King's Crown (symbol)

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Columbia's current Crown logo[1]

The King's Crown is a common symbol associated with Columbia. As a symbol, the crown has undergone numerous transformations and adaptations over the years. While Columbia's original "crown" dates back to its pre-revolutionary days as King's College, the crown's adoption as a school symbol didn't occur until the turn of the twentieth century, and even then was adopted in an informal student-driven manner.

Recently, the university appears to have more formally adopted the crown as part of its primary visual identity, giving it precedence over the seal and shield in branding.[2]

Technically speaking, usage of the crown is regulated by the Secretary of the University. Despite a historical lack of enforcement, the University has recently been making greater efforts to regulate the school's visual identity generally.[3]

The Crown of King's College

A sketch of the Crown of King's College[4]

Columbia's symbolic association with a crown dates back to the days of King's College, when a copper crown was affixed atop the cupola of College Hall[5], a visible symbol of the College's royal charter. Today, that same crown hangs over the fireplace in the Trustees Room of Low Library, above the portrait of Samuel Johnson and the cornerstone of College Hall.

The Crown of King's College, in the Trustees Room of Low Library

On a visit to New York in 1820, Stratford Canning, a British diplomat and future ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, was shown the crown by Professor John McVickar. Canning reportedly commented "You should preserve that crown carefully, sir, for you republicans will by-and-by need a crown."[6][7]

As a side note, the King's College Crown does not appear to correspond exactly with any of the present Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. The closest match would be St. Edward's Crown, which would make sense since, as it was crafted in 1661 and would have been worn by George II at the time of the founding of King's College. However, the Columbia crown is notably missing the fleur de lis present in all British royal insignia since the Norman conquest.

It's interesting to note that despite serving as the inspiration for Columbia's various crown logo designs, many of them, including the earliest, depart in a variety of ways from the original artifact.

Adoption as a symbol

The crown logo of the Kings Crown society. Originally part of a more elaborate logo design, the crown by itself became the group's logo in later years.

Unlike the lion, or the shield, the crown was not adopted with official fanfare and rollout, but rather grew organically to become part of the University's iconography. This may explain in part the myriad designs, proliferation of variants, and lack of a cohesive set of crown symbols for a long period of time.

Nevertheless, there are three events that, perhaps, had the most to do with the crown's staying power. The first was student driven, the second, alumni, and the third, administrative.

In November 1898, a group of students and professors founded a new student literary society, "Kings Crown." From the beginning, the groups organizers had grander plans for the organization, envisioning a general social club for college students. Indeed, the group engaged in planning social and school spirit events, even the Varsity Show for a period of time, and eventually became the governing body of all non-athletic activities on campus. Their stated goal was to promote the 'collegiate spirit' on campus, and they deliberately steeped themselves in tradition and history, reaching back to old King's College for its name and prominently featured a crown in their logo, designed by School of Architecture student Huger Elliott (Class of 1899). This crown might arguably said to be the forefather of all our crown logo designs today.

Elliott's design departed from the original King's College Crown in a number of ways - elongated crosses attached to the circlet, the lack of a ball (the monde) between the crown and cross on top, and the removal of alternating diamond-shaped decorations around the circlet. In the original design the crosses attached to the circlet are very short, leaving much of the space beneath the half-arches (the bands attached to the circlet that curve outwards and then meet at the top) "empty." In this design, and subsequent designs based on it, the crosses are stretched to 'fill out' the space.

The crown atop the Class of 1881 Flagpole in front of Low Library

In May 1906, the Class of 1881 made a 25th anniversary gift that would ensure that the crown became, and would remain, a visible fixture on campus, donating the flagpole east of Low Library's entrance to fly the Kings Crown flag.[8] The pole itself is topped by a crown, much in the way that the old College Hall was topped with the original King's Crown. This flagstaff crown adds two additional design differences from the original King's Crown - the half-arches are not of even width, but are wider on the outer part of their curve than at where it attaches to the circlet or where they meet at the top of the crown), and the crosses inside the crown are latin crosses, rather than crosses pattée. The variable-width half-arches have remained in all of the current designs. It's unclear which exact crown design was featured on the original flag.

Finally, in 1913, Kings Crown was converted into an umbrella organization to officially oversee all non-athletic student organizations. It seems that at this period Kings Crown effectively became the distant ancestor of today's Activities Board at Columbia (ABC) - a student run governing board for student organizations. As a result, the Kings Crown logo became a fixture in student life, affixed to the cover of student group handbooks, guidelines, and other documents related to student life, etc.

