You’re looking at an extensive collection of seals. Perhaps you’re thinking, that sounds boring… Not at all! The seals may appear unremarkable, but the entire subject is so crucially important that a separate scientific discipline evolved to deal with it, called sphragistics – the science of seals and signets.
Seals were used to secure or to authenticate documents. They already existed in Ancient Mesopotamia, and later also among the Greeks and Romans, from whom they were adopted by early medieval rulers. Imperial and royal charters served as examples which were later followed by princes of the church and secular sovereigns. Seals were a means of authentication that could be understood even in a largely illiterate society. From about 1200, sealed documents had generally become accepted throughout the Holy Roman Empire. The oldest known seal of the Imperial Counts of Solms is from a document dated 1226. You can see it on the left-hand side of the table display case – at the beginning of the row before last.
A seal usually shows an image and what’s known as a legend, an inscription or a circumscription. The image either shows the seal’s owner, their coat of arms, or another symbolic motif. The inscription gives the owner’s name and title. It usually begins top centre with a cross. Often, a sovereign had several seals, and you can see that here. Various signets, that is, seal stamps that were pressed into soft wax, can be found in the next room but one, opposite the antiquities collection.
As you make your way through the exhibition, you’ll also see an 18th century seal press. It was used by the Princely Chamberlain’s Office to emboss the Solms-Braunfels seal on paper.
All depictions: © Schloss Braunfels