A Wax Jack. What is that thing?

A Wax Jack. What is that thing?

1795 wax jack

Getting back to writing my novel also meant getting back into research. Both I love, so it has been a win, win! Today in the “What is that thing?” category, a new discovery for me was the device seen to the right.

First introduced in the late 1600s and popularized in the 18th Century, the wax jack was designed as an alternative to the two-object process for sealing a letter. Rather than a flaming candle used to melt a wax sealing stick, the wax jack consisted of a small desktop stand which held a coiled wax taper. One end of the taper, a roughly 1/4 inch diameter length of fiber wick coated with beeswax (typically), was positioned for easy lighting. Once lit, the melting wax taper was dripped directly onto the folded paper to seal. As an added bonus, the wax tapers were much cheaper than the wax sticks.

Wax jacks were produced in a wide variety of forms in silver, wrought iron, brass or bell metal. It usually comprised a vertical or horizontal shaft mounted on a pan with legs and topped with a scissors-like pincer. A variant, called a bougie box (“bougie” being French for candle), included a pierce-decorated enclosure around the shaft, often in the form of a canister or ball, in which the wax taper could be contained while allowing one to see how much remained in the jack. The thin wax taper came in long rope-like lengths and was coiled around the shaft or inside the chamber with the melting end stretching up to the pincer where it could be held in place and the flame easily controlled to melt the sealing wax. Occasionally a cone-form extinguisher was provided as part of the jack.

Wax jacks were most frequently found in England and on the Continent. They were rarely used in the American colonies. Envelopes were not in general use, nor pre-gummed, so correspondence was folded over and sealed with a wax puddle impressed with sender’s insignia or initial. Last note, wax jacks put out scant light or heat, so were never used for illumination.

Wax Jacks: L dated 1675, R dated 1815 (note the cone-shaped flame extinguisher)



Wax Jacks: L dated 1795, R dated 1800


Bougie Boxes: L dated 1779, R dated 1790



Wax Jacks in copper: both dated 1810, the one on the right fashioned as clock cogs.

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