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The Seal

The Cypher

The Chambers






The Dutch West India Company (Geoctroyeerde West-Indische Compagnie (GWIC or WIC)) was a company for the trade on the West-Indies, and was chartered by the Republic of the United Netherlands on 3 June 1621.


The Company was organized in the same way as the United East India Company (V.O.C.). There were five chambers: Amsterdam, Zeeland (established in Middelburg), Maze (Rotterdam), Stad en Lande (Groningen) and Noorderkwartier (Hoorn).

The administration consisted of the Heeren XIX, elected from 74 commissionaries.

Its main trade was sugar, tobacco and the slave trade from Africa to the West Indies.

Because of a bankruptcy the Company was liquidated in 1674 but it was refounded the next year. This company is known as the 2nd West-India Company (Tweede Geoctroyeerde West-Indische compagnie  or  Nieuwe West-Indische compagnie.) The Heeren XIX were replaced by the Heeren X.

In 1792 the company was liquidated. Its possessions were handed over to the government of the Republic.



The first colony to be founded by the WIC was Nieuw Nederland (1624-‘64). This consisted of today’s Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Vermont.  Later colonies were founded in the Antilles and Aruba, two places in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Tobago, Guyana (today’s British Guyana, French Guyana and Suriname), and the settlement of Nieuw Holland on the Brazilian coast. On the other side of the Atlantic, in Africa, there were settlements in Arguin, Gorée, Goldcoast, Sao Tomé, Annobon, Corisco and some places in Angola and Namibia.




The Seal


Just like the VOC the WIC had a seal showing a fluitschip (three-masted sailing vessel). This can be seen on a print of the seal from 1623 but also on later seals of Suriname. [1] At some time the fluitschip of the seal was also placed on a shield.



Print of the Seal of the West India Company, 1623.


 (Algemeen Rijksarchief, Den Haag)


The Cypher


Better known and documented is the cypher of the Company. This consisted of the letters G. W and C. Some seals of the Company with this cypher are preserved. [2] It was also on coins minted by the Company.



Print and iron seal of the West India Company

(Penningkabinet R.A. 96 & 97)



Goldcoin minted for the Brasilian colonies, 1645

(Coll. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)


The Chambers


The chambers of the Company had their own seals on which the cypher is completed with the initial of the place of settlement. [3] 


ðFor the Amsterdam chamber a little ‘v’ was added to make the letter ‘A’:


Cypher of the Amsterdam Chamber of the Company

on the mantle-piece in the West Indisch Huis in the Haarlemmerstraat, Amsterdam, 1628.

(Rijksmuseum Amsterdam BK-NM-11131)


Cypher of the Amsterdam Chamber of the W.I.C.

On a warehouse of the Company at the ’s Gravenhekje in Amsterdam, 1642.


ð The illustration in the head of this essay shows a print from a woodblock from 1682.


ðFor Groningen and the Ommelanden the letters ‘G’ and ‘O’ were added:


Token struck  by the Chamber of Groningen and Ommelanden.

At the occasion of the paying out of 10% dividend by the G.W.C. 1683.  Silver, 55 mm

Groningen and Ommelanden Cypher surrounded by the arms of the 12 commissionaries


Coll. Groninger Museum 8-273. Catalogus van Loon III: 304


ðFor the Hoorn Chamber the letter ‘H’was added:


Photo H.d.V. 2010

Cypher of the Hoorn Chamber of the W.I.C.

On the tympanon of the office of the Chamber, Binnenluiendijk, Hoorn. 1784.


ðFor the Rotterdam Chamber the letter ‘M’ of Maze’ was added:


Silver Dish

 showing the cypher of the Maze Chamber of the W.I.C. (Coll. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam inv.nr. NG-NM-582)




On the main topsail of the ship the Dutch Virgin, sitting within a fence. On the stern the national emblem of the Republic of the United Netherlands consisting of a bundle of seven arrows.

Around the ship the arms of the seven rulers of the Maze Chmaber.




ï  6 ST[uiver] seal of the Maze Chamber.

(Penningkabinet, R.A. X 12)


ðFor the Zeeland Chamber the letters ‘Z’ an ‘M’ (for Middelburg) were added


Cypher of the Zeeland Chamber on a auction poster, 1750 [4]


After the Abolition


On 3 May 1792 the handing over of the posessions of the former WIC was effectuated. Deliberations were held to organize a new administration called the Raad der Coloniën (Council of the Colonies). [5] The council started its activities on 13 November 1792. [6]

The seal of the council showed the arms crowned arms of the States General: Gules, a crowned lion with sword and bundle of arrows Or.  [7]



Seal of the Raad der Coloniën (in the West Indies) 1792  (Æ 99mm)

By courtesy of the Geldmuseum, Utrecht


The territories under the jurisdiction of the council were:


1. Essequebo and Demerary. United in 1787. Residence of the governor-general in Demerary. In semi-autonomous Essequibo a commander.

