Brow Beat

Starbucks Siren’s Origins Exposed!

A few weeks ago, when Starbucks announced that it was going to be changing its logo, we introduced you to the Starbucks Siren , the beautiful, mermaid-like creature whose two-finned salute has adorned the company’s coffee cups since 1971.

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After giggling over the company’s breathless paeans to its lovely mascot (she’s “a storyteller … a muse … she’s a promise too, inviting all of us to find what we’re looking for, even if it’s something we haven’t even imagined yet”), we shared this bit of history:

It turns out the Starbucks’ siren is adapted not from Greek myth but from a 16th-century Norse woodcut. Steve [a writer who worked on the new logo] explains how the logo designers found her by poring through old maritime-themed books, hoping to find something that would “capture the seafaring history of coffee and Seattle’s strong seaport roots.” He goes on to describe the original icon as “a seductive mystery mixed with a nautical theme.”

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But wait! Thanks to Christopher Shea at the Wall Street Journal ‘s Ideas Market, we now know that this origin story is total bunk .

Shea points readers to a post on the blog Got Medieval , in which Carl S. Pyrdum a graduate student in medieval studies at Yale writes that it would have been impossible for Starbucks’ founders to have found their muse in a 16 th -century Norse woodcut … because there is no such thing as a 16 th -century Norse woodcut:

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[By] the time woodcut images on paper arose in medieval Europe, around 1400 give or take a decade, there weren’t any people left that you could properly call “Norse”. Indeed, at that point the Norse hadn’t been a going concern for a couple of centuries. A “Norse woodcut” much less a “sixteenth-century Norse woodcut” makes about as much sense as a Pictish steam engine, a Carthaginian novel, or a nineteenth-century Roman illuminated manuscript.

The whole detective story is worth a read, but Pyrdum’s conclusion is that the creators of Starbucks likely found the image while thumbing through the American edition of J.E. Cirlot’s Dictionary of Symbols which, incidentally, was published the same year Starbucks was founded. (Cirlot, in turn, got the image from a best-selling 15 th -century German book.)

A much less romantic tale, to be sure but at least they didn’t find their girl in a clip art collection.

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