Family giving state tools used to carve seal in 1889

jdodge@theolympian.comMarch 25, 2014 

Descendants of Olympia jeweler Charles Talcott are donating to the state the tools and other memorabilia he used to carve the Washington State Seal in 1889.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman will receive the antique tools ripe with state historical value on behalf of her office at 2 p.m. Friday in a informal public ceremony in the Secretary of State’s Office lobby in the Legislative Building.

Angelynn Talcott and her father, Richard Talcott Jr., offered to donate the tools, which will be placed on display in the office’s front lobby indefinitely, said Brian Zylstra, deputy communications director for the state agency.

By law, the Secretary of State is the custodian of the state seal, which is imprinted on official state documents and certificates. The state still uses the original die and press supplied by Talcott Jewelers. So it stands to reason the engraving tools would rest with the state office as well.

The state seal is a image of George Washington encircled with the words: “The Seal of the State of Washington 1889.” It almost wasn’t that simple, according to an historical account of the state seal recorded by the Secretary of State’s Office.

Shortly before Washington Territory was to become a state, a committee presented Talcott with a much more complex and cluttered sketch of a proposed state seal. The illustration included the Port of Tacoma, Mount Rainier, wheat fields and grazing sheep. Please have the seal completed in time for the first meeting of the state Legislature in November of 1889, the committee asked.

Talcott argued that the proposed design was too complicated and could become outdated as the state grew. Something simpler and timeless would be better, he suggested.

To illustrate his point, Talcott picked up an ink bottle and drew a circle around its base. Then he placed a silver dollar inside the outer circle and drew an inner circle. Between the two circles, he wrote the state seal inscription. Then he placed a postage stamp bearing the image of George Washington inside the inner circle. The jeweler’s design was quickly accepted by the Legislature.

But there was much more work to do. The postage stamp picture of the first president lacked sufficient detail when it was magnified. Talcott was tasked with finding a better picture of Washington for cutting the state seal die.

The jeweler found what he was looking for in an unlikely place: a color drawing of George Washington on a packing box of “Dr. D. Jaynes Cure for Coughs and Colds.”

The creation of the seal was a family business affair with Talcott’s brother, L. Grant Talcott, lettering the seal and his older brother, G.N. Talcott, cutting the printing die.

The original state seal image of George Washington was altered more than two dozen times until 1967 when a Gilbert Stuart portrait of Washington was selected and made official by the Legislature.

The items to be donated to the state Friday include: an engraving vice holding a copper Washington State Seal, a pair of engraving tools, a leather engraving pad, an glass ink bottle, gold ink pen and 1889 silver dollar. Also included are a sketch of the state seal with a 10-cent stamp showing George Washington, a laminated history card of the state seal, and a postcard featuring the three Talcott brothers.

According to a report by the Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum, Charles Talcott came west with his father in 1872 and immediately opened a small jewelry store. He was joined in the business by his two brothers. Their wooden building was destroyed by a major fire in downtown Olympia in 1882. The Talcotts rebuilt with one of the first brick buildings in the city.

The Capitol Way building was remodeled by noted Olympia architect Joseph Wohleb after the 1949 earthquake. Five generations of Talcotts operated the store until it closed in 2003.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444 jdodge@theolympian.com

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