Friday, April 2, 2010

The Arkham Seal

What does the town seal of Arkham, Massachusetts look like?

That's a thought that's been occupying my brain since I began thinking of doing some Arkham municipal documents. Realistically, the city should have a distinctive seal for official documents and property just like the real small cities that fill Massachusetts. Given that, the best source of inspiration for my fictional seal would be the ones used by cities of comparable size and history to Lovecraft's legend-haunted creation.

Every town and city in Massachusetts has an official seal to serve as an authenticity marking for the various forms of official paper that governments produce in abundance. Some of them date back to designs that existed before the United States was brought into existence, but the the majority were created after independence as settlements expanded and eventually incorporated. That process reached a crescendo in 1899, when the Commonwealth legislated that every municipality was required to have one within a year.

So where do we find pictures of the hundreds of seals in use over the years? Luckily, history obsessed antiquarians are more than the protagonists of Mythos fiction. The best record of the various seals in use is probably Town and City Seals of Massachusetts, a two volume set of books by Allan Forbes and Ralph M. Eastman published by the State Street Trust Company, a regional bank, in the 1950's. Back in those bygone days the books were given away as civic-minded premiums to potential customers of the bank, so it's easy to find single copies and complete sets on Ebay and Amazon.

Tomorrow I'll have some scans of interesting and inspirational examples for the Arkham seal project.


Anonymous said...

Wow. I went and had a look and there's two volumes up on Ebay for $13 USD. Almost tempting as is.

Propnomicon said...

@ baralier

The books are quite entertaining in and of themselves. The authors include anecdotes about each town and the creation of their respective seal. Some of the information, like the strange hums and tones generated by the "singing beach" of Manchester, are just the kind of thing you would expect in Lovecraft's Massachusetts.

Anonymous said...

You have also a free book on Internet Archive web site : State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers,And Other Symbols (1934) With drawings and explanqtions of all US states seals which is a gold mine



Anonymous said...

One of my very very rare disappointments in the prop design choices of the HPLHS was their decision to stick with the seal of Massachusetts on the Arkham Library card, after being provided with the authentic seal of Essex County. (The card itself asserted an Essex County library system, not a Massachusetts-wide library system.) Of course, an Arkham city seal would have fit as well, or even better....


Anonymous said...

I'm cobbling in GIMP. Enough other town/city seals use pictures of scenes (people, buildings, landscape settings) that Arkham could easily too, and a view of the river with the little island would be fitting. The Christian settlers weren't happy with the pagan rocks they found there... so the picture shows a Puritan brandishing a torch, and a big fire coming up from the island. Motto: "Hortandus Potestas Lucis" (roughly, Preach the Power of the Light); note the initials HPL. The seal's circle pattern is borrowed from Salem's. The crest, like Salem's dove-of-peace, is a herald's "cant" on the town's name: Noah's Ark.


Anonymous said...

As promised and described, an Arkham city seal.

A Latin pedant might well point out that "Hortandus" sounds as though it's the Power of the Light that's to be exhorted, as if it were to be invoked rather than preached about. Hmmm. That may be what got Arkhamites the reputation of wizards.

Nobody ever talks about Arkham's founding year. I mean ever. It just isn't mentioned, even in Arkham Unveiled. All other city seals use Arabic numerals for their founding years, but Arkham uses Roman numerals. I wonder what could be the reason for the great avoidance. It's just 40 years after Salem's, and 20 years after Andover's....

You'll note the shape of the branch being burned. Also the shape of the fire on the little island, the crescent moon and stars....

Andrew Leman said...

For what little it may be worth, the HPLHS Arkham library card was designed long before I had ever seen the seal of Essex County or thought to wonder what it looked like, and it didn't occur to me to go back and redo it after the fact. Now that it's been pointed out, however, I will reissue the Arkham library card PDF with a new seal for Arkham itself. Thanks for the feedback!


Propnomicon said...

@ Alban

As always, you're a font of useful information.

@ Raven

For some reason the link to your seal is coming up with a hotlinking warning.

@ Andrew Leman

Believe me, whatever you have to say is worth quite a bit around here. You're one of the primary reasons Propnomicon exists.

Anonymous said...

How odd of to block hotlinking. I had tested that link in preview, and it had worked then.

Okay, here's another location: Arkham City Seal.

Andrew, I certainly wouldn't have expected you to use the Essex County Seal before you'd ever seen it. I'm referring to the 2008 reissue, at which point you did have the option. Not that you needed to use it, or to defer to anyone else's judgment. You're the artist there.

I suppose I'm being a critic, in the "those-who-can't" sense. You're who I want to grow up to be.

Raven said...

I did discuss my design further on Yog-Sothoth. Also, to put on record what I've said in email, I've made free offer of the concepts/executions in my design, so that Andrew and Propnomicon need not avoid any resemblance to anything I did.