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Making Our Mark, Authentically

January 31, 2019 • Sam Grabel

Look to the top left of your screen, where our logo resides. Notice anything different? Last week, at our quarterly all-staff meeting in Washington, D.C., we launched our 40th anniversary mark to kick off this momentous year.

Pictured: History Factory's logo to commemorate their 40th anniversary. The logo says

The logo is reminiscent of a wax seal and contains several elements that are authentic to History Factory, including our founding date and our anniversary tagline, “Revolutionize.”

Why did we choose the wax seal as the centerpiece for our 40th anniversary identity? The answer is simple: authenticity.

According to our designer, Zack Hopkins, we had been kicking around the idea of using a stamp of approval even before we applied it to the anniversary. “We wanted something modular that we could apply to content to say, ‘This is 100% authentic,’” Zack said.

With this idea in mind, we wanted to make sure that we could trace the origins of the seal and its uses in authenticating content throughout history. Here’s what we found.

Seals first appeared around 3500 B.C. in Mesopotamia, where engraved stone cylinders were rolled across wet clay to create a unique pattern. These seals were used to authenticate business deals and treaties, to show provenance of ownership, and to sign letters.

Pictured: engraved stone cylinders found in Mesopotamia.

Seals were still in use several millennia later, when both royalty and ordinary citizens in the Near East (today’s Middle East) tied important documents with string and used the stamp to impress their symbol in a blob of clay, which served as a seal. A reference to the use of seals can be found in the Old Testament (1 Kings 21:8), where Queen Jezebel used her husband’s seal to send letters to elders and nobles.

In Roman and Greek times, some seals were made using gems engraved with portraits or images of gods. They denoted quality and served as the mark of a craftsman.

Wax seals were first used in the Middle Ages, when nobility and clergy would use personal seals or signet rings to authenticate decrees and other important documents. One of the first uses of the wax seal is attributed to Edward the Confessor in the 11th century.

Pictured: the wax seal ring of Edward the Confessor.

By the 13th century, wax and resin seals were commonplace, but important figures used rarer mixtures. The pope used a special type of lead to sign his edicts.  Also known as “Papal Bulls,” they were named as such because of the type of lead, or “bulla,” he used in the seal.

Pictured: a wax seal from a papal bull.

Wax seals remained an important part of authenticating correspondence until the 19th century. With the invention of the gummed envelope, a recipient could easily see whether a letter had been opened.

Our anniversary mark is inspired by our methodology: Start with the Future and Work Back.™ We are leaders in the authentic content revolution. What better way to lead than to hark back to the seal, the original authenticator?

Check back throughout our anniversary year to see how we’re leading the revolution.


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