. The device on Kingsford no. 7, the silver seal of Henry the Chaplain, is a standing figure of the Virgin with a kneeling supplicant, similar to the present example. The subject appears on thirteen of the seals in the National Archives with the kneeling figure in the same frame as the Virgin, and on eleven in a niche below, as was commonly done on the seals of ecclesiastics, so it is not surprising that it should have been chosen by William de Lawgrave and Henry, both chaplains. A more recently discovered silver screw-out seal, now in the British Museum, made for Henry le Callere (the Capmaker), is engraved with his merchant’s mark in the centre.

Seal Specification

English, first half of the 14th century.

Height: 37 mm.

Diameter of matrix: 21 mm.

Weight: 24 gr.