You’ll probably be disappointed if you have reached this expecting a discussion of Pinnipeds, those sea mammals having flippers. Although of philatelic interest, that is not the subject. (Figure 1).
Postal seals are a necessity in dealing with letters and packages. What was sealed by the sender has a nasty habit of becoming unsealed before it reaches the intended receipent. Sometimes it wasn’t sealed to begin with. The Post Office reseals it and attaches a label on their action. (Figure 2).
Letters can get caught in machinery. Labels such Figure 3 acknowledge what happened, and why your letter is torn.
If you neglected to put a return address on the cover, the Post Office must open your letter in order to find where to return it. Figure 4). In Figure 5, the packet was undeliverable in Bangor, Co. Down. It was opened by Royal Mail to look for a return address, resealed. and sent to the Irish Returned Letter Section in Limerick. This group re-opened it, identified the sender, re-sealed it, and returned it to the sender.
The postal seal isn’t the only one in the business – Customs & Excise has a legitimate need to open some parcels to look for contraband or check for smuggling. Their seals are different but yet serve the same purpose. (Figure 6).
Collectors will also find postal, censorship seals used to reseal covers after the censor’s scrutiny. These are covered in a separate discussions of World War I and II censored mail. Figure 7 shows an Irish censor resealing label of World War II.
Seals also serve to publicize the membership in a society. The “Shamrock” seals announce to the world that they are a member of an organization. The Eire Philatelic Association used such stamps before the internet became the medium of choice for conveying information. The cost of printing and the decrease in letter writing has made them superfluous. Figure 8
Before gummed labels, wax seals were used to seal or reseal, mainly for security. (Figure 9). The wax used was hard and brittle, unlike beeswax. When heated over a candle, and dripped on a letter joint, it then impressed with a metal seal. In many cases, signet rings, with ornate designs, were used. Any attempt to open the envelope would result in cracks or damages to the seal. The REM envelope shown carried money from a small post office to the accounting office in Tipperary.
We must not forget Christmas seals. (Figure 10). While normally considered outside the realm of serious stamp collecting, they are stamps, but not issued by the government, and have no franking value. Most are produced by charities, such as the Red Cross, to raise money for support of their goals. The Irish Hospital Fund raised money to support the construction of many rural facilities.
Political seals are an entirely different animal, figuratively. These serve not only to raise funds but also to raise awareness of the groups existence and stated goals. These are covered in a separate article on Propaganda.