Branding Peace

It’s the 51st anniversary of the Peace Symbol, and I’m celebrating by buying The Anti-War Quote Book, edited by Eric Groves. It was designed by Quirk Books in Philadelphia– the folks who brought us the Worst-Case Scenario Handbooks. I’m pretty sure war qualifies. Plus, I can never pass up a book with powerful, deliberate typography.

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The Anti-War Quote Book is published (of course) by Chronicle Books.

And now, a little history:

The peace symbol was designed in 1958 by Gerald Holtom in England. The symbol was originally used for the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC) and then adopted by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in Britain. It was used by the British nuclear disarmament movement before being adopted as an international emblem for the 1960s anti-war movement.

The symbol itself is a combination of the semaphoric signals for the letters “N” and “D,” standing for Nuclear Disarmament. In semaphore, the letter “N” is formed by a person holding two flags in an upside-down “V,” and the letter “D”  by holding one flag pointed straight up and the other pointed straight down. The two signals imposed over each other form the shape of the peace symbol. In the first official CND version (preceded by a ceramic pin version that had straight lines, but was short lived) the spokes curved out to be wider at the edge of the white on black circle. More here.

Semaphore ‘N’

Semaphore ‘D’

Holtom explained the adoption and genesis of his idea: “I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya‘s Peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it.”

The peace symbol button was imported into the United States in 1960 by Philip Altbach, a freshman at the University of Chicago, who traveled to England to meet with British peace groups as a delegate from the Student Peace Union (SPU). Altbach purchased a bag of the “chickentrack” buttons while he was in England, and brought them back to Chicago, where he convinced SPU to reprint the button and adopt it as its symbol. Over the next four years, SPU reproduced and sold thousands of the buttons on college campuses.

I was born in 1958, missed the 60’s, and almost missed the 70’s. But I count at least eight peace symbols in my home and studio. And I am absolutely convinced  it will fulfill its brand promise.

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1 Response to “Branding Peace”


  1. 1 Mala March 12, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Very informative. Thanks!


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