Corporate logos often have elements that most people don't know about. For instance the arrow in the Fedex logo that was covered in depth on The Sneeze. This arrowmade me think a little about the Starbucks logo.
As an introduction to this bit of research let me present a short quote from the cult cartoon show Futurama (episode [2ACV12] "The Deep South") in which one of the characters, Fry, tries to engage in "maritals" with a mutant mermaid:
"Umbriel: What the hell is that?
Fry: Yeah I'm a little confused too. How do I... y'now...with the tail and all.
Umbriel: I'm not your first am I? I mean, I lay my eggs and leave and you release your fertiliser.
[Scene: Outside Colonel's House. Fry runs away from the house at top speed.]
Fry (gasping): Why couldn't she be the other type of mermaid, with the fish part on top and the lady part on the bottom?"
My research started with a book that I had, called A Dictionary of Symbols by J.E. Cirlot. In it there was a chapter about Sirens.
Basically, from what I gathered from different sources, including that book, there is a lot of confusion between the different mythological half-women. Typically they are called Sirens - both the half-bird/half-woman and the half-fish/half-woman varieties. The fish type are usually called Mermaids. Both types according to the ancient Greeks were in the business of seducing mariners with songs and promises of sex and then killing them, but Hans Christian Andersen and Disney mostly made everybody forget that.
The whole sex-symbol status of mermaids hinges on the question which part is "woman" - upper or lower. "The other type of mermaid" that hapless Fry was referring to would have problems attracting suitors, of course. And how do you do it with the normal type?
Wise mythologists came up with the answer, of course. And the answer is a two-tailed mermaid sometimes called a Melusine.
The book had an old engraving of a two-tailed mermaid. It reminded me of the Starbucks Siren, but back then I did not realize that the original Starbucks logo had a slightly altered version of that engraving in the original brown cigar band-shaped logo.
Notice that the graphic designer removed the belly button, the unattractive shading around the bulging tummy of the 15th century siren and merged the tail-legs to remove the suggestion of naughty bits. The logo Siren also smiles a little while its 15th century doppelganger is looking rather grim. Other than that it's clear that this is exactly the image that he or she was using.
|Original 15th century Siren||Starbucks modified version|
According to uspto.gov
"[Starbucks] mark consists of the wording "Starbucks Coffee" in a circular seal with two stars, and the design of a siren (a two-tailed mermaid) wearing a crown".
Here's the "cigar band" logo (left) from which I took the image above. The original hippie Starbucks owners did not sell espresso drinks, but mostly sold coffee beans, tea and spices. Today Starbucks sells liquor and ice cream, but no spices if you don't count the cinnamon gum and the stuff on the condiment table.
The next, more familiar green iteration of the logo (right) has a more attractive stylized siren. The chest is hidden, but the belly button is still there.
Here is the current logo (below). They cropped the siren image so that only a hint of the tails is visible. I asked hourly partners at Starbucks and friends, and none of them could figure out what those things to the side of Siren's head were.
Lately I've stopped seeing pictures of the Siren on Starbucks mugs - they seem to favor just the word "Starbucks". I also started seeing the new type of the siren as part of store decoration and on coffee packaging. She only has one tail. I guess the family-unfriendly image of a fish-woman spreading her tails is on its way out.
The brown Siren logo can still be found on merchandize sold at the original Pike Place Market Starbucks in Seattle. The logo is altered though - instead of a "cigar band" design it uses just a circle logo. Cigar band logo mugs and coffee jars can still be found on eBay for upwards of $50 per mug and $200 per coffee jar. I am still looking for anything bearing an "Il Giornale" (a company founded by Howard Schultz that later ended up buying out Starbucks with the help of none other than Bill Gates Sr.) logo.