Gerald Holtom

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Gerald Herbert Holtom (20 January 1914 – 18 September 1985[1][2][3][4]) was a British artist and designer. He designed the ND logo,which was adopted, non-exclusively, by the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and became an international peace symbol.[5]

ND symbol[edit]

Educated at Gresham's School, Holt, Holtom was a graduate of the Royal College of Art. He had been a conscientious objector in World War II.[1] In 1958 he was working for the Ministry of Education.[6] On 21 February 1958 he designed the nuclear disarmament logo for the first Aldermaston March, organised by the Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War (DAC) in Easter 1958 (4–7 April).

There are differing accounts of how the symbol came to be designed. According to Christopher Driver, who wrote about CND in a 1964 book, The Disarmers, Holtom brought the design, unsolicited, to the chairperson of his local anti-nuclear group in Twickenham and alternative versions were shown at the inaugural meeting of the London CND.[6] Driver wrote, "The first mark on paper, according to Mr Holtom, was a white circle within a black square, followed by various versions of the Christian cross within the circle. But the cross, for these people, had too many wrong associations - with the Crusaders, with military medals, with the public blessing by an American chaplain of the plane that flew to Hiroshima - and eventually the arms of the cross were allowed to drop, forming the composite basic semaphore signal for the letters N and D, and at the same time a gesture of human despair against the background of a round globe. Eric Austen, who adapted the symbol for Holtom's waterproof "lollipops" on sticks to ceramic lapel badges, is said to have "discovered that the 'gesture of despair' motif had long been associated with 'the death of man', and the circle with 'the unborn child'."[6] According to CND, Holtom was invited by the DAC to design artwork for the Aldermaston March. He showed his preliminary sketches to a DAC meeting in February 1958 at the Peace News offices in North London.[7]

The logo was not copyrighted and later became known in the wider world as a general-purpose peace symbol.[8][9] The design was a combination of the letters "N" (two arms outstretched pointing down at 45 degrees) and "D" (one arm upraised above the head) of the flag semaphore alphabet, standing for nuclear disarmament.

In addition to this primary genesis, Holtom additionally cited as inspiration Goya's Peasant Before the Firing Squad:

I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya's peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it.[10]

The reference is to Goya's The Third of May 1808 (1814), although the peasant shown in this painting has his arms stretched upwards, not downwards.

Personal life[edit]

Holtom had six children, four with his first wife: Peter, Julia, Anna (now Anna Scott, an artist) [11] and Benjamin; and two with his second wife: Darius and Rebecca (also an artist).[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Westcott, Kathryn (20 March 2008) "World's best-known protest symbol turns 50" (News) (Retrieved: 21 February 2010)
  2. ^ Roth, Richard (23 March 2008). "The 50th Anniversary Of The Peace Symbol". CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved 20 April 2008.
  3. ^ Roth, Richard (20 April 2008). "CBS Sunday Morning, 3/23/08, Origin of the Peace Sign (timecode 5:13)". CBS Interactive Inc. Archived from the original on 28 May 2008. Retrieved 20 April 2008.
  4. ^ "Holtom gravestone". Archived from the original (bitmap image) on 28 May 2008. Retrieved 20 April 2008.
  5. ^ Ken Kolsbun with Mike Sweeney Peace: The Biography of a symbol (Retrieved: 26 December 2010)
  6. ^ a b c Christopher Driver, The Disarmers: A Study in Protest, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1964
  7. ^ CND
  8. ^ "Briefings & Information: The CND logo" Archived 6 January 2008 at the Wayback Machine (Retrieved: 21 February 2010)
  9. ^ McCarthy, Michael (15 October 2005) "Whatever happened to CND?" Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine (Retrieved: 21 February 2010)
  10. ^ "History of the Symbol". Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  11. ^ "Father & Daughter still competing after 50 years.......50 Years after her father Gerald Holtom, created the now iconic CND symbol, Anna Scott (nee Holtom) is exhibiting her own works at a Mayfair Gallery". 17 March 2008. Retrieved 18 June 2012.
  12. ^ Sloan, Liam (25 March 2008). "Fifty years of peace symbol". Archived from the original on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2010.

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