Seal of the State of New York

Object Number: 
ca. 1840-1880
Carved wood, traces of paint
Overall: 6ft. 10 in. (208.3 cm)
Monumental woodcarving depicting the Great Seal of New York State; female figures of Liberty (with Phrygian cap) and Justice (with scales) upon a scroll with the motto "Excelsior," framing a river scene with a rising sun beyond a group of mountains. Above, an American eagle with outstretched wings stands atop a globe.
Gallery Label: 
The seal, which hung on the barn of a Cape Cod farmhouse from at least 1890 until 1982, was initially created for a grand public building in New York, possibly a courthouse. The seal's distinct iconography, with the figures of Liberty and Justice shown seated and facing one another, helps in dating the woodcarving. The State legislature adopted modifications to the seal twice in the 19th century, in 1809 and 1882. The latter modification specified that Liberty and Justice be shown standing, facing forward. The 1809 version, however, shows both figures seated, with Justice facing slightly to the right and Liberty in full profile. The seal likely dates before the official modification of 1882, during the period when seated figures were common and artistic license widely accepted in the depiction of the seal. During the mid-19th century, ship carvers proliferated in New York City to provide figureheads, stern carvings, and other ship decorations for the many ships being built in the bustling shipyards along the East River. During the 1840s and '50s, New York's shipyards were among the busiest in the country. A handful of highly skilled carvers provided decorations for ships but also produced a range of other carvings, from cigar store Indians and circus wagon figures to a range of architectural and church work. Most likely, this seal was made by a skilled ship carver whose work extended to public commissions.
Credit Line: 
Gift of Mrs. Laurence K. Groves
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group