From Neptune to Trident: How the Colonial Deputed Seal for Barbados evolved into a national symbol
Seals, coins, stamps and paper money share a much closer relationship than first meets the eye. This can be illustrated by the first ever colonial deputed seal made for Barbados.
It was engraved in June 1663 by the famous medallist, coin and seal engraver Thomas Simon.
The obverse face depicting: ‘His Majesty’s Royal Effigies, representing Neptune in a Chariot drawn by two sea horses, and robed with his royal robes and crowned with a trident in his left hand’ with the inscribed motto ‘ET PENITUS TOTO REGNANTES ORBE BRITANNOS.’
As demonstrated by William and Mary’s later seal for Barbados engraved c.1690, although depictions of the Monarch changed from reign to reign, the basic design remained unaltered until the island gained independence in 1966.
Being the legal instrument of Barbados colonial governance and authority, the seal would have been used to authenticate a wide range of official documentation. Its imagery was also adopted across various formats as is demonstrated by George III’s Seal for Barbados engraved c.1760.
The design of this particular seal formed the basis of the Reverse Face designs for Barbados’ 1792 Copper Half Penny and Penny coinage.
Likewise Victoria’s Barbados Seal engraved by Benjamin Wyon in 1837 was used on the island’s most iconic postage and revenue stamps all typo or recess printed by Thomas De La Rue & Company in London.
This design first appears without the inscription upon Barbados’ 1892-1903 Colonial Badge Definitive Issue.
It was also used on the Barbados 1897 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria Issue.
In fact representations of Victoria’s seal appear upon the definitive stamps of Barbados throughout the reign of Edward VII and the 23 July 1912 definitive stamps of George V.
For the Barbados 16 June 1916 Definitive Issue, Victoria’s Seal was replaced by that of George V’s and the seal’s motto appears upon the stamp for the first time.
The motto then disappears on the Barbados 1921-1924 Definitive Issue stamps,
before reappearing on the Barbados 1925-1935 Definitive Issue stamps.
The Barbados 3 January 1938 Definitive Issue then adopts the seal of King George VI with the motto.
Once the security printing firm Bradbury Wilkinson and Company Limited take over the printed contracts for the island’s stamps, this longstanding design tradition is abandoned. Their recess printed Barbados 1 May 1950 Definitive Issue $2.40 stamp is the only one depicting a seal, Simon’s original seal for Charles II.
This design is repeated again on the $2.40 stamp of Elizabeth II’s Barbados 13 April 1953 Definitive Issue. After this the seal theme disappears from the stamp design altogether.
In addition to stamps, a number of the colonial seals have also been depicted on the successive paper money issues circulating on the Island during the first half of the twentieth century. George VI’s seal first appears on the obverse face of the Government of Barbados 1938-1949 Currency Note Issues printed by Bradbury Wilkinson.
Later it appears on the reverse face of the British Caribbean Territories 1950-1951 Currency Note Issue
printed by the same company before eventually being replaced by Elizabeth II’s on the reverse face of the 1953-1964 Issue.
Likewise, the seal design was also reproduced upon Police Uniform Cap Badges, during the reign of Elizabeth II.
Colonial Flags and even buildings such as the Barbados Mutual Life Assurance Building on Broad Street in Bridgetown constructed c. 1895 also carried imagery based upon the seal design.
In 1966, during the build up to Independence, the Government of Barbados arranged an open competition to design a new national flag. Grantley W. Prescod’s globally recognised winning design comprises a vertical triband of ultramarine and gold with a black trident-head centred upon the gold band.
The blue represents the sea and sky of Barbados, whilst the gold represents the sand of the Island’s beaches. The Trident represents the mythical sea god, Neptune who was depicted by successive monarch on all of the colonial seals. In effect Prescod reclaimed the old colonial imagery, before reshaping and transformed it into a new postcolonial National Symbol. Following independence in 1966, this trident-design has in turn been mass reproduced by the Government of Barbados across a wide range of mediums. Notable examples include, the Barbados 17 August 2016 $2.20 stamp printed by BDT International depicting the national flag.
Likewise the reverse face of the Barbados 1997 1 cent coin depicts a Trident.
The Central Bank of Barbados 2013 Issue banknotes also depict the Tridents within their designs,
and finally the Trident can be found on monuments including the Independence Arch on Chamberlain Bridge and Independence Square both located in Bridgetown.
It is important to remember that these colonial and postcolonial representations first introduced by Thomas Simon’s Barbados Seal in 1663 have been reproduced millions of times across different formats. This mechanical mass reproduction has enabled them to be encountered by Barbadians on a daily basis within a wide range of social, economic and political situations for almost four hundred years.
Sociologists like Michael Billig’s contend that an underlying, non-extremist and endemic form of ‘banal nationalism’ is brought into existence by such everyday encounters with representations of authority upon official and consumable objects including coins, stamps, paper money and flags. From a colonial perspective this would have helped to shape the development of a colonial identity for Barbados, at the same time helping to facilitate a proto-national identity from which drives for independence partially formed. Nevertheless as Barthes and others readily point, out such visual representations are inherrently polysemous and unstable. This allowed the new postcolonial Barbadian ruling elite to reclaim and reappropriate an old colonial symbol. Having done this they could then use the symbol in new and different ways to signify a break from the colonial past whilst developing a new national symbol at the same time.
- Richard Scott Morel, curator, philatelic collections