A Brief Glimpse of the German Empire Through the Lens of a State Seal

     Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a series of sailing directions found in RG 456, Foreign Sailing Directions. These volumes are mostly smallish, bound books published by individual governments and collected by the Defense Mapping Agency and its predecessors from approximately 1892 to 2005.  Some of the volumes have English translations, though most remain in the native language.  The books provide very detailed information about things such as dangers near the coast and detailed geography for seagoing vessels in specific areas of world. Australia, Spain, France, Canada, and West Germany were just a few of the nations that published these books.1892

     For the most part, the covers of the books featured only the title of the book, which was basically the geographical area that it covered and the date by year.  However, the German publications carried something much more decorative and informative – a state seal or national symbol.

Over the span of years between the first of the West German publications, 1892, and the last of the publications in the archive’s holdings, 1990, we can get a glimpse of the history of Germany based on the change on symbols over time. 1919

The earliest publications between the years 1892 and 1918 all exhibit a seal known as the “Lesser Arms of the German Empire”, which was officially in use from 1871 to 1918.  The German Empire was in existence from the time of the unification of multiple nation states into a single nation in 1871 until 1918, when the nation became a Federal Republic.

From 1919 to 1936, the “Coat of Arms of the Weimar Republic” was used on the book covers and the official name of the state became the “German Reich”.  This was a more stylized black eagle on a yellow background with a red beak and claws.  But, this was a time of transition and sometime during 1936, the coat of arms of the Weimar Republic was denounced, and an eagle atop a swastika became the formal symbol of not only the Nazi party, but the country as well and this was what was featured on the publication covers.

1936 Transition

By 1941, we see the swastika 1941beginning to be marked out by a thick black line or labels being strategically placed over the swastika itself, and in 1941, the symbol began to be eliminated from the book covers and was replaced by the circular image of a compass rose denoting 1944“Deutches Hydrographisches Institut”.  It is this last symbol that remains on all of the German sailing direction publications after 1944 in the archive’s holdings.




Citations: Wikipedia contributors. “Coat of arms of Germany.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 21 Jun. 2017. Web.