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The Tiger Is in the Eye of the Beholder

By April C. Armstrong *14

When Cotsen Children’s Library asked for tiger illustrations for a special event they were hosting with the Makerspace a few weeks ago, we were, of course, prepared with dozens of examples for participants to use to make stickers and buttons. Our Tiger Tuesday series on Tumblr has featured many different styles of tigers, from the frighteningly realistic mascot of the 1890s to the friendly, cartoon-like version we’re more likely to see today.

Sophomore Reception dance card, 1892. Student Dances Collection (AC282).

The move away from realism in the mid-20th century was perhaps most dramatic with the Toll Tiger, a claymation-like creature drawn from the imagination–and the pen–of Henry Toll ‘42 beginning in his senior year at wartime Princeton. Toll’s tiger usually had no stripes and, although feline, was rather non-specific in its appearance. If shown in color, it was usually orange and white with a black nose. It was popular for decades, and you may still see examples when older alumni wear their class jackets at Reunions.

Toll Tiger from 1943 Bric-a-Brac.

We’ve also seen examples of the tiger with lion-like features. A Florida alumni banquet menu from 1951 prompts questions about whether we’re looking at a tiger with a lion-like mane, or a striped lion. In 1960, our predecessors in the Princeton University Library used an illustration on the cover of a publication that seems to suggest “lion” more than “tiger,” this time without a mane, but also without stripes. These lion-tigers are typically suggestive of the coat of arms of the House of Nassau, which features the lion as a symbol of nobility. Some of them, like the example on the stationery used by former Keeper of Princetoniana Frederick Fox ‘39 in 1979, are more tiger-like, however.

In 1969, the not-quite-a tiger-but-still-somehow-a-tiger style was a deliberate choice reflective of Princeton’s modernization, as John P. Moran, general manager of planning, plant, and properties, explained to the Daily Princetonian. When symbolically male and female tigers were installed near Whig and Clio Halls to celebrate the advent of coeducation, Moran said they would “be recognizable as tigers but stylistic liberties have been taken.” These were not the neo-Gothic tigers of an earlier time, but modern art. Bruce Moore, the artist who sculpted the bronze tigers, also made them slightly larger than life, at about 11 feet long each.

Face of one of Bruce Moore’s tigers. Photo from 1975 Bric-a-Brac.

Every generation seemed to come up with a new tiger. In 1975, the Prince lamented, “This campus abounds with stuffed tigers, tiger posters, tiger mugs, tiger ties and tiger decals. But few of these tigers inspire either fear or awe. In its commercialization as a Princeton mascot, the tiger has become cute.” One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the name of the mascot–due to strong alumni and student opposition to the idea of it ever having a name, it remains simply “The Tiger.”

The Tiger waves at fans during the Princeton v. Lehigh football game, October 16, 1993. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 159.

We hope you enjoyed this brief look at tigers through the years. If you want to know more about the Makerspace event at Cotsen, please look for a new post on their blog, Pop Goes the Page, this afternoon!


Princeton University tiger pencil, ca. 1990s.
Memorabilia Collection (AC053), Box 21.

Historical Subject Files (AC109)

Office of Communications Records (AC168)

Office of the President Records (AC117)

Papers of Princeton

Princeton University Library Records (AC123)

Princeton University Publications Collection (AC364)

Student Dances Collection (AC282)

For further reading:

Armstrong, April C. “The Tigress.”

Cleeton, Christa. “Which Came First? The Tiger or His Stripes?

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