English Vellum Indenture Catalog

Presented for sale by Phil Barber, Post Office Box 8694, Boston, Mass. 02114-0036 Telephone (617) 492-4653
www.historicpages.com
What are "Indentures"?

We have all heard the term "indentured servant", which calls to mind harsh conditions in Colonial America. The term "Indenture" however is simply an archaic word for any legal contract, written as an agreement between two or more parties to any number of activities. The English indentures I present here are primarily related to the sale and use of land. Like their American cousins, Britons of the pre-Industrial Age were primarily yeoman farmers, so many indentures still surviving relate to the purchase or rental of farms, homes, orchards, fields, pastures, and the like. They are entirely written by hand (in English) on large sheepskins, in keeping with legal practice dating back to Medieval times.

About Indentures, in Brief

The top edge of the document shows the wavy, or "indented" margin that gives these documents their name; as a safeguard against counterfeiting, the copies given to all parties were placed together and cut in this margin in a wavy, irregular pattern, thus uniquely identifying the authenticity of each copy.

By convention in common use after about 1675, the documents open with the title "This Indenture" in large capital letters. This heading, written in the earlier examples and printed on the later specimens, is often further embellished with decorative flourishes or occasionally a copper engraved representation of the Arms of the Royal Order of the Garter (called an Armorial heading), reproducing a motif seen on contemporary silver coinage. The text conventionally continues by stating the name and year of reign of the current Sovereign, with his or her titles. This format was largely abandoned after the 1790's as the prestige of the monarchy declined. The A.D. year is almost invariably stated next.

Documents after the Licencing Act of 1694 feature embossed paper-and-foil tax stamps, much like the sort that caused so much discontent on this side of the Atlantic. All documents are completed by the additions of the signatures of the parties - or an indication of "X, His Mark" in the case of those unable to write. These are accompanied by wax seals bearing impressions of the lawyers', or parties' signet rings.

The probate documents found among the listings below are very similar in general format. They are Court copies of Last Wills and Testaments engrossed by the Probate Court when their terms were discharged. They begin conventionally with the phrase "In the Name of God Amen" in very large lettering, and continue with the now stock phrase "being of sound mind and understanding." Their content is often quite fascinating. Not only are family stories told by the amounts and stipulations of the bequests of money and property, but the deceased often specify the disposal of their most prized possessions. Such inventories are virtual catalogs of now rare antiques such as plate, paintings, and furniture. Attached to the will is the form of the Probate Court, written or printed with handwritten entries. Finally the seal of the issuing authority is attached. Unlike the small signet rings used in legal contracts these are large wax-and-paper seals embossed with the Arms of the Bishop or later of the Sovereign's Probate Court.

Documents from the years of America's much-misunderstood last King, George the Third (ruled 1760 to 1820), are especially prized this side of "the pond." The documents then state the specifics concerning the parties involved in the transaction, its nature, and all pertinent information. Originally rather dry and legalistic, such content today bears vivid testimony to the interests and customs of these long-gone times.

Please click here to go to my Collector Information Web Page providing a more detailed introduction to the history and collecting of vellum indentures.

Indentures As Collector's Items

Today, these ancient British Indentures are prized collector's items. They are valued for their testimony of the now long-vanished way of life that is recorded in the once commonplace transactions they describe. With their enormous size, red wax seals and blue revenue stamps, they make impressive decorator accents when matted and framed. Many collectors have found that they make welcome and treasured gifts to friends and acquaintances.

The supply of these lovely manuscripts from ancient legal archives once seemed inexhaustible but like so many early collectibles they have grown scarce in recent years. Since 1986 the English barristers' associations have requested their members donate these historic documents to the National Trust, rather than to place them for sale on the open market as had been the case until this time. General compliance with this directive has reduced the supply of these beautiful items to a trickle, and new hoards are avidly snapped up on those infrequent occasions when they become available. Because I have a solid network of contacts, some going back twenty years, I am still able to acquire these documents from primary sources. This allows me to pass on the savings to my customers and to offer these delightful items at what I believe are the most reasonable prices you will find on the net.

