State Seal Finder

Identify where companies incorporated by their state seals

It is not always easy to determine where some companies incorporated. Many companies printed state names on their certificates, but a substantial number did not.Between a quarter and a third of issued certificates show state of origin on printed or embossed corporate seals. When location of incorporation cannot be determined from those two sources, it is helpful to turn to depictions of state seals. Engravings or lithographs of state seals appear on over 2,000 railroad certificates and they can be very helpful.

To my knowledge, every state, territory and province in North America has  as official "seal" reserved exclusively to authenticate official documents. Those are usually circular devices referred to officially as "The Seal of the State of..." or "The Great Seal of the State of..." All carry designs indicative of overarching characteristics of their locations, values and aspirations. Designs on U.S. state seals may be very simple (e.g. Rhode Island or Texas) or highly complex (e.g. Florida, Maryland and the Territory of Puerto Rico.) State seals and "coats of arms" often show the same or similar themes and subjects, but they are separate devices. 

State and provincial laws formalize the designs and usages of seals and exact reproductions are universally prohibited. The designs of many seals are so "strong" and so widely associated with specific locations, that they are frequently imitated and used for commercial and promotional purposes. Probably none is used more widely than the Texas state seal.

Approximately 7% of all railroad companies used derivations of state seals on their securities. The most heavily imitated seal of all was that of Pennsylvania, alone accounting for almost 20% of all the state seals that appear on railroad certificates. Seals from New York and New Jersey were also very popular illustrations on railroad certificates. Below is a finding guide to help you identify state seals for yourself. 

Instructions: Start with #1 at the top left and decide whether human figures are obvious in the design or not. To the right is a "go to" instruction. Follow that suggestion to the next number and repeat the process. Continue until you arrive at a single state abbreviation. Click on the state name and a new page will open showing the description and official seal of the chosen state.

Warning: You will occasionally encounter seals that don't seem to "fit" current descriptions. That is because a handful of seals from cities, Mexican states, Canadian provinces and Caribbean countries have been encountered on railroad certificates. 

1 a people are visible (not hidden in details) go to 2  
  b no people are visible go to 18  
2 a George Washington   WA
  b two people flank shield go to 3  
  c farmer and miner flank boulder   WV
  d other people or other positions go to 7  
3 a patterned designs on shield go to 4  
  b cow on shield (kneeling or standing) go to 5  
  c other elements on shield go to 6  
4 a eagle below shield   HI
  b crown above shield   MD
5 a tree on shield   ME
  b sailing ship above shield   DE
6 a deer above shield   ID
  b three plows on shield   NJ
  c eagle above shield   NY
  d badger above shield   WI
7 a birds or animals visible go to 8 `
  b no birds or animals visible go to 13  
8 a eagle go to 9  
  b bison (running) go to 10  
  c horses with plow go to 11  
  d bear in foreground go to 12  
9 a angel left, eagle behind shield   AR
  b man with flag   IA
  c three people visible   WY
10 a man chops tree   IN
  b Indian chases bison   ND
11 a horses pull plow right to left   KS
  b horses pull plow left to right   SD
12 a female warrior (usually at right) with bay beyond   CA
  b prospector (usually at left) with dam beyond   AZ
13 a one person visible go to 14  
  b two people visible go to 17  
14 a a train is visible   NE
  b a tree is visible go to 15  
  c other go to 16  
15 a person watches ship   FL
  b female holds branch   SC
16 a militia man with sword   GA
  b Indian with bow   MA
17 a two friends shake hands   KY
  b Indian on horseback, man plowing   MN
  c standing Liberty and Plenty with cornucopia   NC
  d female warrior stands above conquered enemy   VA
18 a animals visible go to 16  
  b no animals visible go to 14  
19 a animals flank a shield go to 20  
  b animals do not flank shield go to 21  
20 a two standing deer   MI
  b two standing bears   MO
  c two standing horses   PA
21 a cow or oxen go to 22  
  b pelican   LA
  c eagle go to 23  
22 a cows pull covered wagon   OR
  b scraggly pine tree and two sheaves of wheat   VT
23 a eagle with shield looks left, holds ribbon   IL
  b eagle with arrows   MS
  c two eagles (American and Mexican)   NM
  d eagle above covered wagon   OR
  e eagle above beehive   UT
24 a map is central element   AL
  b large star is central element go to 25  
  c mountain scene visible go to 26  
  d other central element go to 27  
25 a plain star, sometimes with wreath around bottom   TX
  b star with native American paraphernalia and designs   OK
26 a mountain and crossed mining picks on shield   CO
  b ship on bay   AK
  c mill in foreground   NV
  d standing sheaf of wheat and arrows   OH
  e waterfall visible   MT
27 a three vines (often looks like trees)   CT
  b ship with sails furled   NH
  c anchor (usually with Hope)   RI
  d plow above ship (usually with Agriculture and Commerce)   TN