Since we’ve been skewing a little modern lately, here’s a piece from the early 19th century: the seal of the Orphan’s Court, used by the Montgomery County Register of Wills in the 1810s. The engraved metal die measures 2 inches by 1 ¼ inches, and with the wooden handle the whole thing measures 3 ½ inches tall. There are no makers marks (other than the engraving on the die, of course) but the wood and the metal both show signs of wear. When impressed in wax or stamped on paper, the seal reads “Montgomery County Orphans Court,” with the emblem of two clasped hands, the scales of justice, and a hanging sword.

As explained on the Maryland state website, “‘Orphans’ Court’ is simply the historical name for a court that handles wills and estates. . . In 1777 the Maryland General Assembly formally established an Orphans’ Court and Register of Wills in each county and the City of Baltimore. The structure still operates today.” The Register of Wills was and is responsible for, essentially, the paperwork of the Orphans Court, and as such the court’s official seal falls under his or her jurisdiction:

Then
Laws of Maryland 1786-1800:November 1798. Chap. CI.
12. The orphans court in each county shall keep a seal for the said court, and for the office of register of wills; and each orphans court that hath not already a seal, shall provide the same at the expense of the county, and the said seal shall be fixed to all certificates of the court, or of the register, and to every process and writ of every kind issued from the court. . . .

Now
Maryland Constitution, Article IV
Part I General Provisions
Section 1. The Judicial power of this State is vested in a Court of Appeals, such intermediate courts of appeal as the General Assembly may create by law, Circuit Courts, Orphans’ Courts, and a District Court. These Courts shall be Courts of Record, and each shall have a seal to be used in the authentication of all process issuing from it (amended by Chapter 10, Acts of 1966, ratified Nov. 1966; Chapter 789, Acts of 1969, ratified Nov. 3, 1970; Chapter 681, Acts of 1977, ratified Nov. 7, 1978; Chapter 523, Acts of 1980, ratified Nov. 4, 1980).

According to the donor, Judge Ella R. Plummer, the seal was found along with “some papers . . . in the tower of the old Court House Building” (the 1891 Red Brick Courthouse in Rockville) at an unknown date, probably sometime in the 1950s. The donor, or perhaps one of my predecessors, assigned the seal specifically to Solomon Holland, who served as Register of Wills from 1808 until his death in 1839. The “some papers” are almost certainly the collection of Orphans Court summonses in our archives; the poor condition of some pieces could well mean they’d been forgotten in the courthouse tower for a century or so.

Over thirty of these documents (including the one above) are dated December 16, 1817 – so I guess we know what Mr. Holland was doing on that particular day. Each summons “commands” the Sheriff to bring someone to the Orphans Court “on the second Tuesday in February” to, basically, explain his or herself and then (presumably) pay up. Each is signed by Solomon Holland, Regr., and stamped (no ink or wax, just an impression on the paper) with our seal here.

Interestingly, another set of summonses from Holland’s files dates from 1838; those are stamped with a round, rather than oval, seal. The image is slightly different as well, as now there is a single hand holding the scales (see below). Our particular seal, then, was used at least in the 1810s, but changed to a new one by the late 1830s.

My favorite part of this artifact is the fact that it’s been repaired; a close look shows that the metal die is wedged onto the handle with blue paper. Probably it was used so much that the wooden handle wore down, and the die kept falling off the handle; someone made a quick fix. Another fun thing is that researching Mr. Holland brought up some other familiar faces (plus this entertaining Act “authorizing Solomon Holland, late collector of Montgomery County, to complete his collection,” from 1805 – have I mentioned lately how much I love the internet?) Holland served as one of the original commissioners of the Rockville Academy along with Upton Beall, whose home is one of our museums; the Holland home on S. Washington Street was later owned by the family of Dr. Stonestreet, whose office is our other museum; and to top it all off, a portrait of Solomon’s granddaughter, Laura Williams Holland Talbott, hangs on the wall outside my office door.

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