Catalog Descriptions and Condition

As are all items I sell, the documents in this catalog are unconditionally guaranteed to be genuine and accurately described. The actual dimensions of the documents are listed below in inches, rounded to the nearest half-inch, with height given first, followed by width. They are in collectible condition as noted in each catalog entry. They are complete as issued and are free of damage or objectionable defects, having been carefully preserved in old archives and probably very rarely consulted after the generation of their makers had passed. Condition problems are always described if they are present. I stock only the best quality indentures that can be found today so you’ll find very few defective pieces in my listings.

The outer, blank sides of the MSS are generally soiled or discolored from age, which does not affect the written side, or the collectibility of the document. As vellum is a natural substance which was prepared for use entirely by hand processes, there is considerable variation from document to document in the thickness and color of the skins. Small holes, generally averaging no more ¼", are naturally present in many old vellum documents, due to variations in the skin itself, and are not considered defects. In many cases you will find the copyist has skillfully written around these natural blemishes, clear evidence of their authenticity. They are mentioned in the catalog description when present.

Purchased Indenture(s) will arrive folded, just as they were stored in the archives for centuries. They can easily be opened without fear of damaging the vellum, which, fortunately for collectors, is a very durable and long-lasting substance. Fold lines can be eliminated by carefully refolding the document in the opposite direction of the original fold, thus readying the piece for framing or other display. The fold lines will virtually disappear after the old vellum has been allowed sufficient time to "relax". The process should not be artificially enhanced, but carefully placing the opened manuscript between two sheets of weighted inflexible plastic or plywood will hasten the result. Never apply heat of any kind!

Illustrations

Because of the large size of these documents it is impractical to provide full illustrations of any of them in this catalog - simply because they are much too large to fit in my scanner. We have however assembled a small library of scans, accessible below, which will give you an accurate impression of the appearance of some important elements of the manuscripts. Select the highlighted links below to view the graphics, and when you are done you may select GO BACK in your browser to return to this page. Approximate loading speed with a 56K modem is 3-4K/sec; thus a 60K image would take 7 - 10 seconds to load. Loading time is proportionally longer with slower modems.

  • Select here to view a full color scan of a detail of a 1693 Indenture displaying a typical Armorial heading, text, wax seal, and signature. 95K JPEG
  • Select here to view a full color scan of a typical 1600's handwritten heading. Our specimen also include an especially collectible Arabic date in the heading motif. 70K JPEG
  • Select here to view a full color scan of a typical ornate Armorial heading, with decorative flourishes and the Order of the Garter. 63K JPEG
  • Select here to view a full color scan of a detail of a typical Indenture with multiple red wax seals and signatures. 40K JPEG
  • Select here to view a full color scan of strip of three embossed blue Sixpenny Royal tax stamps, in general Revenue use first singly in the early 1700's, then later in multiples such as this example, into the 1770's. 9.6K JPEG
  • Select here to view a full color scan of a Shilling Sixpence tax stamp, used from the 1770's on most legal documents. 9.6K JPEG
  • Select here to view a full color scan of a Pound Ten Shillings stamp of the early 1800's, representing quite a substantial tax increase. 21K JPEG
  • Select here to view sketches of some of the very rare 1765 -1766 British Revenue stamps intended for use only in the American Colonies. These illustrations are provided for purposes of comparison only. No items in this catalog bear these stamps: in fact, no specimens actually used in what would become the United States are known to exist. Only a handful of proofs and die trials are known to survive today. 53K JPEG

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Early MS in Archaic Style
V-0575. [Vellum Indenture]. Lease for 3, dated June 02, 1698.
The size of this document is 10¼" x 25", measured width x height to the nearest half inch.
Thomas Scott and Richard Marsh of Lancaster covenant the use of a property for "twenty Pounds lawfull money". Full details in about 22 lines of fine flourishing script, with Gothic letter emphases and heading. Extensive MS docketing on verso testifies to the fulfillment of conditions mandated in the contract. Very early First issue Sixpenny [ blue tax stamp, signature, wax-and-paper seal completely intact on a pendant tab bears the cryptic initials "I.T." King William III's name, titles, and regnal year are prominent in the first line. flourishing MS heading, King William's name and regnal year in the first line.
Condition is problem-free fine. . . . 95.00

