OASIS: Online Archival Search Information System
Questions or Comments Copyright Statement
©President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2011
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Call No.: UAI 15.1310
Creator: Harvard University. Corporation.
Title: Seals, 1650-
Quantity: 1.25 cubic feet (9 boxes and 1 folder)
Abstract: The Harvard College seal was first created in the 17th century as a legal symbol of authentication to validate official documents created by the University's governing bodies. Between the earliest depiction of the College seal in 1643 and the more recent 1935 manifestation, there have been multiple designs of the seal, and while all have incorporated a shield, inscriptions including Harvard's current motto "Veritas," and embellishments, design details have varied over the years. This collection contains eight metal dies engraved with the official College seal as designed and adopted by the Harvard Corporation in 1650 (In Christi Gloriam design), 1692 (Christo et Ecclesiæ design), 1843 (Quincy design), and 1885 (Appleton design); a copperplate engraving of the Appleton seal; and a collection of sixteen wax pendant seals with the Appleton design created in 1926 to test colors for Harvard's honorary degree diplomas.
Note: This document last updated 2014 February 24.
In the Harvard University Archives
- College Books (UAI 5.5)
- College Papers, second series, volume 13 (1845-1846), (UAI 5.125 Box 13)
- Harvard University. Committee on Seals, Arms and Diplomas. Records of the Secretary, 1933-1946 (inclusive). (UAI 10.475.4)
- Records of the Harvard Corporation relating to seals, 1842-1935. (UAI 15.1312)
- Watercolor sketch of the Harvard seal, [ca. 1920]. (HUB 3779.92)
The collection is arranged in three series:
- I. Seal dies, 1650-1885
- II. Copperplate for the Appleton seal, undated
- III. Wax pendant seals for honorary degrees, 
IntroductionThe Harvard College seal was first created in the 17th century as a legal symbol of authentication to validate official documents created by the University's governing bodies. Between the earliest depiction of the College seal in 1643 and the more recent 1935 manifestation, there have been multiple designs of the seal, and while all have incorporated a shield emblazoned with three books, the use of inscriptions including Harvard's current motto "Veritas," and embellishments such as chevrons, open and closed books, book latches, hatching, and shield shape have varied over the years.The emblem of a shield emblazoned with three books is known as the Harvard arms. The books (both open and closed) emblazoned on the shield reflect those found on the arms of European academic institutions including the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Trinity College, and the Collège de Sorbonne in Paris. The inspiration for the three mottoes found on various College seals is unknown, though Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison has noted that "Veritas" (translated as "Truth" and first used in 1643) and "Christo et Ecclesiæ" (translated as "for Christ and the Church" and first used in 1692) can be found in the works of English Protestant divine William Ames (1576-1633). A third motto, "In Christi Gloriam" translates as "For the glory of Christ" and was first used on the seal of 1650. While the Harvard arms may be used by members of the University as a decorative device, the College seal itself (with the arms and specific inscriptions) is intended only for official use by the Harvard Corporation.The term "seal" is often applied to both the instrument used to create an impression, and the impression itself. More specifically, the impression-making instrument is known as a "die" or "matrix." The die, typically made of metal, contains the seal's design engraved in reverse. The die's engraving can either be pressed into paper to create an embossed design or pressed into wax to create a wax seal. The wax seal was often used in closing documents to ensure privacy and validate the document. The varying designs for the Harvard seal are partially explained by evolving aesthetic preferences, but the seal also changed in 1650 and 1692 because new College governing bodies were established, and by extension a new seal was desired. As well, the limited skill level of 17th century New England craftsmen often produced rudimentary designs. One explanation for the lack of the word "Veritas" in the only extant impression from the 1643 seal is that it would have been too difficult for a colonial craftsman to engrave the letters. By contrast, the high quality of the 1650 seal suggests it was created in England.The Overseer's Seal of 1643Harvard's first governing body, the Harvard Board of Overseers, was established by the Massachusetts General Court in 1642. On December 27, 1643, the Overseers approved a sketch of a College seal that depicted a triangular shield emblazoned with three open books. The upper two books contained the letters VE and RI, and the lower book contained the letters TAS, spelling VERITAS. The pen-and-ink drawing of the shield was recorded with the Overseers' meeting minutes for December 27th on page 27 of College Book 1 (Harvard's earliest book of records). In the late 17th