Stamps have a rich history dating back over 9,000 years. We’re going to explore this past and how the stamp has changed over the centuries, looking at everything from cylinder seals to the hi-tech electronic stamps we sell online today.

Cylinder seals (7,800 BCE)

The first incarnation of the stamp was the cylinder seal. These intricate impression stamps were used throughout Mesopotamia and were used to finalise business transactions and sign letters.

The design on each seal would be totally unique. The cylinder would be worn on a string around the owner’s neck and if the owner needed to sign something, they would take it off and roll it in moist clay to leave an impression, sort of like a signature.

Woodblock printing (220 CE)

The earliest example of what we would recognise as stamping comes from ancient China and existed long before the invention of the printing press.

Called woodblock printing, the process involved carving images and characters into a block of wood and then applying ink and fabric to form an impression. The process was used to make decorative silks and books, and the oldest surviving example is the Diamond Sutra, a 5-metre-long Buddhist scroll dated 868 CE.

Wax seals (500 CE)

The wax seal first appeared in the Middle Ages, and like many seals before it was used to close official documents and seal correspondence. Wax sealing was taken up by the ruling classes and as it became more common, instead of carrying around handheld stamps, those in power started to wear signet rings – a ring emblazoned with the owner’s seal. This made it a lot easier to transport and led to the introduction of customs like ring kissing.

The printing press (1450 CE)

Woodblock printing was commonplace in 14th-century Europe but was costly and time consuming. This led many metalsmiths to experiment with movable type.

Johannes Gutenberg perfected the technique in 1450, adapting an old wine press and metal handset blocks. His invention became famous and made it easier to mass produce books like the Bible. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to enjoy his invention for long, as it was taken from him in a lawsuit and given to one of his debtors.

Quick-drying ink (1800s)

Ink has been made from different substances over the centuries, from soot and turpentine to lead and egg whites. Printers added chemicals to their inks for a number of reasons. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that solvents were added, dramatically cutting the time it took for the ink to dry.

Rubber stamps (1860s)

The rubber stamp came about in the mid 1800s after Charles Goodyear discovered the vulcanisation process. Soon after, rubber stamps became commercially viable and were sold primarily to businesses for dating and pricing. In fact, one of the oldest existing self-inking stamps is a vintage pricing stamp circa 1886. 

Electronic stamps (modern day)

Today, we sell a wide variety of stamps. Our most futuristic is the Colop e-mark, which allows you to create, edit and transfer full colour imprints. Our range of products can be customised to suit your needs, and includes stamps of every kind thanks to stamping’s rich history.