What are Great Seals?
Each of the fifty American states has a number of official symbols - state flags, birds, fossils, mammals, even a few state pies (key lime in Florida and wild blueberry in Maine)! One of the more important and often overlooked symbols is the state's Great Seal. The emblems typically date back to the state's foundation and serve as the official representation of the state. Originally they were designed to be pressed into official documents like laws, constitutional amendments and official pardons, and while they still serve that role today they are often thought of as representations of the state government in general. Many also serve as the focal point of the state flag.
Seals Serve as Great Souvenirs
Seals were designed to embody the state's image of itself and often bear images of its proud history, its prominent industries, and symbols of identity (like official state animals or birds) and therefore make great souvenirs for fans of state history and identity. Most have a heraldic feel similar to their European predecessors, but with a republican theme, such as the miner and the rancher on the Great Seal of Wyoming or the farmer and the sailor holding up a shield on the Seal of Maine. Some, like the rare oval Seal of Connecticut have a classic elegance to them and others harken back to earlier seals, like the Seal of Hawai'i that references the old seal of the Kingdom of Hawai'i. The Great Seal of the State of Maryland gives nod to the state's aristocratic origins with an image of a knight on horseback and a Latin motto. Some of the earliest seals bear testimony to their revolutionary origins, like the seal of Pennsylvania which has Lady Liberty trampling a representation of Tyranny with the inscription "Both Can't Survive" or the seal of Vermont's simple design that reads "Freedom and Unity."
Great Seals: A Tradition From the Old World
While seals are undoubtedly an important element of contemporary American political symbology, they had a long tradition before even arriving in North America. The tradition probably originates with the Great Seal of the Realm, which is the official emblem of the King or Queen of the United Kingdom (and before they were unified, England, Scotland and Ireland). Every monarch for centuries has had at least one which is used to imprint wax on official documents. Other prominent seals include the Great Seal of France, the Heirloom Seal of the Realm from Imperial China, the Imperial Seal of Japan (which has had a number of official seals) and the Great Seal of the United States - the emblem most associated with the office of the Presidency.