History of stamps

While looking through the Radio 4 ‘A history of the world in 100 objects’ I came across an episode about Korean roof tile made eighth century AD, this is an extract from that recording.

I’ve got the tile in my hand now. It’s about the size of a large old-fashioned roof slate, so just under a foot (30 cm) square, and it’s made of heavy cream-coloured clay. The top and the sides are edged with a roughly decorated border, and in the middle of the tile is a fearsome face looking straight out at me. It’s got a squashed nose, bulging eyes, small horns, and abundant whiskers. In fact, the face looks like a cross between a Chinese dragon and a Pekingese dog, and not friendly at all! It looks a bit like an oriental gargoyle, and that is pretty well what it was. It would have had a similar position to a gargoyle, high up on a temple or a grand house. The features of the face when you look at them closely are pretty rough, and it’s obvious that it’s been made by pushing the wet clay into a fairly simple mould. This is clearly a mass-produced object. But that is why it’s so interesting, because this is just one of tens of thousands designed to cover roofs that would once have been thatched, but in prosperous Silla Korea, were tiled with objects like this.

What caught my eye with this extract was the method they used to mass produce these tiles, pushing wet clay into moulds. This must be one of the earliest examples of using relief methods which is similar to stamping to mass produce products.


I also came across this which is a bread stamp, Bread identified by such stamps were used for the consecrated bread in the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist), this is the ritual which occur in churches today still when bread is given to remind us of the body of Christ and wine is given to remind us of the blood of Christ. This practice was performed over 3500 years ago in Christian ecclesiastic usage where bread was stamped ( the possible method they used to stamp the bread would be letting the bread prove on the stamp) but this also happened out side of this ritual to brand the bakers bread, this would be useful when the bread was being distributed as a political act.

In addition during Pre-Christian periods bread was stamped with the symbols of various deities and given during religious festivals associated with those gods and goddesses. Lastly some stamps are thought to be purely decorative in nature. Stamps such as this, and even more those with personal names attached, provide important insights into the day to day lives of people in antiquity. The food they ate, its significance to them, and a material reminder of the very human nature of the work that archaeology undertakes is all encoded in objects.

It’s clear that stamps have been revolutionary for many aspects of very early history and it’s still a very popular method today, I’ve see that relief work in ceramics will still be very popular in the coming years and also wax seal stamps will be in fashion again and modernised.


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