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Terras Irradient:
175 years of the Amherst College Seal

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College Seal, ca. 1949

 

Based on an exhibition on view in the Amherst College Archives
and Special Collections from August to December 2000

 


Origins

The Amherst College Seal was officially 175 years old on August 22, 2000. The Trustees of the College initiated the College’s quest for a corporate seal. At the April 13, 1825 Board meeting at the home of Elijah Boltwood, the Trustees adopted this resolution:

Voted: that the subject of Diplomas be referred to the President and Professors and that they be authorized to procure a corporate seal with appropriate devices.

On June 7, 1825 the Faculty began the process of creating a suitable emblem for the College:

Voted: that Prof. Fiske be requested to prepare a form for the College diploma, and that he send it to Boston to be engraved. That he also attend to the business of preparing a suitable device for the College seal.

Professor Nathan Welby Fiske was a professor of Latin and Greek and the father of the author Helen Hunt Jackson.

On August 2, 1825 the Faculty adopted Professor Fiske’s design for the College Seal. The manuscript record book of faculty actions for 1825, 10th week, third term records:

The Faculty made choice of a device for a College Seal, proposed by Prof. Fiske; and ordered it to be sent to Boston to the engraver.

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The first College Seal embossed on a diploma ribbon, ca. 1820s.

At their August 25, 1825 meeting at the home of Widow Lucinda Dickinson, the Trustees adopted this resolution:

Voted: that the seal procured by the faculty of this college, be & is hereby adopted as the seal of this Corporation.

On February 21, 1825, the Massachusetts Legislature granted a charter to “Amherst College.” The first commencement held under the charter was on August 24, 1825. The diplomas issued on that occasion contained the first official impression of the College Seal.

The Seal was first affixed on the diplomas of the seniors in the Class of 1825. Diplomas with the College Seal where also given to graduates who had left the College before the seal had formally been adopted.

“Terras Irradient” (“Let them enlighten the lands”) is the Latin motto on the seal. “Sigill. Coll. Amherst. Mass. Nov. Ang. MDCCCXXV” is translated “Seal of Amherst College, Massachusetts, New England, 1825."



imageAn embossed College Seal appears on every commencement
program. This is from the May 2000 ceremony.


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An embossed Seal used by the College for official documents.



The Evolution of the College Seal

Until about 1884, the Seal impressions on diplomas seem to be the only means by which to observe changes in the style of the Seal. The original seal is circular. The words "Sigill. Coll. Amherst. Mass. Nov. Ang. MDCCCXXV” ("Seal of Amherst College, Massachusetts, New England, 1825") surround a sunburst with individual rays over an open Bible. The sun has a face on it. The motto "Terras Irradient" ("Let them enlighten the lands") is located directly underneath the sunburst and Bible.

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The 1884/85 Catalogue may be the first example of the College Seal
in print. It shows the traditional Seal with the face in the sunburst.

There seems to be only on major change in the Seal during the first sixty years: the disappearance of the face in the center of the sun. The 1885/86 Catalogue illustrates the replacement of the face with a twelve-pointed star.

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The 1885/86 Catalogue illustrates the replacement of the face in the sunburst in the
original version of the College Seal with a twelve pointed star.

In 1949, the sunburst in the Seal became more stylized. The points of the sun were reduced in number and size and filled in.
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The 1949/50 Catalogue illustrates the transformation
of the sunburst to a more stylized form.


In 1961, the College redesigned the Seal. The shape of the Seal, which had been circular, became a cross between a circle and a square. The motto, Terras Irradient, which was below the open Bible, was now placed between the sunburst and the book. The sunburst, which had separate rays of light emanating from the central sun, were now joined to the sun in design. The sun and rays became one.

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The revised modern Seal of 1961. 


The Seal in Publications

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This volume illustrates one of the more traditional versions of the Seal.



The Inspiration for the College Seal

The March 1, 1937 issue of The Amherst Student described the inspiration for the College Seal:

The seal is a declaration of the original purpose of the institution. The double inner circle represents the world upon which shines the sun and lies an open Bible. These two illuminating the world by their radiance, proclaim the avowed interest of Amherst College. The sun personifies natural sciences, and the Bible the dissemination of gospel religion. Some authorities, however, are of the opinion that the opened volume represents just “book learning”...


Printing Artifacts

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Left: a printing block for the cover of the 1911 Amherst Graduates' Quarterly.
Right: the College Seal is featured prominently on the cover.

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Die of the College Seal, ca. 1949.

Early Memorabilia

 
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The College Seal on a wooden crest,
created as a souvenir.

 
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 The Class of 1924 used the College Seal
on the commemorative plate created
for their 50th reunion in 1974.

 
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The Interfraternity Tennis trophy for 1939
bears a version of the College Seal.
 
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Tea service from Doshisha University decorated with the Amherst College Seal.

College Calendars
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1902
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1914

 


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1916

 

 

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1921

 

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1922
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1933
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1971

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The Seal Redesigned, 1961

 

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In 1961, the College redesigned the Seal. The formerly circular Seal became squarish, with rounded corners and curved sides. The motto, Terras Irradient, which had been below the open Bible, was now placed between the sunburst and the book. The rays of light emanating from the central sun were redesigned to join the sun.


Modern Memorabilia

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The Amherst College flag with the modern
Seal created in 1961.
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The modern Seal used to decorate  a commemorative shot glass.
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The modern Seal illustrates the Library's preservation bookmark.

Derivative Seals

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The Centennial Seal (1921) used to illustrate the covers of
"The Amherst Books" series of publications.

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 The Sesquicentennial Seal created by
Tom Funk ’33 for the 150th anniversary
of the founding of the College.
 
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A new logo was designed for the College Library in 1999 by Matthew Mattingly. The basis for the design, suggested by the College Archivist, is a 19th-century version of the College Seal. The logo is used on various Library publications and on material distrubuted electronically.

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This necktie is an example of a derivative design created for the
Amherst College Campaign which was launched in 1996.

 


 

College Seal on Olio Covers

 

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1900

 

 

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1904

 

 

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1907

 

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1910

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1913

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1922

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1950

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1963

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1982

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1985

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1986

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1990

 

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1995

 

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"Shiny Dirt"?

This excerpt from a 1946 letter describes the humorous side of the significance of “Terras Irradient”:

I must tell you a little story that has given me a chuckle. Two of my associates on the Mutual Life Insurance Company Board are Yale chaps of the class of 1912. The three of us dined together a week ago at the “21 Club” in New York City. As we were standing at the bar waiting for a call to dinner, what should I discover on one of the pillars alongside the bar but one of our Amherst Shields. I promptly told the Yale chaps that I would now find our how much of an education they had received at New Haven, and asked them to translate our Latin motto, Terras Irradient. After a lengthy pause, one of them spoke up — “Shiny dirt!”

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Plaster cast of the College Seal.

 

 

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