How many logos have lasted without change for 180 years?

The story of the Dutch East India Company logo or Vereenigde Oost-Indische Companie (VOC) logo began in Holland in 1602 and lasted until the VOC’s demise in 1789 when it was declared bankrupt.

VOC was one of the first companies in the world to establish itself as a multinational commercial enterprise. It grew into a massive trading company by raising capital from the sale of shares, as did the East India Company in England which operated around the same time. VOC and its logo travelled around the world for spices particularly in Indonesia’s Maluku province.

The logo’s interlocking letters effectively unite the elements of the full title, and the serifs add to the designs strength as the serifs of the V form a natural platform for additional signifiers – such as Amsterdam. The clean lines and perfect symmetry ensured its success at a time when the concept of the logo was virtually unknown. Simply stated, it was a well-designed and elegant representation of a company that lasted 180 years.

Whilst our collective understandings of VOC might be sketchy, it doesn’t change the fact the influence of the Dutch in Australia is one of particular significance. Indeed, it was the Dutch who made the very first accurate maps of the Australian coastline. Had Abel Tasman’s adventure along the west coast showed signs of nutmeg or clove trees, then Tasman would have claimed Australia for the Dutch – VOC’s logo would have become part of another entirely different colonial history!

It is worth considering what the logo signified in the history of the Asia Pacific region and how it may have been read by the Mollucans.

The directors and shareholders of VOC wanted even more profit from the spice trade, and hoped the great southern land might give them those riches. It was not to be. Ships carried the VOC logo on flags while they continued the business of chasing the English and the French out of the spice trade completely.

The logo appeared on cannons in the fortifications that resided in the Spice Islands. VOC also minted their own coins, complete with their logo on one side. After many battles, the British and French Fleets eventually sailed away from the Dutch fleets in the 18th century, leaving the Dutch to colonise the Mollucas as they saw fit.

One particularly brutal act by the Dutch in 1621, under the flag of the VOC, was the annihilation of the Bandanese in the nutmeg and mace producing islands of Banda. The brutal force that drove the Bandanese from their lands was unprecedented.

The logo stands in for colonial power, ambition…

The treatment of the Moluccans by Governor Jan Pieterzoen Coen was publically criticized by VOC directors, privately it appeared they were pleased total monopoly of the Spice trade was now more certain.

Coen was to write to the directors of VOC: “There is nothing in the world that gives one a better right, than power and force added to right.” The logo stands in for colonial power, ambition, and domination of lucrative trading routes.

For the few that escaped the extirpation, the logo was transformed in their eyes to the most hated sign that they had seen. It had become a sign of murder, torture and dispossession from their lands. The VOC had established hegemony over the small, but very valuable islands to the north of Australia. The Moluccans knew the sign in the context of colonial history.

How the authorship of the narratives in the Asia Pacific region can be given value is a work in progress. Design students in particular, might consider the many and varied ways in which logos can be read.

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