Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dexter and Sinister

They aren't the new Belle and Sebastian, these are the two characters found on the NYC seal. I've found some nice examples lately of the seal of New York City, or as King James II might have preferred in fancy Latin, Eboracum. Maybe you knew that, maybe you didn't. I found the top one on this building on the corner of Butler and Nevins, and the other on the license of a 5th Avenue plumber. If you are curious to know more about the symbols, than open up for this Wikipedia regurgitation. Do you have wikiphilia too?

First on the meaning of the word Eboracum:

Eboracum was a fort and city in Roman Britain. Today it is known as York, located in North Yorkshire, England. The etymology of Eboracum is uncertain as the language of the indigenous population of the area was never recorded. One theory is that Eboracum is derived from the Proto-Brythonic word Eborakon which can mean "place of the yew trees" or "the field of Eburos". Efrog in Welsh, Eabhrac in Irish Gaelic, Iorc in Scottish Gaelic. The name is then thought to have been Latinised by replacing -akon with -acum. Another theory is that the language of the indigenous population was a Germanic language similar to Old English and so Eboracum is derived from *eburaz meaning a boar.

Here's more about the seal with our friends on it, the Dutchman called Dexter and the Lenape, on the right, called , umm, Sinister. I didn't make that up! Curious? Open wide and read what our wikiphilies have to say about it.

The Seal of the City of New York, adopted in an earlier form in 1686, bears the legend SIGILLUM CIVITATIS NOVI EBORACI which means simply "The Seal of the City of New York": Eboracum was the Roman name for York, the titular seat of James II as Duke of York.

The two supporters represent the unity between Native Americans and colonists. Dexter,[1] a sailor colonist holds a plummet in his right hand; over his right shoulder is a cross-staff. Sinister,[2] a Lenape native to Manhattan rests his left hand upon a bow.

Upon the arms / shield, the four windmill sails recall the city's Dutch history as New Amsterdam and the beavers and flour barrels signify the city's earliest trade goods (see History of New York City). The flour barrels and windmills represent the tremendous wealth generated by New York City from the Bolting Act of 1674.[3] The Act gave the city an exclusive monopoly to mill and export flour. The shield and supporters rest upon a horizontal laurel branch.

The crest over the seal is the Bald Eagle, added in 1784, after the American Revolution. Prior to this change, a crown had been located in this space, representing the authority of the monarchy during the British colonial period. The eagle rests upon a hemisphere. At the bottom is the date, 1625, ostensibly as the founding of New Amsterdam, the colonial Dutch settlement which would later become the City of New York. This date, however, was chosen for somewhat unknown reasons and most historians believe no significant event actually occurred that year. The first Dutch settlers actually arrived in the region in 1624, and the town of New Amsterdam was incorporated in 1653.[4]

A laurel wreath encircles the seal.

The city clerk is the custodian of the City Seal.

I like the fact that the "laurel wreath" looks more like a circle of oysters in the seal cut into the blue plastic, the bivalves this place was once so rich in sort of get their due notice on account of someone's poor rendering.

Now for more weird fun: This morning I found a plummet, or something very plumb bob-like, on 17th St. At first I thought it was something a dog owner should have picked up except for the precision of its shape. On second look it was a very elongated rusty iron pine cone-shaped hunk of iron about 6 inches long, with a loop on the top. I can take a hint: seems it's time to straighten things up around here!

Here's what I still want to know... Why the names Dexter and Sinister? And what function do you think this metal pine cone served?


M.Thew said...

What an cool building. Must go take a look at it. Northern Gowanus remains a mystery to me though I travel the Gowanusland midsection several times a week.

Your dexters and sinisters come from the Latin, for right and left side, by way of the argot of heraldry. Why the association of left with evil I don't know, although I suspect Edmund Burke.

amarilla said...

Yes, why's my left hand sinister? I've been told that the left side is the receptive, feminine side. The right, the masculine, active one. I've been trying hard to fix the broken left side because the manic right is no good without it.

Butler Street between Nevins and Bond is De Chirico land. Don't miss the old ASPCA - more about that soon..

Old First said...

Just off 4th Ave, right across from the Hess Station, and also on DeGraw, is a building with a symbol in its facade: a wheel with wings.
From Ezekiel's vision I don't think. The current owner doesn't know any more about than anyone else.

amarilla said...

amarilla said...

I interpret those winged wheels as a simplification of the tetragram since seeing an illustration of Ezekiel's vision in a book called The Beastiary of Christ. The auto industry has commandeered that symbolism, I think. Maybe it has something to do with the phrase "Godspeed!" I wonder where that came from?

Nice thoughts for hurricane season!

M.Thew said...

Those winged wheels can be found in a number of old parking garages around the city. Very 1920s methinks.

Anonymous said...

I have a metal pine cone just like the one you have shown. It attaches to the chains at the bottom of my cuckoo clock.

amarilla said...

Oh, a cuckoo clock tick tocks in Brooklyn! Sweet!

amarilla said...

I wonder what kind of pine has long narrow cones like that.

Old First said...

Certainly a White Pine can.

M.Thew said...

The cuckoo pine, of course, found in the Alps. Seriously, though, you do get the impression that it's a northern European convention, heavy wood clocks, pine cone like weights, Heidi in her dirndl kind of thing.

amarilla said...

Did someone say dirndl? It's about time! I like a word that uses vowels so economically.

Old First said...

Have you got vocalic defensiveness?

amarilla said...

Maybe I do, but gooooooooooooogle doesn't.

City Mouse said...

Definitely a weight for a weighted clock. Awesome post. That water building looks like it needs gargoyles on top of it ... two of them - named Dexter and Sinister. I'm The Mouse today. Helluva week!

amarilla said...

I was wondering about you, you've been a semi quiet city mouse.

Guess what? Yesterday I found another pendulous thing there on 17th St., one of those teardrop-shaped crystals from a chandelier. That was funny because I used to covet those when I was little and would climb on the dining room table and steal them from the chandelier. All I had to do was untwist some wire, never thought it would be that easy.

Also odd because yesterday I got a haircut at...Le Chandelier, on 5th.

And then I found $15 in a tree pit!