Very Decorative Indenture
V-1184. [Vellum Indenture]. Lease for a Year, dated May 05, 1727.
The size of this document is 16½" x 24", measured width x height to the nearest half inch.
Dark, bold penmanship highlights this uncommonly striking manuscript agreement, between Richard Lowe and John Stevens, both of Bristol, for the rent of a local property inherited by the former, who acknowledges receipt of the Five Shillings fee and describes in detail the property and all "rights and privileges" attached to the hire thereof. One red wax seal and signature, strip of three embossed blue tax stamps, copper-engraved Armorial heading, King George II's name, regnal year and titles prominent in the first line.
Condition is very fine. . . . 75.00

Bold Early Calligraphy and Signatures
V-1586. [Vellum Indenture]. Lease for a Year, dated March 05, 1737.
The size of this document is 17" x 26", measured width x height to the nearest half inch.
William King and Robert Oaks of Suffolk rent a pasture land and appurtenances to Benjamin Folkard. Bold early hand in a rich dark brown ink. British lion rampant on the two red wax seals, two signatures, three blue Sixpenny tax stamps, decorative printed copper-engraved Armorial heading, King George II's name, regnal year, and titles , regnal year and titles prominent in the first line.
Condition is nice fine. . . . 48.00

Unusually Decorative MS
V-2602. [Vellum Indenture]. Lease for a Year, dated May 20, 1757.
The size of this document is 19" x 25", measured width x height to the nearest half inch.
Gentleman Henry Chester Wynter, of Chancery lane, London, here rents for the annual fee of five shillings "lawfull money of England" to John Bedford "That Great Messuage, two gardens, and Stable" of his ownership in the city. Simple terms are rendered in very large, oversized flourishing legal calligraphy, with empty spaces at top and bottom triple-ruled in red ink, rather unusual. One red wax seal and elegant signature, three 6D blue tax stamps, decorative printed copper-engraved Armorial heading, King George II's name, regnal year, and titles , regnal year and titles prominent in the first line.
Condition is clean bright fine. . . . 46.00


V-2766. [Vellum Indenture]. Conveyance...for 500 Years, dated October 10, 1760.
The size of this document is 18½" x 26", measured width x height to the nearest half inch.
Fine large format contract from the last days of the reign of George II (he would die on Oct. 25) arranges a £200 mortgage for the sale and very long possession of a Dorset homestead. Steven Stone obtains the financing from prosperous "cordwainer" John Loach and another party. Fine script, two red wax seals and signatures, large blue tax stamp, unusually large decorative printed copper-engraved Armorial heading, George II's name, regnal year, and title, regnal year and titles prominent in the first line.
Condition is clean bright fine. . . . 48.00

Dated A Month After the Boston Massacre
V-3304. [Vellum Indenture]. Lease for a Year, dated April 09, 1770.
The size of this document is 13" x 20½", measured width x height to the nearest half inch.
Joseph Potts of Golborn, Lancaster contracts with gentleman Thomas Wilmot for a year's use of the former's land for "five shillings of good and lawful money of Great Britain" of about a half-acre. Strong vertical penmanship Good impression red wax seal with a Classical military bust (Caesar?) and signature, Shilling Sixpence slate-color tax stamp, decorative printed copper-engraved Armorial heading..
Condition is fine, some light age toning overall not detracting. . . . 42.00

Large Mortgage to a Woman
V-3434. [Vellum Indenture]. Further Mortgage for £150, dated April 16, 1772.
The size of this document is 23" x 34", measured width x height to the nearest half inch.
Mary Millne, a widow of Castleton, Lancaster, here contracts with Ann Richmond, a "spinster" of Stockport, Chester, for the loan of additional funds, her property being offered as surety for the loan. Full details of the financial arrangements and a description of the home and lands follow, all executed in handsome legal calligraphy. Bordered in red. Two red wax seals and signatures, large blue One-and-Six tax stamp, manuscript heading. Interesting agreement between two women in pre-Industrial Age England.
Condition is clean bright fine. . . . 54.00

