I. R. Bama's Blog

24 Aug 2020

The Great Seal of the United States: Seldom Discussed Symbols on U.S. Coins #5 (Part 4)

| I. R. Bama

On June 13, 1782, Congress asked Charles Thomson to come up with a suitable design for America's Great Seal. With the reports and drawings of the three prior committees, he began his task.

Thomson is not well known as the other signers of the Declaration and members of the Continental Congress. He was both and served as the secretary of the Continental Congress for 8 years. His record keepingwas meticulous and exacting in veracity. His job consisted what are now the domestic duties of the Department of State, the duties of the Secretary of the Senate, and the Clerk of the House of Representatives. His position of authority was second only to the president of the Continental Congress. Indeed, the first 6 months after the Declaration of Independence only his and John Hancock's signatures were on copies of the Declaration circulated to the public.

He incorporated elements of all three of the previous committees' designs in the Seal that he sent to the Continental Congress when he had finished. He submitted his work in seven short days on June 20, 1782 and his design was adopted the next day with no further adieu.

His obverse design featured theAmerican bald eagle as the centerpiece, bearing the shield on his breast. Thomson envisioned an eagle "on the wing and rising."The eagle's right talon Holds an olive branch. In his left he holds a tightly drawn bundle of 13 arrows. Thomson said these symbols represent "the power of peace and war."In the eagle's beak, he placed a scroll with the first committee's motto:E Pluribus Unum, Latin for Out of Many, One.For the crest above the eagle's head is the radiant constellation of thirteen stars suggested by the second committee. He described the light rays as "breaking through a cloud."

For the reverse of the Great Seal, Thomson used Barton's suggestion: an unfinished pyramid with the eye of Providence in its zenith, but added a triangle around the eye as suggested by the first committee.He incorporated two new mottoes: Novus Ordo Secloram, meaning A New Order of the Ages and Annuit Coeptis which means Providence has Favored Our Undertakings, again from the Latin.

After consulting with William Barton, the position of the eagle was changed to wings spread with tips up and the chevrons on the shield were changed to the vertical stripes we see today.

The first die was cut three months laterand on September 16, 1782 andis 2 3/8 inches in diameter, made of iron or steel with a brass surface. The Great Seal was impressed on a document for the first time,authorizing Gen.George Washingtonto negotiate with the British regardingprisoners of war. The seal and press remained with Charles Thomson as secretary of the Continental Congress until he delivered them on July 23, 1789, to Washington as president under theConstitution. See images of the first die and first impression on paper below.

Interestingly, a die for the reverse was never and has never been created. Be sure to check out Thomson's final designs before William Barton's suggested modifications that made the official design. And now we all know of the history behind all the work to create our Great Seal. To me it was quite an interesting story.

For my next blog we will take a look at how the seal changed in design over the years reflecting and how our American Eagle design changed on our coinage. Don't miss the exciting conclusion episode coming soon to a blog near you!


Austin's Coins

Level 2

Great history! Thank you


Level 7

The way the two come together as one is remarkable. Well done with your research. With all the arguments they are actually the same. Everything is there. Thanks I learned again.

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