Lead Cloth Seals
  • Object number – Various
  • Material – Lead
  • Place of Origin – England, Germany
  • Date – 16th-17th century
  • Context – Various
  • Location – Collections
  • Category – Exchange

These small leaden discs were crimped onto bags or bales of goods but most commonly were attached to textiles. They are alternately called bag seals, bale seals, or cloth seals depending on the item they marked so the collection of artifacts are simply called lead seals.

The most common style of seal in the Jamestown collection is referred to as a two-part seal, meaning that there are two plates: one with a hole in the middle and the other with a protruding spike attached by a single connecting strip. These two plates would be folded onto each other, sandwiching the cloth or other item being marked in the middle. To ensure the seal was securely attached to the item, they were stamped together using a matrix which would have had a reverse image of numerals, letters, or various designs on it. When used to hammer the two plates together, the image from the matrix would be transferred into the lead, leaving the markings we see on these items today.

Lead seals were often stamped with information similar to what is seen on a clothing tag today, including marks which identify where goods were made, the manufacturer of the goods, the quality of those goods as determined by an inspector, and merchant and tax related information as the goods passed through various ports on its journey to its final destination. Occasionally one seal would be stamped multiple times, or multiple seals could be attached to an item as it travelled. Typically, cloth itself deteriorates and is therefore rarely found on archaeological sites. So these seals are significant finds because they can tell archaeologists not only what types of textiles the colonists were using but also how much cloth was arriving to Virginia and where the cloth came from. Seals can also be a good way to date archaeological contexts: cloth goods were usually sold soon after they were made as textiles represented too much money to remain as inventory. However, date information on a number of cloth seals at Jamestown indicates that cloth supplied to the colony may have been older stores of material.

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