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History of the Arizona State Seal - PDF of this document History of the Arizona State Seal


The seal sits atop countless pages of official state documents, stationery, and statute books. Arizonans have seen it on their tax return, driver’s license, and election pamphlet.

What is little known is that the Arizona seal has graced instruments of the state for the last century and a half, undergoing several dramatic changes over the years. One element of the seal, however, remains the same today as it was 140 years ago.

When President Lincoln approved a bill in 1863 providing for temporary government in the Territory of Arizona, he appointed Richard McCormick, a former businessman and journalist, to be its secretary. Although Congress hadn’t given McCormick the authority to create a territorial seal, he knew one would be necessary to authenticate official documents.

He designed his seal and brought it west in 1863. The Spartan artwork (which to some was comic) featured a bearded miner standing casually in front of a wheelbarrow, pick, and short-handled spade. Two bare mountains rose in the background, and at the bottom was the phrase “Ditat Deus,” God enriches. (Figure 1)

Perhaps in response to criticism of his seal, McCormick introduced a revised version (Figure 2). The redesign was more elaborate and included new shadowing and a small stream at the miner’s feet. Gone were the wheelbarrow and spade, replaced with a more befitting long-handled shovel. The mountains now featured a pointed peak, which may have been Thumb Butte, west of the capital in Prescott. “Ditat Deus” remained in its former place.

Both McCormick seals bore a striking resemblance to the label on cans of Pioneer Baking Powder, a popular brand at the time (Figure 3). Whether to honor or dishonor, the McCormick seal was nicknamed the “baking powder seal” for the duration of its use.

Members of the First Territorial Legislative Assembly had other ideas for the design of a territorial seal. In the fall of 1864 the Assembly approved an act creating a seal and authorizing the secretary “to entrust said seal to proper parties for engraving.” The seal was to be 2 1/4 inches in diameter and feature “a view of San Francisco mountain [sic] in the distance, with a deer, pine trees, and columnar cactus in the foreground; the motto to be ‘Ditat Deus.’”

Despite these plans for a new seal, Arizona continued to see the baking powder seal. McCormick, evidently preferring his design, took advantage of a provision of the act that allowed him to use the former seal in his official duties “until the seal authorized in this act is prepared.” It was not prepared until 1879, 15 years after the act that authorized it. McCormick went on to become governor of the territory in 1866, and the capital moved to Tucson a year later. During the ten years that the capital was in Tucson, the initials “L.S.” (Legal Seal) were used to authenticate documents rather than the Arizona miner.

Although the baking powder seal was retired in 1879, a version of the original McCormick seal is still in use by Gila County. It bears a small discrepancy in the motto, “Dit Deus” (Figure 4).

The first known use of the legislatively approved territorial seal was by Secretary John Gosper to certify the Acts of the Tenth Territorial Legislative Assembly on March 3, 1879 (Figure 5). Mulford Winsor, a delegate to Arizona’s Constitutional Convention and later a state senator, provided this grandiloquent description of the seal in a 1945 report he prepared while serving as director of the Department of Library and Archives:

“[The seal] was simplicity exemplified, the artwork being rudimentary. The objects are shown in bare outline. Three strokes of the artist’s pen dispose of a trio of mountain peaks in the distance. The pine trees — three in the left center, one in the right center — bear a striking resemblance to attenuated multiple-deck Chinese pagodas. The columnar cactus is singular in number and effect, smooth, stubby as a fence post, and innocent of any sign of branch or slightest protuberance.

“The deer forms the frontispiece — the pièce de résistance, as it were. A noble five-point buck, he occupies a third of the width and height of the pictorial design, in the geographical centre of the forefront. Standing erect, head thrown far back, facing east, but with one eye on the audience, his forefeet stand firmly on the motto, ‘Ditat Deus.’”

Secretaries of the territory introduced several variations of the legislative seal during the more than 30 years that it was in use. In 1895 Secretary Charles Bruce (Figure 6) added simple shading lines to the mountains, deer, and cactus (although the shading on the cactus was strangely on the wrong side).

Bruce also employed a seal showing everything in deep shadow. A seal used by Secretary Charles Akers in 1899 brought the scene back to daylight, but the deer reportedly appeared to have stomach cramps and the nearby cactus now had a suspicious dent.

