Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Sun logo and its history

current vignette

An emblem of trust
shines on Baltimore
From 1837 to the present, The Sun's nameplate has been modified 14 times.

It has been a stalwart and trusted component of The Sun ever since
Vol. 1, No. 1 came off founder A.S. Abell's printing press on May 17, 1837.
A look at a the evolution of the Sun's signature logo shows the present vignette's ingredients, if not their final positions.

It's technically called the The Sun's nameplate, the name of the paper adorned with emblematic and symbolic artwork.

It was H.L. Mencken, longtime Sun editor and writer,who gave the artwork its correct and perhaps more elegant name. He referred to it as "the vignette," and for 168 years it has endured, with alterations, additions and deletions.

"French for 'young vine,' vignette is the printer's term for those vine-like or floral traceries sometimes used to border a page, such as the oakleaf-edged cover of the old National Geographic," wrote author John Barth in a 1987 article in The Sun.

And today, we unveil a colorized version of the nameplate, illustrated by Martin Coté of Toronto. Sharp-eyed readers will observe two of its original components -- a steam locomotive and sailing ship -- that have been included in every issue of the newspaper since 1837, have been slightly altered.

The steam locomotive has regained its 19th century balloon stack, from which trails a ribbon of anthracite coal smoke.

The steam and sail-driven ship, once a common arrangement during the transition from the age of canvas to steam-powered vessels, is now minus its belching funnel. Its sails, however, appear to be fuller as if swollen by stout ocean breezes.

Throughout most of The Sun's history, the locomotive and ship have been traveling in opposite directions.

It was in the 1995 redesign that they assumed their present alignment.

The inclusion of the locomotive, no doubt, commemorates the founding in 1827 of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the nation's first common-carrier railroad, and very much a Baltimore- and Maryland-funded enterprise. The ship -- to which was later added an anchor -- reflects the city's shipyards, role as a major port and link to international commerce.

A rising sun with finger-like rays first made its appearance on May 6, 1839. It was then encircled by two goddesses holding what Mr. Barth described as "a large ring of Polish sausages."

That was a precursor of the newspaper's motto, "Light For All," which made its debut on May 18, 1840, on a banner held aloft in the beak of an eagle riding the thermals above a rising sun.

It would later be placed paralleling the curve of a larger rising sun, where it remained until 1983, when it was moved to its present location at the base of the vignette.

Since March 8, 1852, an eagle, the symbol of the United States, has been perched atop a federal shield with 13 stars representing the nation's original 13 colonies, of which Maryland was the seventh. As of today, the eagle has a wider wingspread, and the shield is colored a patriotic red, white and blue.

Many items introduced in the 1840 nameplate remain today, among them Themis, the Greek goddess of justice, who holds a sword in her right hand and the scales of justice in the other. A brush and palette recognize arts and culture, while a beehive represents the state's industrial workers. A tied sheaf of wheat standing behind the beehive honors the state's agricultural community.

A bit of vignette trivia: From 1837 to the present, the nameplate has been modified 14 times.

A serious revision was suggested in 1965 when the newspaper's promotion manager, G. Elmore Evans, suggested in a letter to Donald H. Patterson Sr., general manager of The Sun, that "the vignette definitely lacks a tone of the times. There is a total of 21 objects shown in our present vignette; unbelievable but true."

He then furnished a detailed bill of lading: "Land, sun rays, two beehives, eagle, woman, locomotive, water, ship, paper scroll, artist's palette and brushes, shield, sword, viaduct, sun, lighthouse, anchor, bale of cotton, scale of justice, sheaf of wheat, sickle."

Mr. Evans suggested in updating the image a number of items ought to go, while introducing a modern diesel locomotive and ocean liner to replace the ancient transportation relics. He even thought a jet airliner wouldn't be out of place.

When Mr. Patterson approached Charles H. "Buck" Dorsey Jr., The Sun's managing editor, he was greeted with a less than enthusiastic reception.

In a letter to Mr. Patterson, Mr. Dorsey wrote, "I am a complete conservative in such matters, and I would not want to change."

There the matter rested until 1982,when thenpublisher Reg Murphy convened a study of the nameplate. The new Murphy-era nameplate was introduced in 1983 and remained untouched until Roger Black's 1995 redesign of the newspaper, which introduced a more three-dimensional one.

The late Clement G. Vitek, The Sun's chief librarian for 36 years until his retirement in 1985, left a typed note in the newspaper's files for posterity:

"The vignette of the morning paper, that is, the words The Sun and the design showing the female figure with sword and scales plus the railroad train, etc., is registered with the U.S. Patent Office and is re-registered every 20 years as the trademark of The Sun. This does not constitute a copyright of the paper. The registration number is 230093."