The University of St. Thomas logo unveiled today is the latest in an evolutionary series of symbols and typefaces that go back more than half a century.
St. Thomas lacked a consistent symbol or logo until 1958. That’s when The Aquin, the college’s student newspaper, published an image of the new “coat of arms” under the headline “New College Seal Symbolizes Patron, Past, Stature, Colors.”
The seal was designed by a priest from the New York-based Academie Internationale d’Heraldique. Still used for formal purposes, such as on university diplomas, the seal was the closest thing to a St. Thomas logo at the time and started appearing on everything from the mastheads of publications to bathroom soap dispensers. A version of it in tile was installed in the foyer of Murray Hall, which opened in 1958 as the student center.
A less formal version of the seal was also created in the 1950s, and was used, for example, on the front cover of Memorandum, the forerunner of today’s St. Thomas magazine.
In the 1970s, a task force on communications decided that St. Thomas needed a new symbol or “logotype.” In a November 1975 memo, then-president Monsignor Terrence Murphy explained that “the college now uses a minimum of 28 different styles of letterhead” and that “the Task Force recommended that a single logotype be adopted in order to assure some element of cohesiveness in our printed communications.”
The task force settled on what some call the “flaming chalice” but others called the “cup of learning.” It first appeared on the cover of the December 1975 issue of Memorandum and a short time later was used for the masthead of The Aquin newspaper. A notice in the February 1976 Memorandum explained that the new symbol “incorporates the elements of the chalice and the flame which, together, exemplify the college’s Catholic commitment.”
In his memo about the new symbol, Murphy tried to rein in the many letterhead designs in use and said the college printing shop would only print stationery with the new symbol and the Purchasing Department would not pay for any outside printing that didn’t use the flaming chalice.
Apparently no one at St. Thomas paid much attention to the memo. By the early 1980s, Diane Disse, then director of advertising and publications, counted more than 75 different letterheads, logos and symbols in use across the campus. Her job was to come up with a new look and make sure, somehow, that it be used by everyone.
About this time, the college designed and published its first high-quality, four-color, photo-rich viewbook, a publication used to attract undergraduates. The logo used on its cover was not the flaming chalice, but instead the words “St. Thomas.” To the left of the words was a bright red “slash,” or diagonal bar, with the words “College of.”
The new look proved popular and became, essentially, the new logo. A few years later the design was tweaked and instead of a diagonal slash, the red bar became horizontal and was placed directly over the “St. Thomas.” The change made the new version easier to use in ads and letterheads.
There were a few problems with the new logo. Some said it looked too corporate. Also, it used red instead of the traditional St. Thomas purple. Worst of all, it lacked symbolism that reflected St. Thomas’ Catholic and educational mission.
Then-president Father Dennis Dease announced in spring 1992 that he asked the Department of University Relations to develop a new graphic identity and that Bill Kirchgessner, associate director of the department, would oversee the project.
When the new graphic identity was unveiled on the front page of the St. Thomas Bulletin in January 1993, Dease said it “better reflects the university’s mission, its Catholicity, and its liberal arts, values-based education.”
When the new logo was unveiled, Dease asked various offices and departments not to “personalize it.”
“Please do not change or embellish this with little creatures, flowers and smiley faces,” was how he put it.
That logo returned to the traditional “St. Thomas purple” and instead of a slash or a flaming chalice, used a less complex version of the inner, shield portion of the official seal. While the logo was tweaked about 15 years ago to make the word “University” the same size as St. Thomas, it retained the shield and basic look of the 1993 logo.
Those design elements, introduced 24 years ago, have withstood the test of time. While the new logo introduced today uses a different typeface, it has kept the shield and of course, “Tommie purple.”
The refreshed logo is a more modern take on the original seal or crest and is designed to be legible at small sizes and in all forms of media. A wavy band was added to the seal to represent the university’s location on the Mississippi River. It retains the “rayonnant sun,” symbolic of St. Thomas Aquinas, and the open book, symbolic of wisdom and knowledge.
The words “University of St. Thomas” in the logo are now in a sans-serif font called Akzidenz-Grotesk Bold. Serifs are the small, projecting features at the edges of letters, so “sans” serif means the typeface does not use those projections. While Akzidenz-Grotesk Bold has a modern look, it dates to 1896 and was originally released by the Berlin-based Berthold Type Foundry in 1896.