Why does Penn have two different official seals? One is round and has a stack of books depicted on it. The other, which looks more like a coat-of-arms, has a dolphin on it. What do the figures represent, and who created them?
Dear Symbolically Challenged,
You are right. The University uses two distinct insignia—the Official Seal (top), and the Arms of the University of Pennsylvania (bottom). According to the University Archives and Records Center, the round seal showing a stack of books perched on a slanted desktop is the emblem of the University of Pennsylvania corporation. It was established in 1756, when the Trustees instructed then-Provost William Smith to “prepare a public seal…and get the same speedily engraved on silver.” The seal shows seven books bearing the following titles: “Theolog,” “Astronom,” “Philosoph,” “Mathemat,” “Logica,” “Rhetorica” and “Grammatica.” This seal was embossed on the diplomas of the first College class, which graduated in 1757.
The more modern, and more recognizable, Penn symbol is the red and blue shield, adopted by the University in 1933. It was designed to pay tribute to the two most important figures in the founding of Penn, namely Benjamin Franklin and the Penn family. The design includes the three plates of the Penn family arms and a dolphin, which comes from the Franklin family shield. The dolphin is flanked by a pair of open books symbolizing higher learning.
The colors red and blue are said to have been chosen by a student representing the University at a track meet in Saratoga, New York, in 1874. But the precise hue of the red and blue wasn’t made official until 1910, when the Trustees approved a flag design, specifying that the colors should “conform to the present standards used by the United States Government in its flags.” From that point on, Penn’s colors have matched those of Old Glory.
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Originally published on October 1, 2009