century, Harvard Treasurer Thomas Danforth transcribed early College records into College Book 3 and embossed page 6 with an impression of the College seal, presumably based on the original 1643 design. The seal includes a square shield emblazoned with three open books, the upper two separated from one lower book by a chevron. There is no motto, but the seal includes an inscription on the border: "SIGILLVM:COLL[EG•]HARVARDIN•CANTAB•NOVANG•" (which translates literally as "Seal College Harvard Camb[ridge] New Eng[land]").The In Christi Gloriam Seal of 1650The Charter of 1650, signed on May 31, 1650 by the Governor of Massachusetts, established the Harvard Corporation (comprised of the President, five Fellows, and a Treasurer) and transferred to them in “perpetual succession,” the duties of managing the College. In recognition of this new governing body, the Charter authorized Harvard's President and three Fellows, "when they shall thinck fitt to make and appoint a Common Seale for the use of the said Corporation." The heavily decorated Charter itself has a shield design incorporated into the upper-left section of its ornate border. The pear-shaped shield holds three closed books separated by a chevron, with no motto or inscription.The seal of 1650, also known as the In Christi Gloriam seal, depicts a square shield emblazoned with three open books separated by a chevron. The seal has the motto: IN CHRISTI GLORIAM and the border inscription: "SIGILL:COL:HARVARD:CANTAB:NOV:ANGL:1650:".The Christo et Ecclesiæ Seal of 1692In the 1680s, the Charter of 1650 was deemed defunct and was replaced in 1692 with a new charter and a new Corporation. The Charter of 1692 called for "one common seal to be used in all Causes and Occasions," and a die was cut for it by John Coney, a Boston silversmith, in 1693. The design consists of a square shield emblazoned with three open books separated by a chevron. The seal is engraved on the inner border with the motto: "CHRISTO ET ECCLESIÆ" and the outer border has the inscription: "SIGILLVM: ACADEMIÆ: HARVARDINÆ: IN: NOV: ANG:".In 1708, the Charter of 1650 was reinstated, and diplomas from the 18th century reveal that the seals of 1650 and 1692 were used interchangeably through 1779, when the 1692 seal was used exclusively. In 1812, two new dies with the design of the 1692 seal were created by Boston engraver Thomas Wightman.On December 12, 1765, the Corporation adopted new library laws that required a bookplate with "a print of the College Seal" be added to every book owned by the College. The first College bookplate and the Detur prize bookplate were engraved by Boston silversmith and engraver Nathaniel Hurd and based on the 1650 seal, though the plates included the "Christo et Ecclesiæ" motto of the 1692 seal.President Quincy's Seal of 1843In the 1830s, President Josiah Quincy discovered the "Veritas" college arms design in College Book I, and recreated the design on a banner for the 1836 bicentennial celebration. On December 30, 1843, following the suggestion of College Treasurer Samuel A. Eliot, the Corporation voted to reestablish the 1643 Veritas arms as the "common seal of Harvard College." While the various die cuts of the Quincy design have minor differences, they all show the lower book with its back upward inscribed with the "TAS" letters. An initial impression of the seal was cut with the inscription: "ACADEMIÆ HARVARDINÆ IN NOV. ANG. SIG. 1638" but was soon substituted with a second impression with the inscription: "ACADEMIÆ HARVARDINÆ SIGILLVM. 1638".Following President Quincy's retirement, his successor, Edward Everett, rejected the new seal. In correspondence with Treasurer Eliot in October and November 1846, President Everett explained his preference for the 1692 seal and stated that his "great objection to the change" was Quincy's removal of the motto "Christo et Ecclesiæ" (Christ and the Church), which Everett termed "the disuse of the ancient, venerable, & sacred legend under which the college has so long flourished." Eliot responded on October 10, 1846 that, "It is not true that the College was originally instituted as a theological school ... The church, in the idea of [Increase] Mather, was the reverend board of teaching & especially ruling Elders, & to any such church as that I know the College was never dedicated, & it should not, therefore profess to be." Eliot and Everett's debate, preserved in correspondence bound in Volume XIV of the College Papers, second series (UAI 5.125), culminated on July 31, 1847 in the Corporation's vote to return to the "Christo et Ecclesiæ" seal.The Appleton Seal of 1885On February 21, 1878, Harvard graduate Oliver Wendell Holmes (Harvard AB 1829) wrote two poems for the annual dinner of the Harvard Club of New York that referenced the College seal. The first was entitled "'Christo et Ecclesiæ,' 1700. " The second, entitled "1643 'Veritas' 1878," began "TRUTH: So the frontlet's older legend ran, / On the brief record's opening page displayed" and ended "Stretch thy white hand to that forbidden bough, / And let thine earliest symbol be thy last." The poems were published in 1880 in a volume of Holmes's poetry, The iron gate : and other poems, and generated disagreement among alumni over the College's