Stuart Bags the Seals

11th March 2018 — 12 Comments

Alongside buttons and spindle whorls, the ubiquitous lead seal probably features amongst the commoner artefacts found by detectorists searching farmland.

Stuart Elton

In 2015 I wrote in a crap post that the best examples were to be found at bagseals, a site created by my friend Stuart Elton. Last year Stu wrote a book, entitled Cloth Seals, and my review of his magnificent acheivement follows:

Cloth Seals: An Illustrated Guide to the Identification of Lead Seals Attached to Cloth: from the British perspective

Many of you will know detectorist Stuart Elton. He’s the guy we usually consult when seeking advice on lead cloth seals. Apart from those catalogued earlier by the late Geoff Egan, adviser on the Portable Antiquities Scheme, this is an area of interest largely ignored by archaeologists and indeed detectorists.

Stuart long ago appreciated that lead seals affixed to textiles sent out in trade from the 14th to the 18th centuries were quite significant. By recording the locations where these items were found much information can be learned about the cloth trade, for a long time the main source of England’s prosperity.

This book, a weighty tome both literally and in content, has been a long time in gestation, born out of the collection of seals on the website, Detectorists have found the majority of examples in the book, and I recognise many of the names in the acknowledgements.

My congratulations go to the author on his energy, professionalism and dedication. Stu has produced a scholarly book, which he hopes is a place where you can go to retrieve a cornucopia of relevant information on lead seals. And he has succeeded.

The aim is intended to help with the identification of lead seals found by detectorists in the UK, but there’s also a comprehensive section devoted to those found on the Continent.

He recognises, of course, that many of the extra examples not shown, but referenced, can be viewed on the Internet. Remember, this is the information currently available. Detectorists are discovering new examples every day.

The terminology is also interesting. If you don’t know the difference between a cloth, bale or bag seal, a rivet disc, and a rivet stub or rove disc, then these unique identifications (and more) will be an education.

The contents are comprehensive, including an introduction to seals, identification, use, matrices, and the dating of examples. Throughout the images are superb, giving a description of the seal, the finder and where found. I particularly like the one on page 18, ‘found by an Old Man’, and show this as an example of the quality of production.

What follows is a list and description of the seals, including those of a known monarch and seals of guilds and companies. In this section you’ll find a chapter on handling, cleaning, conserving and taking images of seals. I know that many of our readers will find that useful.

Stu Elton

Stuart’s book is impressive and this work shows a true dedication and knowledge of the subject. I’m sure it will become a valued reference for scholars everywhere.

For the average detectorist, the price is an indication of its true worth, but perhaps just a little too much money to fork out. For full details and the current price, see the publisher’s website. But have a look around. You may be able to buy it cheaper elsewhere. I recommend the e-book and it’s only £19. A delight to use and easy to search.


Originally published in the UK Searcher magazine



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12 responses to Stuart Bags the Seals

  1. “My congratulations go to the author on his energy, professionalism and dedication”

    Mine too, John.. That is definitely a work of love… and one that would seem to be sorely needed. On this side of the pond, we have bale seals aplenty..But so far, that is all that I have seen

    Thank you John… and thank you Stuart. A book that will find its’ place on quite a few shelves


  2. An excellent reference manual on these humble finds, a credit to the author.

  3. Stuart was (is) always a thoroughly helpful chap to we of the DS website (in its heyday) and his bagseals website, as you say, perennially useful. Now you can have his veritable encyclopædia on your mobile phone in the field. Lead is the metal of the common people, judging by the amount that gets dug up, and what historically useful (and profound) artefacts can be made of it. ‘Course most is only fit for melting down into sea-fishing weights, but there again we have further utility… Sparkly bijou article John, and apols for wittering… Cheers!

  4. John from Ontario (AKA Geobound) 11th March 2018 at 7:01 AM

    I can’t even begin to imagine the time and energy that had to be put into something like this, kudos to Stuart just doesn’t seem quite good enough.

    And at £19 seems like a good deal.

  5. Considering the work StuE put in gathering the information, it had to be good.
    Some will feel that £40is too costly, but they can be assured that at £60 this is
    an absolute bargain, which will become a kind of bible to anyone with an
    interest in historic artefacts.
    Congratulations Stu, if you read this.

  6. It’s a superb book. Even got one of my seals in it.

  7. Thank you John and thanks for all the kind comments (none of my hats seem to fit anymore!)
    Particular thanks to the many of you who submitted seal images for the book and please remember that I still enjoy identifying them – just contact me through my website, which John has helpfully linked to in his article.

    • Pleased you approved, Stuart … a major accomplishment!
      I never knew that Native Americans used them as adornment.
      You learn something every day!

      • Interesting. have come across coins that are holed and strung together as was lead seals. Anything shiney and I’m sure the first nation folks used them. If you recall trade beads was a big thing.

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