Unusual Type of Single-Party Indenture
V-3524. [Vellum Deed Poll]. Deed Poll, dated February 04, 1774.
The size of this document is 23½" x 26", measured width x height to the nearest half inch.
A deed poll is, strictly speaking, not a contract because it binds only a single person or several persons and expresses an intention instead of a promise. "Poll" refers to the straight top margin line, as opposed to the customary indented margin that characterizes true contracts. In this rare example we read of the efforts of Edmund Lodge, Robert Garnett, and John Rangeley in tracing the ownership history of a property in York going back to 1694, to settle title and allow a subdivision of the lands. Large bold script on a very fine skin, Lodge's red wax seal and signature, gray Shilling tax stamp, decorative printed flourishing MS heading, red-bordered throughout. Unusual document from the eve of the American revolution..
Condition is clean bright fine. . . . 65.00

A Stunning Enormous Mortgage
V-3875. [Vellum Indenture]. Mortgage of Houses in Manchester .... for £400, dated January 17, 1782.
The size of this document is 29" x 34", measured width x height to the nearest half inch.
This complex agreement among Thomas Seddon of Peddleton, Lancaster, and Timothy Whitehead and Jane Cook is a sale allowed in the will of Mary Cook of several parcels of land and homes owned by the latter. Fine legal hand, very large format, most impressive. One red wax seal and signature of Seddon, embossed blue Shilling Sixpence tax stamp, flourishing copper-engraved Armorial heading with George III's name, regnal year, and title in the opening.
Condition is fine, several tiny natural holes in the skin around which the scrivener has skillfully worked the text, not detracting. . . . 52.00

Interesting Large Lease, Unsigned
V-3889. [Vellum Indenture]. Counterpart of a Lease, dated May 01, 1782.
The size of this document is 20" x 36", measured width x height to the nearest half inch.
James Farrow here leases a property to John Radcliffe, with the right to sublet (in modern terms) somewhat uncommon for the period, being Saddleworth Fold, in Saddleford, currently occupied by the lessee, containing a farmstead and outbuildings and twenty acres of land, at the rather expensive hire of £24 per annum (at a time when most small properties rented for a Crown or less). Nice document, interestingly having a seal tab but never sealed, though duly signed, and bearing a large Shilling Sixpence blue tax stamp and a fine decorative printed copper-engraved Armorial heading, George III's name, regnal year, and title, regnal year and titles prominent in the first line.
Condition is clean bright fine. . . . 49.00

Very Detailed Probate, with a Great Seal
V-5288. [Vellum Probate]. Probate of the Will of Richard Slocombe, dated July 05, 1797.
The size of this document is 23" x 27½" for each of the two skins, measured width x height to the nearest half inch.
Commencing in very large flourishing script "This is the Last Will and Testament" of the prosperous Somerset yeoman, whose bequests are so numerous and complex that two large sheepskins are here required to containing them all. The printed form of the Probate Court is attached, with handwritten entries testifying to the faithful completion of the Will, and signed by the executors ad the Magistrate. Of special note are the two large £2 blue tax stamps, and the gorgeous wax-and-paper seal of the Archbishop of Canterbury perfectly preserved (not all were!!) on a pendant gutter tab. Great early document.
Condition is nice fine. . . . 42.00

A Nottingham Deed, on the First Day of a New Century!
V-5488. [Vellum Indenture]. Conveyance of a House, dated January 1, 1801.
The size of this document is 21" x 30", measured width x height to the nearest half inch.
Thomas Binney, a "maltster", of Lincoln here sells to shopkeeper Edward Parker a property inherited from his late father in storied Nottingham, for the great sum of £750. Full terms and description follow. Written on the first day of the 19th century, as properly the "00" year is the final year of the previous century. Fine copperplate hand, one red wax seal and signature two blue tax stamp on a dated 1797 Shilling Sixpence, the other a 10 Shilling Deed stamp, flourishing printed heading.
Condition is a nice clean fine. . . . 44.00

