In La Spezia, which is just south of the Cinque Terre in Liguria, there is a small but interesting museum collection of historic document seals, the Museo del Sigillo, only a 5 minute walk from the train station.
The museum, active since 2000, is housed in a neo-medieval building of the 1920s designed by Franco Oliva, the Palazzina della Arts Lucio Rosaia. The collection on display is from a private donation of seals of Lilian and Euro Capellini. It is probably the largest collection of seals and consists of about fifteen hundred pieces.
The Italian word sigillo comes from the latin sigillum, derived from signum (sign or mark), and refers to the actual instrument, the matrix object used to produce the official mark. These decorated objects were made from stone, metal, wood, pasta vitrea, and other materials, with an engraved negative producing a symbol in relief, an impression into a soft material such as clay, wax, lacquer, or by using an ink imprint on paper. This collection in the Museo del Sigillo traces the development of these instruments and their imprints which have helped document the history of civilization to a certain extent.
These seals were used beginning in ancient times to give authenticity to documents and letters, certifying their legal status. The collection is organized in chronological and geographical order with specimens from the 4th millennium BC of Egypt, Iran, and from medieval times, the Roman Imperial age, and the Renaissance, to more recent examples. Some pieces document the presence of ecclesiastical seals from the 14th to the 19th centuries.
The period between the 18th and 19th centuries was the most important for the production of seals, among which are those made of crystal and glass by René Lalique during the Art Nouveau movement. During this time, seals were also made of silver, bronze, ivory, tortoise shell, precious gems, shells, and porcelain. Some were even designed and incorporated together with other objects of desire such as jewelry, canes, tools, perfume bottles, and bottle openers, to name a few.
In the second room are the seals in gold made by important goldsmiths including Fabergé, the jewelers of the Czar. Finally, the third room are the seals produced in the East from the 4th century BC to contemporary pieces. Thanks to the collaboration of industry experts and auction houses, the museum has been able to present a series of detailed catalogs also translated into English.
Anyone interested in silver/gold smithing, jewelry, design, archiving, letter writing, history, and curious objects would enjoy this museum. Wax letter seals are still used in many parts, usually for romantic validation rather than legal authenticity, and can be found in numerous shops. I have constructed a ring from a similar antique object, a carved cameo fob.
If you have a chance to visit this museum, be sure to confirm the hours open to the public. Although posted below, the day I visited, they were only open from 3-6pm. For more information see http://sigillo.museilaspezia.it/
CIVICO MUSEO DEL SIGILLO
Palazzina delle Arti “Lucio R. Rosaia”
Via Prione 236, La Spezia – Italy
T +39 0187 778544
Tickets: € 3.50 (€ 2.50 kids under 6 and adults over 70, or if you have memberships to Endaf, FAI, Touring Club, CRDD, Club la Repubblica, CDG, Coop Liguria, Autorità Portuale, Cineclub Don Bosco)
A complete tickets include the museums Lia, Archeological, Ethnographic, and Sigillo: