Although I didn’t originally set out to do a Herbin supple wax review, that’s kind of how it’s shaping up! I was actually just messing around with the wax because I was personally interested in it. My friend Sam came over and we were messing around with our new wax seals. Sam was doing the red “D”s, and I had the silver “G”s (note that Sam has the knack of it a little better than me!).
Supple wax is essentially flexible wax, for use with modern postage. Original wax back in the 1600-1900’s wax very brittle, intentionally. It was a security measure, to ensure that anyone that tampered with it would crack the seal. So when you received a hand-delivered letter, you knew no one along the way had read it if the seal was intact. Modern postal services are a little more….how should I say….careless with the way postage is handled. Original (aka Traditional) wax would bust apart into pieces in the mail, but supple wax remains flexible.
How it works is quite simple, really. You melt the wax (a butane lighter works best, candles or matches create unsightly soot), put the wax on the paper you wish to seal by either dripping or rubbing the melted wax onto the paper, and stamp your brass seal into the wax. It’s best to try to spread the wax into a thin blob generally the size of the stamp you’re using (as opposed to just having one big blob) before stamping. If you huff a quick warm breath onto the brass before stamping, it helps create a moisture barrier which will assist in keeping the wax from sticking to the brass.
If you’re going to be doing multiple seals at once, the brass will heat up quite a bit. 3 or 4 in a row will be okay, but any more than that, you’ll need some help. Putting the seal onto a frozen ice pack will keep it cool. This will also give it that moisture barrier that will help to keep it from sticking. I find that the cooler the seal is, the faster it cools (hence hardens) the wax, which makes it form more crisp details.
The Herbin seals work like I believe most other seals do. They are solid brass, with the letter engraved out mechanically. They are tapped in the back with threads, and the handle has a threaded rod (that matches the seals threads). This allows you to have multiple brass seals interchangeable with one handle. The engraving is a reverse image of the final result, which can be a little confusing (especially if your letter like my “G” is very swoopy and swirly!).
The supple wax comes in sticks that last somewhere around 7-8 seals per stick depending on your usage. Herbin claims 7 seals per stick, but I find you can go a lot further if you aren’t dumping tons of it on the paper! I can usually get 12-15 seals because I’m a bit conservative. There are 4 sticks per pack. You might just be wondering how you use the last portion of the stick! Well, it’s quite simple. You use the lighter to heat up the end of the stick (as you see below), then stick it right to the next wax stick, let it harden, and keep on truckin’!
Sam and I were like two giddy 6th graders messing with their school lunch while we were doing these wax seals….my wife was quite amused! Being the tinkering ‘technoscribe’ that I am, I thought it would look really neat to mix two colors of wax together in one seal! Sam had red, I had silver, so we melted a couple of drops of the red onto the silver wax stick, then melted the silver wax and rubbed it on the paper, which after stamping produced what you see below. It gave a hint of red swirls in the silver.
I thought it was really neat, but that it might look better with a couple of silver drops into the red, so the red was more prominent. What was most encouraging to me was seeing that the colors don’t bleed together, but rather produce distinct swirls, which is exactly what I’d hoped! With 10 Herbin colors in the supple wax, I can see many more combinations to come!!!!
I was so giddy playing around with all of these fun waxes, the only thing that underwhelmed me a bit was the quality of the wax stamp handle. I’m a wood worker, and have been long before getting into fine writing paraphernalia. Perhaps I just have a high threshold for being impressed by wood objects, but the handle to me, though functional, is hardly impressive. It appears to be white oak (or something like it, stained brown with a coat of unpolished lacquer. It’s fairly light, and obviously machine-turned. As a pen maker who turns pens by hand using exotic burls and other woods, I always look for ways to improve wood objects in my life. I saw a golden opportunity here.
Though the look of the handle is something to be desired it is functional. I like how it has a threaded rod that allows for interchangeability of brass seals. Herbin has 26 letters of the alphabet, 24 picture seals, and 10 ‘modern’ seals, so there’s quite a variety from which to choose.
As an inspired artist and curious tinkerer, I decided to prototype a wax stamp handle out of Brazilian Tulipwood, a beautiful member of the rosewood family. I didn’t take exact measurements, but I got it pretty close to the overall dimensions of the Herbin handle.
But I couldn’t stop there!! I made a few more. From left to right, you see the Herbin handle, two Brazilian Tulipwood handles, a figured East Indian Rosewood handle, and an African Blackwood/Birdseye Maple Burl handle. All of them have the same threads that fit the Herbin brass seals.
I like the density of the heavier woods, and the natural beauty of exotics woods (exotic to the US anyway!). None of my handles are stained, only polished clear lacquer letting the natural beauty of the grain shine through.
Though the figured East Indian Rosewood doesn’t photograph all that well, it’s still pretty impressive.
I had fun doing the African Blackwood and Birdseye Maple Burl. I did it on a whim!
I haven’t really nailed down a particular profile, I was really just experimenting. I think the one I like the most is the EI Rosewood (2nd from the right).