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Liberty Head Penny Used For City of Dayton Seal in 1826

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on December 5, 1937

Liberty Head Penny Used For City Of Dayton Seal In 1826


     Did great-grandma leave you a penny from the year 1826 in her box of trinkets and knickknacks? If so, they you are a possessor of the Great Seal of the City of Dayton.

     Now that isn’t exactly accurate, of course, and you had best not try to seal any legal documents with your numismatic rarity. But, as a matter of legal record, your 1826 liberty head penny is the only seal ever designated specifically to be used by Dayton’s government.

     On page 175 of the first book of city council minutes this is written in that fine script which has become a lost art since the mechanical age introduced the typewriter:

     “Council members on motion ordered that the seal to be used by the common council of the Town of Dayton be the side of a cent on which the head is (and the word Liberty) with 13 stars including the head.” The date was Friday, March 10, 1826.

     In the subsequent 111 years many wise heads have doubtless tried to determine just what the scribe meant by the phrase, “with 13 stars including the head.” Actually the penny has 13 stars, not counting the head, and many very logical thinkers suppose that the lawmaker meant “enclosing” instead of “including.”

     Those present at the meeting in which the momentous decision was made were Elisha Brabham, president; P. G. Skinner, recorder, and Alexander Qunice, Matthew Patton, Peter Bean, William Roth, and John Steele, trustees.

     The phrase about the 13 stars and the head is not the only mystery behind Dayton’s pecuniary great seal. Even more perplexing is the delay in deciding upon a seal for the city.

     Further perusal of the city’s fading records shows 21 years earlier – May 14, 1805 – the first council after Dayton was incorporated decreed at its first meeting “that the president prescribe a seal for the use of the select council.”

     In the intervening 174 pages there is no mention of any president carrying out that order, and the mystery is just how a struggling municipality of young Dayton’s importance limped along for more than a score of years without a seal to lend its documents an aspect of legality.

     Incidentally, there is a nice commentary here on the change in the social position of a councilman. When the seal was originally ordered, it was to be used by members of the “Select Council,” but when the lowly one-cent piece was adopted for that purpose, Dayton’s legislative body had become merely the “Common Council.”

     In these times of efficiency and elimination of possible loopholes in governmental function the city seal of Dayton is, of course, a very up-to-date affair. It is the seal of the state of Ohio with the title of the mayor or city manager attached. So in reality Dayton has no individual seal distinguishing it from the state’s 110 other cities, but is compelled by a superior force at Columbus to conform to a universal standard. Thus the Gem City’s onetime very unique instrument of authority is no longer valid but has gone the way of the buckboard and the cigar store Indian. It has bowed to the irresistible force of progress.

     There is, however, in the office of the clerk of the city commission a very attractive object which looks like a city seal. In fact its designer, Architect Harold C. Harlan, when he made it several years ago, meant it to be used as a seal. But City Prosecutor Ernest Kruse, who was then in the legal department, did a little legal research and found a superior court ruling which prevents municipalities in Ohio from using individual seals.

     Consequently Harlan’s “seal” had become Dayton’s coat-of-arms. On its escutcheon is a circular gold rim with the legend, “The City of Dayton – Incorporated A.D. 1805.” Across the top of the central shield are five gold stars on a red field representing the five members of the city commission. Beneath that are four quadratures in black, blue, lavender, and green on which are superimposed the four symbols of Dayton’s renown: a large cog for industry, allegorical wings representing aviation, the smoking lamp of learning, and a log cabin for the city’s historical heritage.

     Thus “Pop” Dayton can boast at least a handsome and suitable coat-of-arms even though the prosaic seal of the state of Ohio has superseded the piece of “chicken feed” which once served as the great seal of the City of Dayton.