We’ve all seen important documents that have an official seal and a signature. Did you know that the signature belongs to a notary and the seal or stamp they use is an official sign that says the person signing that document was honest and knew what they were signing?
There are three different notarial systems in the world today; the Civil Law Notary system of Latin Nations, the Common Law Notary system of the English speaking nations and the Notary system of the United States. A notary is a person of integrity, appointed by the state government, to assist the public as an impartial witness in performing a variety of official fraud-deterrent acts related to the signing of important documents. These documents include real estate transactions, prenuptial agreements, and granting powers of attorney.
The earliest records of official communication records are from Ancient Egypt from 2750-2250 B.C. Instead of paper and ink they used pigments with water pots and writing tools that they could carry around on their shoulders. The important documents they signed included personal letters, diplomatic communications, tax records and religious documents among others. The beginning of what we know today as notaries started in the Roman Empire in 535 A.D. The earliest notary was the slave Tiro, who was Cicero’s secretary and right-hand man. Tiro developed a shorthand, which he called notae, when he wrote down the speeches of Cicero. During Emperor Justinian’s rule, a law was developed; the Notaries Act. In 1135 A.D. the law school of Bologna were using notaries who were used in the signed of contracts and laws. The use of notaries soon spread and in time they could be found in England, France, and Spain.
When America was settled only people with a strong moral center could be a public notary. Notaries were not only
depended on to sign important documents but were used as third parties during business transactions; someone to be a mediator of sorts. Notaries work in the colonies was often difficult as it was supported government, business and private life. Government was challenging because there were three different governments in the colonies – England, France and Spain – all which the notary worked with. Even with all the challenges the notary’s certificates and seal were considered an official act and made the document authentic. As America grew, so did notaries. Today each state has their own requirements for becoming a notary. In the state of Kansas one must follow three steps; obtain state-required bond, seal & supplies, complete Kansas Notary application, and become a Kansas Notary.
Every notary has a seal or stamp that certifies they saw the document and believe its signers to be honest, that they understand the document and are not under duress when signing. Each state has their own seal for notaries, as well as counties, townships, schools and organizations. Here at the High Plains Museum we have the seals of every township in Sherman County except Lincoln Township. These Townships include Grant, McPherson, Llanos, Smoky, Shermanville, Iowa, Union, Stateline, Itasca, Washington, Logan, and Voltaire. The Logan seal is the top left picture while the seal on the right was used by the Klu Klux Klan who were known to meet at the Sherman County Fairgrounds. The seal on the left was the official seal stamp impresser of the Sherman Community High School Secretary Board of Trustees. This seal has the date on the top with the patent year, July 13, 1929. On both sides of the base painted in black enamel is a gold star with a red dot in the center.
Stamps, seals and notaries have played a role in world history since 2750 B.C. and in American history since the settlers. Notaries are an important part of signing legal documents. They make sure that the signer is aware of what they are signing. Notaries use stamps or seals to make an official mark. These can be used organizations, like the school board, or by governments, such as Logan County here in Sherman County or government officials. All over the world seals are used to signify that the signers of the document are honest, not under duress and that the notary did see the document. Seals are something that have never gone out of use in our culture and will continue to stamp their way in the future. Can you think of other objects that have not gone out of use? Please your comments in the section below.