motto. In response, the Corporation, on June 8, 1885, adopted a new design for the seal based on Quincy's 1843 seal that incorporated both the motto "Veritas" and "Christo et Ecclesiæ." The new seal was created by William Sumner Appleton (Harvard AB 1860) and includes a triangular shield emblazoned with three open books showing the motto "Veritas." The shield is bordered by the motto CHRISTO ET ECCLESIÆ and the outer border bears the inscription: SIGILLVM ACADEMIÆ HARVARDINÆ IN NOV. ANG.The College Seal in the 20th centuryBetween 1885 and 1911, the Appleton design was used primarily to depict the Harvard arm, but beginning in 1912, the College began using simpler designs as well. In the 1930s, as part of the planning leading up to the 1936 Tercentenary Celebration of Harvard's founding, the Corporation established the Committee on Seals, Arms, and Diplomas to help regulate the emblems associated with Harvard. In May 1935 the Corporation published a report defining the proper usage of the seal (the Corporation's legal symbol of authentication) and the arms (a decorative emblem). That same month, on May 20, 1935 the Corporation voted to incorporate the Harvard arms designed by Pierre la Rose (Harvard AB 1895) into the official seal of the University. The la Rose design was based on the Appleton seal but straightened the top of the shield, removed the hatching, stippling, and shading from the background, redesigned the books, and simplified the seal's outer border. La Rose's design was first used in 1935 on Commencement diplomas, and continues to the present as the College seal.Use of the College Seal and ArmsThe College seal appeared in the design of Harvard bookplates from the 18th and 19th centuries, and on official documents such as land deeds and indentures. Wax seals were used on general diplomas until 1827, when the seal was engraved directly onto the diploma plate. Between 1912 and 1932, a wax pendant seal was attached to Harvard's honorary degree diplomas. The Harvard seal, along with College Book 1, the Charter of 1650, and the ceremonial keys, comprise the insignia of office of the President of Harvard University. During the installation of Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust in 2007, dies of the Quincy seal of 1843 and the Appleton seal of 1885 were ceremonially displayed as part of the insignia.The Harvard arms that form the fundamental design of the College seal have been used as decorative adornment on many Harvard buildings, and have inspired the arms used by Harvard schools, departments, and residential houses. Throughout the 20th century and to the present, designs that include the word "Veritas" across three open books emblazoned on a shield in combinations of black, gold, white, and crimson colors have been used as the emblem of the University and related departments, organizations, and publications.
- Hammond, Mason. A Harvard Armory: Part I, Harvard Library Bulletin, Volume XXIX Number 3 (July 1981), pp. 261 - 297.
- Hammond, Mason. Official Terms in Latin and English for Harvard College or University, Harvard Library Bulletin, Volume XXXV, Number 3 (Summer 1987), pages 294 - 310.
- Morison, Samuel Eliot. "Harvard Seals and Arms" in The Harvard Graduates' Magazine. Menasha, Wisconsin: Printed by the George Banta Publishing Company. Volume 42 (September 1933).
- Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Founding of Harvard College. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1935.
- Morison, Samuel Eliot. Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century. Part I. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936.
- Rosenmeier, Jesper. Veritas: The Sealing of the Promise, Harvard Library Bulletin, Volume XVI Number 1 (January 1968), pp. 26 - 37
This collection contains eight metal dies engraved with the official College seal as designed and adopted by the Harvard Corporation in 1650 (In Christi Gloriam design), 1692 (Christo et Ecclesiæ design), 1843 (Quincy design), and 1885 (Appleton design); a copperplate engraving of the Appleton seal; and sixteen wax pendant seals with the Appleton seal design created in 1926 to test colors for Harvard's honorary degree diplomas. The seal was used to validate official and ceremonial documents including diplomas, land records, and deeds, and formed the primary design of the College's 18th and 19th century bookplates.The College seal is an official symbol of the Harvard Corporation, and the various designs and Latin mottoes (meaning "Truth," "For the Glory of Christ," and "Christ and the Church") engraved on the seals evidence the changing perceptions of the institution's mission, history, and religious identity over three centuries. As objects, the items also offer a resource for studying Harvard's aesthetic development and the evolution of American artists and craftsmen through the centuries.A comprehensive list of Harvard's seals (through 1933) can be found in Samuel Morison's September 1933 article "Harvard Seals and Arms" in the Harvard Graduate Magazine. When specific items could be sufficiently identified with references in Morison's article, they have been noted at the item level in this finding aid.There are no known extant dies for the Overseer's seal of 1643.