Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

Willsie, Bruce C., 1957-
Bruce C. Willsie Collection of British Sigillography
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
126 boxes
Storage Note:
  • This is stored in multiple locations.
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Boxes 1-7; 17; 23; 25; 27-29; 31; 34-86; 88; 90-91; 95; 98-107; 109-112; 114-115; 119-121; 124-125; 128; 130-131; P-000195
  • Firestone Library (scahsvm): Boxes 8-16; 18-22; 24; 26; 30; 32-33; 89; 92-94; 96-97; 108; 113; 116-118; 122-123; 126-127


An open collection of examples of British sigillography (matrices, royal charters with seals, seal impressions, and related material), collected by Bruce C. Willsie, Class of 1986.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The two principal series in the Willsie Collection are seal matrices and royal charters with seals. The seal matrices are made of bronze, copper alloys (especially latten), and lead, and date from Romano-British of the 2nd-3rd centuries CE until the end of the 15th century. There are also a few papal bullae and some examples from the 16th-18th centuries. Matrices can be round, oval, vesica-shaped, or lozenge-shaped, usually with raised handles ending in a suspension loop. A linen cord, leather thong, or metal chain would have been inserted through the loop in order for the matrix to be worn around the owner's neck. Most of the later medieval seal matrices have simple images, such as a cross, star, flower, or animal. Personal seals bear the names of owners or heraldic arms, flowers and animals, and religious images well known in Christian iconography (e.g. Agnus Dei, Cross, Pelican in Her Piety, Virgin Mary and the Christ Child). Among those 14th-century seal matrices with Latin, Anglo-Norman, and Middle English mottos are the following: box 4, no. 4, "Vei ci parti" ["Behold my lawful action"]; box 4, no. 11, "Pense de bien fere" ["Think of good deeds"]; box 4, no. 14, "S[igillum] Secreti Amoris" ["Seal of secret love"]; box 4, no. 20, squirrel with motto "I cracke notis" ["I crack nuts"]; box 4, no. 22, "Lel ami avet" ["You've got a friend"]; box 4, no. 26, "Lege tege" ["Read, keep secret"]; box 4, no. 27, "Le lion ici dort" ["The lion sleeps here"]; box 4, no. 28, "Love me and ei ye" ["Love me, and I thee"]; box 5, no. 35, "Hel lovely ladi"(?) ["Hail Lovely Lady"(?), i.e. the Virgin Mary]." Concerning "I cracke notis" and other Middle English seals and charters in the Manuscripts Division, see Don C. Skemer, "Cover Note," in Princeton University Library Chronicle (Spring 2014).

English royal charters are the largest series, with examples from King John to Elizabeth II. Most of the charters dating from the reigns of King John to King Henry VIII have been are mounted for preservation and display purposes. Other charters are not mounted unless so indicated. Most of the charters have two-sided pendant seals, generally attached to the document by means of a parchment tag or braided silk cords. Most depict the king seated on the throne (obverse) and most often the king as mounted knight (counter-seal). These are supplemented by royal seals no longer attached to documents.


Arranged into the following series: Series 1: Seal Matrices. Series 2: Charters with Seals; principally royal charters with the Great Seal of the Realm. Series 3: Wax Seals (without documents). Series 4: Wax Seal Impressions (without documents), 1860s.

Collection Creator Biography:


A member of the Princeton Class of 1986, Bruce C. Willsie is president of Labels & Lists of Bellevue, Washington. Willsie's other collecting interests include Ethiopic manuscripts and magic scrolls, historic maps, and nineteenth-century English manuscripts.

Collection History


Gift of Bruce C. Willsie in 2003-2012 (AM2004-16, 2004-35, 2004-99, 2004-101, 2008-16, 2008-42, 2008-66, 2008-85, 2009-61, 2010-92, 2012-106, 2017-73).


No materials were separated during processing.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by John Delaney with additional processing done by Don Skemer, and later processing done by Chloe Pfendler. Finding aid written by John Delaney. Finding aid updated by Chloe Pfendler and Julia English in 2018.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Bruce C. Willsie Collection of British Sigillography; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
  • This is stored in multiple locations.
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Boxes 1-7; 17; 23; 25; 27-29; 31; 34-86; 88; 90-91; 95; 98-107; 109-112; 114-115; 119-121; 124-125; 128; 130-131; P-000195
  • Firestone Library (scahsvm): Boxes 8-16; 18-22; 24; 26; 30; 32-33; 89; 92-94; 96-97; 108; 113; 116-118; 122-123; 126-127