Ed. Thanks to the U-M History Calendar we know that today, June 5, marks the anniversary first meeting of the Regents in Ann Arbor back in 1837.   Until 1929 it was that year that adorned the U-M seal.  But..over the years many argued that founding date should be pushed back to 1817–when the university was first organized in Detroit.  Good time for a repost talking about dates and seals:

Originally posted March 30, 2009
Another chance to resume the MVictors virtual Antiques Roadshow.  Reader Dave sent over this note recently:

Hi, I picked up this plaque at a garage sale. I know that 1837 is the year the University moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor.  Any help is greatly appreciated thanks a million.


Dave is correct, the school moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor in 1837, but it wasn’t until a hot debate amongst alums got the official founding date switched to 1817.  The Bentley Library has produced a nice online exhibit on the history of U-M seals which includes this detail on “the switch”.

In 1928, the Regents tried to stomp out the issue, sticking to the 1837 date:

In the 1920’s a controversy developed between two groups of alumni over the birth of the institution. As the Washtenaw Tribune of November 6, 1928, put it, the Regents “settled the controversy regarding the birth of the institution. . . The University will continue to operate under the present seal, showing that it was founded in 1837, the opinion of rabid alumni to the contrary.”

But then a document was produced revealing enough evidence for the school to declare the 1817 date ‘bonafide’:

But in May of 1929 the regents reversed themselves. The deciding event was a communication from university librarian William Warner Bishop calling attention to an enclosed photostatic copy of a document recording the “Laws and Ordinances of the University of Michigania.” We have come full circle, for what had come to Bishop’s attention was the description of the 1817 seal in [then school president] John Monteith’s handwriting.

And the rabid alums partied like Jay Gatsby.

So, back to Dave’s garage sale find.   It appears the “Lamp of Knowledge” seal he purchased was first designed back in 1895 and was used until the founding date was moved back to 1817 in 1929.  So this piece must date back to somewhere within that range.

So how did this end up at a garage sale?  Well, the most likely scenario is that when the change was made back in 1829, the University was probably riddled with these 1837 seals in various places: the Union, the libraries, offices, etc.   A crew of those rabid alumni probably tore through the campus gleefully ripping down the out-of-date emblems.

Once the date changes, the old seals became one of those things that is effectively useless but kind of hard to toss in the trash.  Like all my ticket stubs from bad games.  I’m guessing a few folks at the university took the old seals home and stashed them in the attic—and are now appearing in 2009 suburban garage sales.

I think I’m supposed to put a value on this item, but I’m at a loss.  Maybe $25-$50?  (add $.25 if the quarter is included).

Here’s a history of the various seal design changes from over the years:


From the Bentley’s online exhibit on Seals

Related: Spawn of MZone’s “Wallpaper Wednesday featuring Michigan’s seal, along with some history from February.


  1. There are a few places around campus where the 1837 date is still displayed. Above Angell Hall, there are two University seals, both with the 1837 date on them. Some of the older science buildings around the Diag also have references to 1837 rather than 1817.

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  5. front= i have come across a pendant university of michigan 1837 scientia]back=H.H.Whittemere oL3 Wmarnold annarbor can anyone send me info or if signifficant to you i would be willing to sell for the right price and is copper in color