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.
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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.
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.