Late Example of a Classic Indenture
V-6617. [Vellum Indenture]. Award of Enfranchisement, dated February 19, 1874.
The size of this document is 15½" x 26, measured width x height to the nearest half inch.
This fine document, entirely handwritten in flowing copperplate enfranchises one Matthew Inglett Fortescue Brickdale as an official tenant of the Manor of Ilketshall Ellis and Strattons in Suffolk, at a cost of £45/11/7. This "Admission" format dates to Medieval times, when the very survival of most Englishmen depended on the protection and patronage of the "Lord of the Manor". Nice decorative piece, extensively ruled in red throughout, large flourishing heading "To all to whom these presents shall come (greetings)" Large wax-and-paper seal (over 2" diameter) of the copyhold Commissioners features the Royal Arms; signature of the Commissioner. Blue Five Shilling tax stamp with Royal stamp cancel, similar to era postal cancellation stamps..
Condition is bright VF. . . . 28.00

More catalog updates of individually described indentures from the 17th to 19th centuries are planned and are in the process of preparation - please check back again soon!

Vellum Specials
Here's a small selection of fine early vellum Indentures, offered at special prices for typical examples, exact dates and content of my choice, and in nice fine condition. Multiple examples are in stock of each listing, all different.

V-9001. [Vellum Indenture, King George III's Reign] Typical Example, 1782 - 1799. These decorative early English documents are written on sheepskin, and begin with a flourishing heading starting "This indenture made on the [date] of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the Third, King of Great Britain..." Their content relates primarily to real estate transactions, such as deeds, mortgages, leases, assignments, feoffments, and the like. The embossed blue Royal tax stamp found on each document closely resembles the hated American Revenue issues that are impossible for the collector to obtain today. The text is written in English in a fully legible legal hand and the skins measure at least 14" x 20". Indentures made in the name of America's last King are especially prized for their historical association. Nice condition, very good and better, with all wax seals etc. as issued. Multiples available, all different dates and content. While my supply lasts they are offered at a most favorable price, just, per document . . . . 40.00
My Order quantity: 

V-9003. [Vellum Indenture, Regency] Typical Example, 1801 - 1820. These fine legal manuscripts were issued during the reign of America's last king, the ill-fated George III, in the final years of his exceptionally long reign. At this point George was suffering from ill health, including intermittent bouts of madness; his role was largely in the hands of his son, the dissolute future King George IV. The text is written in English in a fully legible legal hand and the skins measure at least 15" x 24". Nice condition with wax seals, tax stamps, etc. as issued. Multiples available, all different dates and content. . . . . 24.95
My Order quantity: 


V-9495. [Early 19th Century Vellum Indenture]. Typical Example, 1820 - 1838. Here's a bargain offering of best quality large size sheepskin documents are in top condition with all wax seals, tax stamps, printed headings, etc. as issued. Their content relates primarily to real estate transactions and related matters. All are written in English in a fully legible legal hand, and measure at least 15" x 23". Nice souvenirs of this transitional period of English history. Multiples available, all different dates and content. . . . . 19.95

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V-9500. [Vellum Indenture, Queen Victoria]. Typical Example, 1850's - 1870's. These lovely large size (about 22" x 27") sheepskin documents are in top condition with all wax seals, tax stamps, printed headings, etc. as issued. Their content relates primarily to real estate transactions and related matters. All are written in English in a fully legible legal hand. They are remarkable similar in appearance to documents written a century or more earlier, and make attractive introductions to this area of collecting. Multiples available, all different dates and content. Because of a favorable purchase we able to offer these at just, per indenture . . . . 19.95

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V-9501. [Vellum Probate, Queen Victoria]. Probate of Will, dated between 1840 and 1890. This beautiful manuscript document consists of the Last Will and Testament of an individual, written in a fully legible legal hand and measuring 13" x 18" or more. Interesting content often includes household inventories, bequests to the poor, in addition to lands and monies disbursed among family and friends. Attached to the will is the Probate Court certificate attesting that the terms of the will have been complied with. This form is printed on vellum or paper, with handwritten entries, and measures about 8" x 10". It bears one or two large blue embossed tax stamps as issued. Attached is the official wax-and-paper seal of the Court, an impressive medallion generally depicting the Queen's Arms or the local Cathedral as its central motif. I have found a small supply of these uncommon and interesting documents in fine condition and offer a specimen while they last. Multiples available, all different dates and content. . . . . 19.95
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I hope you have enjoyed this catalog, and have found its contents useful and informative. Please feel free to e-mail your questions and comments to our address below. We look forward to hearing from you!

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