2. Curaçao, Bonaire and Aruba. Residence of the governor general on Curaçao.

3. St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and Saba. Residence of the governor general on St. Eustatius. A commander on St. Maarten. 

4. The coast of Guinea. Consisting of Fort St. George d’Elmina and some other forts in the interior.


Apart from the Council for the Colonies the Society of Suriname and the Direction of Berbice were active in the Americas. Because cooperation between the three organizations was unsatisfactory the States General decided to abolish them and to place their possessions under the jurisdiction of the  Committé tot de zaaken van de coloniën en de bezittingen op de kust van Guinee en America (Committee for colonial affairs and of the possessions on the Guinea coast and in America). This decree came into effect on 1 November 1795.  [8]


A new seal was made for the Committee. As the arms of the States General had disappeared from their seal by resolution of  4 May 1796, the seal of the Committee was also of a different design, omitting the arms. It showed the Batavian lion, armed with a sword and supporting a shield with the words COMMITTÉ TOT DE WESTINDISCHE BEZITTINGEN, standing in a landscape between a palmtree and a sailing vessel and the attributes of Mercury on the foreground. In chief there is the name of the republic on a listel in orle.



Seal of the Committee of the West Indian possessions 1795-1801. (Æ 100 mm)  [9]

By courtesy of the Geldmuseum, Utrecht


This seal was abandoned when the Committee was dissolved and succeeded by the Council for the American Colonies (1801). Its seal showed the arms of the Republic again and the legend RAAD DER AMERIC(aansche) COLONIËN / BATAAFSCHE REPUBLIEK.  [10]


From this time on the seal of the ministries responsible for the colonies in Asia and the Americas showed the arms of the sovereign of the Netherlands.


These ministries were:

Ministry of Commerce and Colonies (1806.07.06 - 1807-12-31)

Ministry of the Navy and Colonies (1808.01.08-1810.12.31)

Imperial Ministry of the Navy and Colonies (1810-1813)





And after the French Occupation:

Department of Commerce and Colonies (1814.04.06 - 1818.03.18)

Department of Education, National Industry and Colonies (1818.03.19 - 1824.03.18)

Department of the Navy and Colonies (1825.04.05 - 1829.12.31)

Department of Infrastructure, National Industry and Colonies (1830.01.01 - 1834.12.31)

Department of Colonies (1835.01.01 - 1840.08.09)

Department of the Navy and Colonies (1840.08.10 - 1841.12.31)

Department of Colonies (1842.01.01 - 1945)

Department of Territories Overseas (1945.02.23- 1951)


After the loss of the Netherlands Indies:

Department of Union Affairs and National Territories Overseas (1951 - 1953).

Department of National Territories Overseas (1953-1957)

Department of Affairs Overseas (1957 - 1959)


In 1959 the department was abolished and replaced by a chamber, at first administered by the vice-prime-minister until 1971 and later as

Chamber for Suriname and Netherlands Antilles Affairs (1971-1975)

Chamber for Netherlands Antilles Affairs  (1975-1985)

Chamber for Netherlands Antilles and Aruban Affairs (1985-1998)


In 1998 the Chamber was incorporated in the Ministry for Internal Affairs and Relations within the Kingdom



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© Hubert de Vries 2010-02-08. Updated 2010-03-02; 2011-11-21; 2015-02-15




[1]  Felhoen-Kraal, J.: Wapens en Zegels van Suriname, Amsterdam, 1950 pp. 8-9, figs 2-8.  

[2]  Schutte, O: Catalogus der Zegelstempels, berustende in het Koninklijk Penningkabinet en enige andere verzamelingen. In: De Nederlandsche Leeuw 1971 n° 11, n°s 30-34.  

[3]  Schutte. op.cit.  Amsterdam:  35-40. Zeeland: 41. 

[4]  Helman, Albert: Avonturen aan de Wilde Kust, 1982, blz. 103

[5]  R.d.C. 25, also see R.d.C. 5, p. 343 e.v.

[6]  Staten Generaal 13 nov. 1791

[7]  Schutte, op.cit. nr. 44.

[8]  N.B. In the West- Indies Committee  the Council for the Colonies, the Society of Suriname and the Direction of Berbice were united.

[9]  Schutte, op.cit. nrs. 104-105

[10]  Ibid nr. 106

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