Despite its long run, the Elliott's original Kings Crown logo has effectively vanished from use, though many of the design elements it introduced remain in currently used designs.

One additional interesting note is that even as early as 1912 it was unclear to observers where exactly the crown came from as a symbol. It is noted in An Official Guide to Columbia University (1912) that the original King's Crown from King's College had served as the inspiration for its adoption as a symbol but no further details are provided.[9]

Crowns around campus

The crown stamped on the back of Alma Mater, the oldest appearance of the Crown on campus architecture

A survey of the campus to see when and where the crown appears (and in what forms) is interesting. The earliest buildings on the Morningside Heights campus (Low Library, Schermerhorn, Havemeyer, Fayerweather, and Mathetmatics (then the school of mines) Halls) feature no crown iconography in their design.[10]

The first architectural incorporation of the crown appears to have come with the installation of Alma Mater (dedicated in 1903) - a crown that closely resembles the original King's College crown tops her scepter, and a two-dimensional image of the crown is incorporated into a relief based on the University Seal on the back of her chair.

Crown on the frieze in Hamilton Hall
Crown on the molding in Butler Lounge

Hamilton Hall, constructed between 1905-1907, features crowns in stone right above the carvings of the school seals above each door (similar to the ones many of the McKim, Mead, and White buildings around South Field also have above their doors), as part of the decorative frieze in the lobby, and as part of the rarely seen iron gates of the building.[11] Subsequent to the construction of the building, a few graduating classes planted ivy outside the hall, and marked the spot with a carved crown in the foundation. All four crown designs feature elongated crosses. A somewhat different looking crown appears on the door of the Dean's office and is based on the carving directly above it, which is part of a marble doorway arch donated as a 25th anniversary gift by the class of 1894. That particular crown design appears throughout Hamilton Hall on plaques recognizing donors for the most recent renovation of the building, constituting the sole use of the design on campus.

The crown also makes brief appearances on two other buildings - high up on the facade of Avery Hall (built in 1912), and carved in stone above the door of Wien Hall (built in 1925 as Johnson Hall).

Perhaps the most extensive use of the original King's College crown design occurs inside Butler Library (built 1931-1934). Upon entering, a visitor stands between two beautiful gates leading into the library on the left and right. Each gate is topped by a crown similar to the original King's Crown hanging in Low Library. Within Butler, the same crown design appears in the molding running along the ceiling of Butler Lounge (Butler 214), and the Reading Room (Butler 209).

A more recent architectural employment of a crown design is atop the 116th Street gates on Broadway and Amsterdam Ave (both installed in 1970).

Current Designs

In its most recent attempt at creating a cohesive brand[3], the Office of Public Affairs has identified four "official" crowns for general use. These include the Columbia College Crown, and three 'modern' crowns: the recently determined 'official' university crown, a variant that replaces the crosses with diamonds, and a variant designed specifically for SEAS.

Columbia College Crown

The Columbia College Crown

What is known today as the "Columbia College Crown" appears to have begun life in 1910 as a logo of the Columbia Alumni News, a weekly alumni newsletter detailing on-campus events, administration activity, and alumni news.

The Alumni News began publication in Fall 1909. For its January 5th, 1910 issue, the newsletter featured elaborate hand drawn border art on its cover by Arthur Ware (Class of 1898), which included a sketch of a crown. The newsletter would keep this design through the middle of summer.

For the first issue of its second volume (7 July 1910) the newsletter cleaned up the cover art, but incorporated a crown design into each of the four corners of the border. This crown design is what we know today as the Columbia College Crown.

It's unclear at what point this design was adopted by the College for its general use. Nor is it clear at what point the subscript "1754" was added to the design. Lastly, it's unclear at what point, if any, this design was assigned for the exclusive use of the College, or whether that occurred organically.

While the design of the Columbia College Crown has been around for nearly a century, it was not given an official digitization treatment until 2007 when a member of CCIT on his own initiative undertook an effort to produce a definitive sample of the design to replace the various low-quality graphics that were then in use.[12]

Modern Crown

The first version of the modern crown

At some point during the 20th century, no later than 1988,[13] a new crown design was developed that was relatively faithful to the original King's College Crown design - the crosses were short, and the monde and diamond shaped ornamentation representing jewels on the circlet returned.[14] However, the crosses pattée had been supplanted by latin crosses, and the outer half-arches did not curve down as sharply in the original. It's unknown at this time when and in what circumstances this crown was created. Usage of this version of the crown is incredibly rare today. It can be seen in some old uses of the University Shield, such as on the transom window above the Broadway entrance of Miller Theatre, and on labels used by Facilities to tag equipment and furniture with bar codes.

