This section is from the book "The Law Of Contracts", by William Herbert Page. Also available from Amazon: Commercial Contracts: A Practical Guide to Deals, Contracts, Agreements and Promises.
Any statement either of what a seal was or of its legal effect is constantly complicated by the fact that the constant tendency of the law, during the last century and a half, has been to abolish technical requirements as to the nature of the seal and as to its legal effect. This has been done in part by judicial decisions, in part by statute. It is, therefore, difficult in discussing different steps in the development of the law to determine whether given cases are merely extending a doctrine at a given stage of development, and adhering to it, though construanswer to these, Gilbert de Baillol, that he might not seem to make no objection, answered that he had heard the reading of the deeds given by his predecessors, but he took occasion to note that no seals were affixed to them in attestation. Turning to him, that splendid and wise man Richard de Lucy, the brother of the said abbot, then the Justiciar of the lord king, inquired whether he had a seal. Upon his reply that he had a seal, the illustrious man smiled and said, "The old fashion was not for every little knight to have a seal, but it was customary for only kings and people of consequence to have them, and in the old times spite did not make men pettifoggers or sceptics." ("Moris an-tiquitus non erat quemlibet militu-lum sigillum habere, quod regibus et praecipuis tantum competit per-sonis." Bigelow Placta, 177.) Abbot Walter v. Gilbert de Baillol; Bigelow's Placta, 175, 177; Adams & Stephen's Select Documents of English Constitutional History, 9, 10; decided in the reign of Henry II.
4pollock & Maitland's History of English Law, II. 221, 222 (original paging).
ing it more liberally than the earlier cases; or whether they mark a transition to the next stage of development. (1) The Common Law seal consisted originally of a distinct and individual engraved or inscribed stamp with which impressions could be made upon wax or other substance capable of adhering to paper and of receiving impressions. It is in this sense of the word that Glanville and Britton speak of the loss of a seal.1 The term was, as it still is, an ambiguous one, as it also meant the impression made by such stamp upon such adhesive substance.2
"Sigillum est cera impressa quia cera, sine impressione, non est sigillum."3 While Coke speaks of a seal as necessarily an impression in wax, it has been held that any substance may be used, if both capable of receiving an impression and of adhering to the paper.4 So an impression on a wafer5 or mucilage6 was held sufficient. So an impression made directly upon the paper, causing indentations and elevations in its substance, might be a seal.7 (2) The next step in breaking down the technical requirements as to the form of a seal was to hold that a piece of wax or a wafer,8 a piece of paper9 or other extrinsic substance affixed to the instrument and intended as a seal, might be a valid seal, though no distinctive impression of any sort appeared thereon. (3) The next step in breaking down technical requirements as to the form of a seal was to hold that an mark upon the paper intended as a seal would be a valid seal, though no extrinsic substance was affixed to the paper and no impression of any sort was made upon the paper. Where this principle obtains an ink seal,10 a scrawl with the word seal written within it,11 or printed12 a scroll seal,13 the word "seal 14 the word "seal" printed within brackets,15 the letters "L. S."16 or an ink mark intended as a seal17 have been each held sufficient as seals. Many states, however, have not adopted this principle as a Common Law rule, and have held that if no impression is made on the paper, a mark no matter how clearly meant for a seal, such as the word "seal" surrounded by brackets,18 or a scroll seal,19 or the word "seal"20 is not sufficient as a seal. Under a statute specifically authorizing an impression upon the paper without the use of wax or wafers, wherever a seal was required, a scroll with the word "seal" written under it is not a valid seal if affixed to a contract which is not required by law to be under seal.21 (4) The last step has been statutory and consists in abolishing the private seal.
1 Glanville, Book X., ch. XII.; Britton, I. 646.
2 Fish v. Brown, 17 Conn. 341; Warren v. Lynch, 5 Johns. (N. Y.) 239.
3 Co. Inst. Lib. III. 169.
4 Pillow v. Roberts, 13 How. (U. S.) 472.
5Tasker v. Bartlett, 5 Cush. (Mass.) 359.
6 Gillespie v. Brooks, 2 Redf. (N. Y.) 349.
7 Pierce v. Indseth, 106 U. S. 546; Pillow v. Roberts, 13 How. (U. S.) 472; Hendee v. Pinkerton, 14 All. (Mass.) 381; Manchester Bank v. Slason, 13 Vt. 334.
8 Hughes v. Debnam, 8 Jones L. (X. C.) 127.
9 Turner v. Field, 44 Mo. 382.
10 Hastings v. Vaughn, 5 Cal. 315.