Archaeological Artifact: Lead Cloth (or Bale) Seal

May 14, 2018

By: Jeanne A. Ward, RPA and Alexandra Glass

Lead Cloth Seal 1.jpg

The archaeologists from Applied Archaeology and History Associates, Inc. have been excavating in and around Cloverfields for most of three months.  Along with the excavations we are processing artifacts in our lab in Annapolis.  As an ongoing feature we will present an artifact or artifacts of particular interest each month.

Artifacts can say a lot about both the house and the people who lived there.  They can provide us with dates for particular aspects of the structure based on their manufacturing period.  They can give us information about the economic position of the residents.  Most importantly, they can tell us what it was like to live and work at Cloverfields at different points in history. 

This month’s artifact is a lead cloth (or bale) seal.  These objects were relatively common in the 17th and 18th centuries, and seals with personal markings continued to be used through much of the 19th century (Luckenbach and Cox 2003).  Single seals consisted of two discs that were attached by a connecting strip (see image below).  The two disks were folded together through the cloth and hammered in place. They served two purposes.  The first was to provide proof that the cloth or other goods to which they were attached met the standard of quality for the product.  The other was taxation (Egan 1994).  Like modern merchandise tags, these seals marked everything from tobacco and salt to textiles and fur.  English cloth seals came into use in the early 1300s, when King Edward I ordered the official supervision of manufactured woolen cloth.  This practice, called alnage, was abandoned by the British government in 1724 (Doub 2011).

Lead Cloth Seal 2.jpg

The seal found in an excavation behind the house at Cloverfields is fragmented and appears to have an “IF” or “18” in the lower right-hand corner and another marking near the connector (see Figure).  It also has the impression of a coarse weave fabric on its reverse side.  The recovery of this seal indicates that the family at Cloverfields in the early 18th century was likely receiving cloth or clothing, probably wool, in large bales (See Right Inset).  As the house belonged to early colonial merchants, it is also possible that the seal came from goods they were selling.  If the cloth was for use on the property, it is possible that this quantity of a coarse wool or cotton could be for clothing for the enslaved population on the property.  More research is underway regarding both the lead seal and the slaves of Cloverfields.  We will be combing through the probate inventories collected by the historians for clues.

Works Cited

Buti, Gilbert

   2008 Des Gouts et des couleurs.  Draps du Languedoc pour clientele lavantine au XVIII siècle.  Rives nort-mediterraneennes (online), 29 (2008).

Egan, G., Cowell, M. and Granger-Taylor, H.,

   1994 Lead cloth seals and related items in the British Museum (p. 93). London, UK: Department of Medieval and Later Antiquities, British Museum.

Luckenbach, A. and Cox, C.J.

   2003 17th century Lead Cloth Seals from Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Maryland Archeology, 39(182), pp.17-26.

Doub, N.

   2011 Signed, “Sealed”, Delivered!  Online at