Coat of Arms
The University Coat of Arms, a shield displaying the phoenix below and the book and motto above, was adopted by the Board of Trustees on August 16, 1910. The University motto Crescat scientia; vita excolatur was adopted by the Board on January 17, 1911 and added to the Coat of Arms on the pages of the open book.
The Coat of Arms was designed by Pierre de Chaignon la Rose, a heraldic specialist in Boston working under contract to the Board of Trustees. No surviving documents make clear precisely why the phoenix was adopted as the central element on the Coat of Arms, although several possibilities have been suggested. The phoenix may represent the "rebirth" of the University of Chicago; an earlier University of Chicago was founded in 1857 and closed due to bankruptcy in 1886, and the current University of Chicago was incorporated in 1890, so in an important sense the University was reborn as the current institution. The phoenix, of course, can also be seen as a symbol of the city of Chicago, which was seriously damaged by the great Chicago Fire of 1871 and then was successfully rebuilt, or reborn, within just a few years. But the most probable assumption is that the Board of Trustees intended the phoenix to represent the successful "rebirth" of the University of Chicago, that is, the rebirth of the institution rather than the rebirth of the city.
The University Seal was a reworking in different form of the slightly earlier design of the Coat of Arms. The University Seal (a circular device with phoenix and book surrounded by bands bearing Latin phrases) was derived from the Coat of Arms and intended to be more easily used with an embossing tool for marking documents (diplomas, proclamations, etc.). The information in the University Archives is that the Seal was designed in 1912 by the Boston firm of John Evans & Co., architectural sculptors for Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge of Boston, the firm then serving as the architects for the University of Chicago.
All of this lively interest in coats of arms, mottos, and seals for the University was spurred by the design and construction of Harper Memorial Library during 1910-1912. Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge was the architect for this building. The University wanted to decorate the new library with the coats of arms of other great historic universities of Europe and America, a reference to the University's stature within the international academic community, but it was an awkward fact that the University itself, almost 20 years old, had not yet adopted its own official emblems. The Board of Trustees thus took action within a two-year period to acquire a proper academic coat of arms, motto, and official seal.
The University Seal has retained its original design since it was adopted. However, the Coat of Arms has been used as the basis for a variety of different modernized or graphically simplified versions of the phoenix, book, and motto. The University of Chicago Manual of Style in some editions carried different forms of the emblem for use in books published by the University of Chicago Press. The University of Chicago Bookstore has its own version of the emblem that it uses on mugs, jackets, and other memorabilia – the shield with phoenix, book, and motto is surrounded by a circular border with the words “The University of Chicago” and the date 1892 (the University Seal in contrast bears the date 1890, the year the University was incorporated, and the Shield itself bears no date at all). In some more recent versions of the emblem, the phoenix has been floating free of its shield, book, and motto and appears separately or enlarged and cropped in the foreground or background of a print or webpage layout.
Commissioned for the 500th Convocation in October 2009, the University Mace is made entirely of sterling silver and bears both the University Seal and the Coat of Arms, the Latin motto Crescat scientia; vita excolatur, and the date of the University's incorporation in 1890. Handcrafted by Henry Powell Hopkins, Jr., a third-generation silversmith in Baltimore, Maryland, the mace is approximately four feet in length and is carried by the University Marshal at all Convocations and other occasions of high ceremony.