Veritas—or “Truth”—is the straightforward wording etched upon the Harvard crest (shown on the pair of bookends, above). Alas, the history of this crest is not quite as simple.
Harvard College was founded in 1636 by the “Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Company,” with the express intention of educating men for the ministry. The school started with nine students and was named for its first benefactor, John Harvard, who bequeathed his library (and half his fortune) to the school. In 1644, a design for the logo was sketched at an Overseers’ Meeting—with the word “Veritas” divided amongst three opened books. Two of the books are depicted facing-upwards and one of the books is shown facing-down (implying that there are limits to a life lived with reason alone). Apparently, these notes (including the sketch) were filed away and forgotten for two centuries. In 1692, the school adopted the motto Veritas Christo et Ecclesia—”Truth in Christ and The Church.” In 1836 (or shortly before that), the old Overseers’ notes were found, including the sketch from 1644. The two century old logo was adopted, combined with the Christian motto, creating the combined crest (which you can see on a different pair of our bookends—now sold—an image of which is still posted in the LEO Design on-line shop).
But times (and school missions) change and Harvard was no longer strictly a college for clergymen. Furthermore, the Age of Enlightenment, which had been lapping at the American shores for a century, had taken root in Cambridge. In time, the school crest was re-designed. The Christian phrase was expunged, the simple (non-Latin) name “Harvard” (instead of “Harvardianae”) was used, and the third book—formerly shown face-down—was re-depicted face-up. The bookends shown above (from the 1920’s or 1930’s ), show the “new” school crest. Please click on the photo above to learn more about them.
Today, Harvard educates 20,000 students of all races, sexes and creeds. I suppose school emblems will change with the times, striving to serve an evolving student body. But I am also a little surprised that America’s oldest college—one steeped in history and tradition—was willing to change something as fundamental as its original “heraldic emblem.” I assume, also, that Harvard exemplifies a well-chosen society of thinkers, capable of understanding that history and destiny can sometimes exist separately.