Thanks to the generosity of our former curator of graphic arts, Gillett G. Griffin, we hold a collection of 147 clay stamp seals, roller seals, and flat seals with handles. Housed in four large boxes, staff members Teresa T. Basler and Charles E. Greene organized the collection into the following series: Series 1: Stamp Seals: Anthropomorphic Designs; Series 2: Stamp Seals: Zoomorphic Designs; Series 3: Stamp Seals: Geometric, Floral, and Other Designs; Series 4: Large Flat Seals (with handles); Series 5: Roller Seals.
Mesoamerican seals (or sellos) were used for printing with colored pigments. The Oxford Companion to Western Art, notes that surviving Pre-Columbian examples are made of clay or terracotta and occasionally of stone, but later seals have been found made of wood. The relief patterns were either for a positive or negative image (by contrast, the designs on Ancient Near Eastern seals are always negative, since they were intended to produce positive images on wet clay).
The use of seals was widespread in Mesoamerica, parts of the Caribbean, and in the intermediate areas between Mesoamerica and the central Andes in South America. Use in Mesoamerica began about 1500 B.C.E. during the Pre-Classic period. A large numbers of seals have also been found at Olmec sites in the Gulf Coast region from the same era.
For more information, see Anthony Ortegon, Pre-Columbian Stamp Seals (Pueblo, Colo.: AOA Associates, 1999). Rare Books: Reference Collection (ExB) E59 .A7 1999