A second version of this design eventually appeared, distinguishable by its lack of bumps signifying jewels on the outer half-arches. Like it's predecessor, this version has largely been phased out of usage, although it can occasionally be spotted on instances of the University Shield.[15] This design was also in use for an extended period on the University flag on stage in the Low Library Rotunda, which also makes an appearance on stage during University Commencement.

Official University Crown (2006)

Official version of the current University Crown

Around 1996 at the latest, a cleaned up version of the modern crown, bereft of any ornamentation representing jewels began showing up in graphical form on Columbia's website.[16] This design would eventually be formally adopted as the official Columbia crown in 2006, though not before yet another design took precedence.[17]

Alternate (Diamond) University Crown (2003)

Alternate 'diamond' version of the current University Crown

At some point (most likely between 2002-2003), the Columbia University Medical Center, then known as Health Sciences, developed a new crown design, possibly as part of its re-branding as the Medical Center.[18][19] The design mirrored the latest unornamented version of the modern crown with one major change: the Medical Center replaced the crosses with diamonds.

Around the time of its unveiling, the new diamond design was incorporated into the selection of crowns used, somewhat indiscriminately by this point, by the University. In fact it was incorporated into the University's new logotype atop its website that debuted in December 2003 (concurrently with CUMC's rechristening), taking the place of the university seal which had figured prominently in the old design, and also in other not-so-subtle ways (the rain mat in the entrance of Low Library for example). A number of individual schools also adopted the diamond design including the School of Social Work and the Law School, which junked the Columbia Shield and its own 'sunburst' logo to do so.[20]

However, the departure from the historical use of crosses in crown designs drew attention. After taking feedback into account, the de-jewerled but crossed design that had sprouted up in the 90s was given an official imprimatur.[21]

At this point divisions of the university were given discretion to select either the newly christened 'official' crown design with crosses, or the 'alternate' crown design with diamonds, and as a result it's a toss-up as to which design you'll encounter. Journalism, Social Work, SIPA, Law, the Medical Center, Public Safety, and Student Services (and all its constituent offices - the Registrar, Faculty House, Catering, Dining, Undergraduate Housing, Health Services, etc.) have all adopted the alternate crown design. The central administration, Facilities, and the Libraries (though not all of them) have adopted the crossed crown design. SEAS adopted its own unique logo based on the crossed design in 2008.

Other designs

Columbia University Press Crown

Columbia University Press Crown 1946-2000[22]

In 1946 Columbia University Press updated its logo with a clean modern crown logo.[23] Over time this logo would be adopted, probably unofficially, by various divisions of the University.[24]

This design is not particularly visible around campus anymore in its original form except at Teachers College, which has retained it to this day as its version of the crown logo. It can be seen on the cover pages of Horace Coon's "Columbia: Colossus on the Hudson (1947), inside the book "Columbia Remembered" (1967), and on the south face of the water tower housing atop the apartment building and offices Columbia built on the corner of Riverside Drive and St. Clair Place (560 Riverside Drive- it's best visible from Riverside Drive going north). However it occasionally shows up unexpectedly in odd places, e.g. the stone marker southwest of the rotunda on Van Am Quad recognizing the Class of 1952's 35th anniversary gift, and the Columbia College Class of 2002's Class Day program.[25]

Until the spring of 2008 the post-war design's most conspicuous and lasting legacy was its incorporation into the SEAS crown logo. Since 2008 SEAS has adopted a variant of the current University Crown.

The crown that adorns the lapel of graduation robes appears to be related to, though not an exact copy of, this particular design, as it's also smooth and unornamented.

It also appears to have been adopted in some form by facilties for a period of time.[26].

Commencement Crown

The 'commencement crown' hanging above the Low Library door
Another view

For lack of a better term, the "Commencement Crown" was a design that primarily appeared on the banners that Columbia hung on the exterior of buildings around South Field and on Low Library during Commencement Week. As of 2007, those banners have all been replaced, and the new banners feature the current university crown. The origins of the 'commencement crown' is currently unknown, nor are any other known uses of the design.

