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What Is the History of the State Seal of New York?

By Marty Paule
Updated May 17, 2024
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The state seal of New York has undergone five variations during its history, with the current version having been designed in 1882 and adopted by the state legislature in 1885. Officially known as "The Great Seal of New York," it incorporates the state's coat of arms that was designed in 1777 and formally adopted in 1778. In its latest form, the seal is somewhat more complex in design than the original, and more clearly underscores New York's growing global importance. As with most other state seals, it contains design elements that symbolically express the values, history, and industry of concern to the state. The state flag shares similar design elements with the state seal of New York by virtue of the inclusion of the official coat of arms.

There are several design elements that showcase the state seal of New York, beginning with the circular design ringed in gold braid that contains the text "THE GREAT SEAL OF NEW YORK" in its upper portion. The center design, which is, in effect, a reproduction of the New York state official coat of arms, appears against a blue background. Within the center of the coat of arms, a shield contains images of sloop-rigged ships together, with one having three masts, both sailing on the Hudson River. The two ships symbolically represent local and international trade. Behind the ships, a grassy shore and mountain range rise, and past them the sun radiates golden rays.

There are two female figure that flank the shield at the center of the state seal of New York, with Lady Liberty appearing on the left and Lady Justice on the right. Liberty holds a staff in her right hand, while her left foot is firmly planted on a crown — an obvious reference to America's independence from the British crown. Justice wears a blindfold and holds a set of scales in her left hand — symbolic of New York's commitment to an impartial and fair legal system. A westward-facing American eagle in flight atop a world globe refers to New York's surging importance to both the once rapidly-expanding United States, and on the world's economic stage in the mid-19th century. Beneath the shield, the motto "Excelsior," Latin for "ever higher," appears on a furled banner.

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