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What Is the History of the State Seal of Pennsylvania?

N. Swensson
N. Swensson

The state seal of Pennsylvania is the symbol that is stamped on all official documents as a means of guaranteeing authenticity. The coat of arms of William Penn and his family was used for this purpose when Pennsylvania was still an English colony. When the colony became a state, part of the official proceedings were to create an official seal signifying independence, and by 1778 a symbol similar to the present-day version was in use. The front face of the seal, which is the most often used, features a shield with symbols including a ship, plow, and olive branches along with the words “Seal of the State of Pennsylvania.” On the back is a symbolic representation of liberty’s triumph over tyranny.

Like many states whose history began as English colonies, Pennsylvania’s first official documents before achieving independence were stamped with the personal seals of William Penn, the colony’s proprietor. The seal that was created as part of statehood is similar to the one that is used today. A device called a seal-press is used to stamp official government documents with the emblem, which is a mark signifying authenticity and originality. The state seal of Pennsylvania is sometimes confused with the coat of arms, which also was created in the 1770s and appears on the flag of the Commonwealth.

The Liberty Bell is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Liberty Bell is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The artwork on the state seal of Pennsylvania is intricate and detailed. The front, or obverse, features an eagle as the crest. There is also a shield with three symbols inside it: a ship at the top, a plow in the middle, and stalks of wheat on the bottom. During the colonial period, these three symbols were the crests of Sussex, Philadelphia, and Chester Dounties and were mounted above William Penn’s seals on relevant documents. The shield is surrounded by an olive branch on one side and a stalk of Indian corn on the other. The words “Seal of the State of Pennsylvania” are written around the outside.

Pittsburgh is the second-largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Pittsburgh is the second-largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The back, or reverse, of the state seal of Pennsylvania shows a lion lying on the ground and a woman standing over it with a sword. The lion is a symbol of tyranny. The woman represents liberty and also holds a cap and wand that the French use to signify this concept. The words “Both Can’t Survive” are inscribed around the outside of this picture to suggest the triumph of freedom and justice.

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Discussion Comments


I would like to see the state seals of states such as Pennsylvania and other states involved in the American Revolution compared to other state seals across the country to see how much the original thirteen colonies take pride in their role in the American Revolution.

I like to think that these states celebrate their rich histories a lot more than other states in the country and that they do this through a large amount of symbolism as well as making sure that every piece of artwork created that is state sanctioned depicts the symbolism of the state.

The state seal is no different as it depicts the state's role in the revolution and how important the fight was. It is great to see that a state takes the time to do this and I wish other states would be as proud of their history and express it like the state of Pennsylvania does.


The concept of the struggle for both liberty and tyranny are depicted in the state seal of Pennsylvania and it is something that shows the state's attitudes towards liberty and the ideals of the American Revolution.

The caption "both can't survive" only shows the attitudes that the state has towards tyranny and obviously chooses liberty over tyranny, due to the woman apparently killing the lion both symbols of tyranny and liberty.

Symbols such as this are common in state seals for the original thirteen colonies as they like to celebrate their heritage and their past through their creation. They look at the American Revolution with great pride and remember their role in the fight for independence.


I have always thought that the state seal represented various aspects of the state. The ship in the seal represents the eastern side of the state and their shipping and merchant traders on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

The plow and wheat represent the other aspect of the state of Pennsylvania that forms its identity, which is being that of an agricultural state. Some may ask why coal is not depicted in the state flag or steel due to the abundance of both goods in the area, and this is because the state seal was created before the Industrial Revolution and they wanted the roots of the American Revolution to be shown in their state seal.

It is obvious that the seal wants to celebrate the heritage of Pennsylvanians independence from Great Britain and profess their role in the revolution. This seal, which is shown on every government document in the state, relives the past of the people of Pennsylvania and allows them to have a taste of their own history.


The symbolism expressed in the state seal of Pennsylvania reflects the attitudes expressed by the various colonies during the American Revolution and their fight against the tyranny of the British.

The seal is a symbol of everything that the people of the American Revolution fought for against Great Britain and it is expressed through their artwork. Since Pennsylvania was a very vital component of the colonial charge it is only appropriate that their state history be immortalized in their seal of their great state.

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