More crowns

Design Confusion

All the design changes, especially in recent years, have resulted in inconsistencies in crown usage. This is nowhere more obvious than in the school merchandise section of the book store. Many of the modern crown and the Columbia College crown designs are used on merchandise almost indiscriminately and interchangeably. This is well illustrated by uses of the University Shield on merchandise. A careful examination of merchandise reveals an interchangeable use of multiple designs.

This lack of precision in crown usage spills over to student usage of the crowns in designing student group logos and flyers, who without any sort of guidance on visual identity use any crown they can find a suitable JPG of on the internet.


  1. Please note that the coloring of the graphics on this page do not necessarily comport with official University guidelines unless otherwise indicated. For further information on official school colors, please see the School Colors article.
  2. For example, until 2004, the crown was not part of the university's website design. A second version of the banner that appeared on the redesigned website eventually became the universities logo of choice.
  3. 3.0 3.1 blue290 A Practical Guide to Columbia’s Standards of Visual Identity (May 2009)
  4. It can be found gracing the copyright page of the 1904 sesquicentennial history of the school, "Columbia University: A History", titled erroneously as the "Iron Crown of King's College."
  5. Some references suggest that it was part of a weathervane, while others suggest a flagpole
  6. Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Volume LXIX, June to November, 1884
  7. A conflicting, and possibly incorrect, source states that the crown, having been removed in the revolutionary era, sat forgotten in a corner gathering dust until rediscovered when the College prepared to move to midtown.
  8. Sources conflict as to which flag was supposed to be flown from the pole. The Spectator reports that the flagstaff was to be used exclusively for the Kings Crown student organization. The Columbia Alumni News, on the other hand, says it was for the "University Flag."
  9. Pg. 16, An Official Guide to Columbia Univeristy (1912)
  10. Not counting hanging the original Crown in the Trustees Room of Low Library. Curiously, at about the same time that Kings Crown came into existence, the trustees had a plaque installed at the site of College Hall which also featured a crown, despite not incorporating the crown into any of the new buildings on the campus.
  11. You can see them built into the Hamilton doorways. You can actually see similar gates in use on the Kent Hall entrance.
  12. An example of inconsistent designs is the one used by the Columbia Business Law Review in their logo, which is the Columbia College crown, but missing a cut-out in the middle of the center half-arch.
  13. The version of the University Shield that the University provided to the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 1988 as a specimen of the design it wished to register as a trademark incorporates the first version of the modern crown design. This raises an interesting question: did the shield incorporate a crown design that was already in existence at the time, or is the crown design we have today taken from the crown designed for this version of the shield?
  14. Another possibility is that this design is based off the crown stamped in relief on the back of Alma Mater. Take a look.
  15. Of course, this is mostly thanks to endlessly inconsistent use of Shield (and other) designs on merchandise in the campus bookstore.
  16. See this December 1996 screenshot of This is the earliest evidence I've found so far.
  17. A Little Polishing of the Crown: Columbia's logo gets slight revision, Columbia News July 28, 2006.
  18. Washington Heights Health Sciences Campus Rechristened CUMC, Columbia Record, Vol. 29 No. 7, 19 December, 2003, Pg. 1
  19. Health Sciences Changes Its Name to Columbia University Medical Center; Leverages Stature, Value of University Tie, Columbia News, 15 December 2003
  20. Those Godless Lawyers, Bwog 31 March 2007
  21. A Little Polishing of the Crown: Columbia's logo gets slight revision, Columbia News July 28, 2006. This Article doesn't seem to distinguish which design came first, especially considering that examples of the 'new' design appear as early as 1996 on the University website, as mentioned above.
  22. CUP applied for registration of a trademark in a new abstract Crown logo with a claimed first date of use in 2000. I assume they phased out the 1946 design at that point.
  23. This date is approximated from when the earliest book I could find with the logo, and the date on Columbia's application for a trademark of the design with the Patent and Trademark Office.
  24. The University Archives subject file on the Crown or Shield has a copy of a sheet covered in various Columbia logos. There are hand notations as to which logos are to be used by which divisions of the university. Interestingly, this particular undated sheet designates the Columbia University Press Crown for use by Columbia College.
  26. See logo on the project-description-sign in the picture of Alfred Lerner standing outside a construction trailer during the construction of Lerner Hall that's currently on display in Lerner Hall as part of it's 10th anniversary.