An improvement in the seal’s artwork came in 1905 when Secretary W.F. Nichols adopted a drawing from Phoenix artist Walter Rollins (Figure 7). In it the deer faced left, the mountains bore more resemblance to the San Francisco peaks, the trees and cactus were more realistic, and grass grew in the foreground. As always, “Ditat Deus” remained the motto. This was the last seal used before statehood, and it appeared on the original copy of the Arizona Constitution adopted in 1910.

The subject of a new seal for the state was discussed informally by delegates at the Constitutional Convention, but the matter did not get serious attention until Delegate M.G. Cunniff of Yavapai County submitted a proposed design by Phoenix newspaper artist E.E. Motter. A special committee of three delegates formed to consider the Motter seal, and on the penultimate day of the Convention it recommended adoption of the language that became Article 22, § 20 of the Constitution, which describes the present seal (for description see Overview).

The committee’s report met with sharp protest from delegates who wanted to retain the territorial seal. Morris Goldwater from Yavapai County argued for tradition and said that “any man who has lived in this territory under the present seal as long as I have can continue to live with it until he dies, without hurting himself.” E.E. Ellinwood of Cochise County, the committee’s chairman, explained that the committee’s aim was to “get away from cactus, Gila monsters, and rattlesnakes” and feature other industries of the state. After lengthy debate that at times wandered into other political issues, delegates on December 9 approved the new seal by a vote of 28 to 11, with 13 members absent. Delegates adjourned the Convention later that day.

Like the McCormick seal, the territorial seal lives on: Mohave County and the Corporation Commission use versions of the original territorial seal and the Rollins seal, respectively (Figure 8 a & b).

It was probably Ellinwood who was responsible for the image of the miner on the seal (Figure 9). Unlike the McCormick seal’s miner, the state seal miner was modeled after a real person: Bisbee prospector George Warren. In 1880 when pioneer photographer C.S. Fly visited Bisbee during its boom, he took a photo of Warren posing as a miner.

A print of this photo hung in the office of William Brophy, founder of the Bank of Bisbee and general manager of the Phelps Dodge Mercantile Company. During the Constitutional Convention in 1910, Delegate Ellinwood, a former director of the Bisbee bank, borrowed the picture of Warren from Brophy to use as a model for the seal. Warren’s signature pose, with right arm and leg propped up, became part of the first state seal.

In the years since statehood, state agencies have used a host of great seals with variations in every element of the basic design, from missing clouds to redrawn mountains to typeface alteration. (The cow – rarely “cattle grazing” – is often unrecognizable or even absent from some seals.)

The two most prevalent versions (the original Motter seal and one introduced in the early 1980s, Figure 10 a & b) contain several noticeable differences. It has also been colorized (see below), but the true version of the seal is the one described in the Arizona Constitution.

What hasn’t changed in the seal over the many years since Arizona became a territory is the seal’s simple promise that “God enriches.”

The Arizona State Seal Today

The official state seal was approved by Article 22, Section 20 of the Arizona Constitution and adopted in 1911. The state’s key enterprises are symbolized on the face of the seal.

In the background is a range of mountains with the sun rising behind the peaks.

At the right side of the range of mountains there is a storage reservoir and a dam, below which, in the middle distance, are irrigated fields and orchards reaching into the foreground with grazing cattle to the right.

To the left, the middle distance depicts a mountainside with a quartz mill. In the foreground is a miner with a pick and shovel. Above this is the motto “Ditat Deus,” meaning God enriches.

In a circular band surrounding the whole seal is inscribed “Great Seal of the State of Arizona” and the year of admission to the Union, 1912.

The official state seal is the one described in the Arizona Constitution, but this color version has been in use by state agencies for more than 20 years.

Much like the black and white state seal, the colorized version has been altered over the years. Colors have been added, deleted, and manipulated with desktop publishing programs. To view the colorized version, click here.

© 2004, Arizona Blue Book, printed under the authority of the state of Arizona, A.R.S. § 41-131.

The State Seal Overview
Arizona Constitution Article 22, Section 20, Design of the State Seal

The seal of the State shall be of the following design: In the background shall be a range of mountains, with the sun rising behind the peaks thereof, and at the right side of the range of mountains there shall be a storage reservoir and a dam, below which in the middle distance are irrigated fields and orchards reaching into the foreground, at the right of which are cattle grazing.
To the left in the middle distance on a mountain side is a quartz mill in front of which and in the foreground is a miner standing with pick and shovel.
Above this device shall be the motto: “Ditat Deus.”
In a circular band surrounding the whole device shall be inscribed: “Great Seal of The State of Arizona,” with the year of admission of the state into the Union.
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