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The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 25, June 18, 2006, Article 18

FEDERAL OFFICE OF HERALDRY AND THE GREAT SEAL OF THE UNITED STATES

Arthur Shippee alerted us to a great article published Tuesday
in the New York Times about the Institute of Heraldry, the U.S.
government's "chief guardian of insignia and heraldic tradition."

"According to legend, the eagle in the seal faced the arrow-holding
talon in times of war and switched its stern gaze toward the olive
branch in times of peace.

The eagle's glare did indeed get reversed ? just once, by President
Harry S. Truman in 1945. But only, it turns out, to correct the
grievous heraldic error that President Rutherford B. Hayes had made
65 years before, when he designed the first seal to adorn White House
invitations.

"In point of fact, the viewer's left is the dexter side, the honorable
side on any shield," said Joe Spollen, head sculptor at the heraldry
institute, which among its other duties nurtures rules and terminology
from the Middle Ages. "The sinister side, on the viewer's right, is
the less honorable."

And so Truman, after learning the truth from the director of the
heraldry office at the time, switched the gaze from sinister to
dexter, where it remains today."

"The institute, conjoining modern images with ancient traditions,
designs the shoulder insignia unique to every military unit and
supervises their production. It designs military medals, with the
Iraq Campaign Medal being one of the latest. It also, together with
the captains, designs a custom coat of arms for every new ship in
the Navy."

"The founding fathers wasted no time in devising a distinctly
American seal. In 1782, years before the Constitution, Congress
adopted the same two-sided Great Seal visible on every dollar bill
today, describing it in full-fledged heraldic argot. On the front
side is the familiar eagle, "holding in its dexter talon an olive
branch, and in his sinister a bundle of 13 arrows," and in his beak
a scroll inscribed "E pluribus unum." On the reverse side, "a pyramid
unfinished" and "in the zenith an eye in a triangle, surrounded by
a glory, proper."

>From the beginning, the Great Seal's eagle faced the dexter talon;
why President Hayes switched directions for his similar-looking
presidential emblem is lost to the ages."

To read the complete article, see: Full Story

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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