Toh's inspiration: The State Crest Story

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Toh’s Inspiration: The State Crest story

Also known as the National Coat of Arms, the State Crest serves as a symbol of Singapore’s status as a self-governing and independent state.

  National Day Parade at City Hall - General view of The National Coat of Arms of Singapore

National Day Parade at City Hall – General view of The National Coat of Arms of Singapore
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

 

Together with the National Flag and the National Anthem, the State Crest was passed by the Legislative Assembly on 18 November 1959 and unveiled during the installation of Encik Yusof bin Ishak as the Yang di-Pertuan Negara on 3 December 1959.

The State Crest of Singapore is formed by a shield emblazoned with a white crescent moon and five white stars.

Developing Singapore’s own State Crest

Like the National Flag, the State Crest was conceived by a committee led by then-Deputy Prime Minister Dr Toh Chin Chye. Dr Toh wanted to develop an emblem that represented both Singapore’s declaration of independence from the British in 1959, as well as what Singapore stands for as a sovereign nation.

Deciphering the State Crest

Similar to the National Flag, red is used to symbolise universal brotherhood and the equality of man, while white signifies pervading and everlasting purity and virtue. The five stars represent the national ideals of democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality.

The five stars and crescent moon in the centre were Dr Toh's idea, as were the lion and tiger that stand on each side.

The lion embodies Singapore itself while the tiger represents Singapore’s historical ties with Malaysia.

The Majulah Singapura, which is Malay for ‘Onward Singapore’, is a call for the people of Singapore to progress towards happiness together.

In a 1989 oral history interview with the National Archives of Singapore, Dr Toh explained his thoughts behind the creation of the State Crest.

"Now in the case of the State Crest, again we got the five stars and the new moon. The ideas were mine. A lion next to a tiger. Tiger, of course, is a more local animal than the lion,” said Dr Toh.

He added: “You’d find that with the British national crest they have a crown, because they have a history of monarchy. We were a republic, no crown. So it looks empty. That, from the artistic point of view, something is missing. But what can we replace? Well, the old City Council had the Raffles Crest, I think it was a castle or something like that. And a lion. It did merge with our own ideas of self-governing Singapore."

A quiet craftsman – the artist behind the State Crest and the National Flag

An artist from the Ministry of Culture, the late Mr Joseph Teo (1934 – 1989) designed the State Crest based off Dr Toh’s ideas. Mr Teo, who was only 25, also designed the National Flag.

Until his retirement in 1984, Mr Teo served as the Chief Artist at the Ministry of Culture and later the Ministry of Communications and Information, where he played a key role in designing artwork for national campaigns and mascots such as Singa the Courtesy Lion and Teamy the Bee. He also designed the early medals for events such as the Southeast Asia (SEA) Games and prepared handwritten citations for the recipients of national awards and other honours.

Singa the Lion Mascot mingling with guests attending Friend of Singa Award reception at Jubilee Hall, Raffles HotelSinga the Lion Mascot mingling with guests attending Friend of Singa Award at Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel. Mr Joseph Teo was part of a team of three artists who created National Courtesy mascot Singa.
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

 

Usage of the National Flag

Regulations on the usage and display of the National Flag first took effect on 30 November 1959 under the Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem Ordinance, with the objective of ensuring that the National Flag is treated with dignity and respect at all times.

Among some of the regulations, the National Flag should not be used for any commercial purpose, and should be flown only from a flagpole (Outside the National Day celebrations period) when displayed outside a building.

From 2004, rules regulating the use and display the National Flag were relaxed to encourage Singaporeans to use the Flag more often. Singaporeans and non-governmental buildings could now display or fly the National Flag throughout the year. 

The rules were further relaxed on 16 July 2007. Changes included the extension of the National Day celebration period from 1 July to 30 September (it was previously from 1-31 August).