National Geographic : 1946 Jul
Seals of Our Nation, States, and Territories The design is used on the reverse of .some of the medals presented by The Society for outstand ing scientific achievement in the field of geography. At The Society's Washington headquarters, bronze casts of the seal appear on the elevator doors and in the floor of the lobby of the main building (page 11). A smaller bronze cast is inlaid at the entrance to the doorway of the building which was the first addition to Hubbard Hall, The So ciety's original permanent headquarters. Great Seal of the United States and Other Federal Seals TOPPING all seals in authority and importance is the Great Seal of the United States. Orig inally designed for Congress, this is now the seal of the Nation. Congress has two seals, one for the Senate and the other for the House of Rep resentatives. Since seals are of primary legal importance, it is appropriate that this series show the seal for the Supreme Court, the country's highest tribunal. Seals are also shown for the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Institution, since they are three great depositories of records and specimens of our national culture. All the seals in the group can be used as direct impressions. White wafers are used for the seals of the United States and the Supreme Court; gold by the Senate, the House, the Archives, and the Library. Red is also used by the Archives; bronze by the Smithsonian. The Great Seal is unusual for its invected, or scalloped, edge; the others are serrated, or pointed. Ribbons are used on two types of documents bearing the Great Seal: light blue for Presidential proclamations, and red, white, and blue for treaties. Green is used by the Senate and the Smithsonian; red by the Archives and the Library. The Supreme Court fastens together several sheets of a document with red. GREAT SEAL OF THE UNITED STATES, page 30. On the very day the Con tinental Congress declared the United States an independent country, it appointed a com mittee to design a seal so that the new govern ment could function properly. A second commit tee was appointed in 1780 and a third in 1782. The committees called in Pierre Eugene du Simitiere, who designed seals for several States (see Delaware, New Jersey, and Virginia); also Francis Hopkinson and William Barton as ad visers. Yet no designs met with favor. In June, 1782, the designs were turned over to Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Congress. Thomson used features from all the designs, con sulted with Barton, and proposed a design which was accepted on June 20, just one week after he had been given the task. Originally it was the seal of Congress and was entrusted to Thomson as secretary to that body. In 1789 Congress designated it as the seal of the United States and made the Secretary of State the official keeper. The seal is now used on Presidential procla mations, treaties, full powers, exequaturs, and Presidential warrants for the extradition of fugi tives; on commissions for Cabinet officers, am bassadors, ministers, and certain others. There have been either six or seven dies of the seal, ranging in diameter from 2/ to 42 inches. They differ in details. For example, it was not until 1841 that five-pointed stars were used. The present matrix was cut in 1903 by Bailey, Banks, and Biddle of Philadelphia (page 41). The seal of 1825 was the largest and most in teresting. This was always used as a pendant seal; it was suspended by heavy tasseled cords which held the document in its blue-velvet cover. For protection of the inch-thick seal, it was en closed in a metal case, or skippet (compare page 40). The case was five inches in diameter, one and one-half inches thick, and usually made of silver. Pendant seals were usually reserved for use on treaties, but Commodore M. C. Perry had such a seal in a solid gold skippet for his mission to Japan in 1853-54. The pendant seal has not been used since 1871. Congress authorized the use of direct impres sions in 1854, but at present the seal is usually impressed in a white paper wafer. Early wafers were serrated; since 1888 the edges have been invected (pages 5 and 8). Officially the seal, 3 inches in diameter, is de scribed in heraldic terms, as follows: ARMS. Paleways of thirteen pieces, argent and gules; a chief, azure; the escutcheon on the breast of the American eagle displayed proper, holding in his dexter talon an olive branch, and in his sinister a bundle of thirteen arrows, all proper, and in his beak a scroll, inscribed with this motto, E Pluribus Unum. For the CREST. Over the head of the eagle, which appears above the escutcheon, a glory, or, breaking through a cloud, proper, and surrounding thirteen stars, forming a constellation, argent, on an azure field. REVERSE. A pyramid unfinished. In the zenith, an eye in a triangle, surrounded with a glory proper. Over the eye these words, Annuit Caeptis. On the base of the pyramid the numerical letters MDCCLXXVI. And underneath the following motto, Novus Ordo Seclorum.* The white and red stripes on the shield repre sent the Thirteen Original States. The upper blue part of the shield represents Congress. The colors are those of the United States flag, but the flag * Definitions of the terms used in the description are: Paleways, vertically; argent, silver (or white); gules, red; chief, top of shield; azure, blue; escutch eon, shield; displayed, wings spread; proper, natural colors; dexter, right (of the design, not of the ob server); sinister, left; crest, figure above the shield; glory, a circle of rays; or, gold.