The Starbucks logo is surely one of the most recognisable symbols on western high-streets. It's a green, black and white device. In the centre stands a crowned, long-haired female figure. She is framed first by odd striped shapes, and then by a green ring bearing the words "Starbucks Coffee" and two five-pointed stars.
The combination of the stars and the crowned figure has always led me to think that the logo is some sort of new-age symbol- a hippyish reference to Aquarius or some token from the Tarot. This would not be entirely out of keeping with Starbucks' safe yet “alternative” image. But the truth is far stranger, and takes us back to the sexual fantasies of medieval Nordic sailors.
The figure is a type of Mermaid.
When we think of a Mermaid nowadays, we imagine a long-haired female, bare-breasted, with a single scaled fishlike tail instead of legs. Ancient mariners often claimed to see Mermaids, bobbing along in the sea, or frolicking in the waves. One imagines that months into a long, male-only voyage, able seamen might well hallucinate comely sea-maidens. But what good would our modern Mermaid do a randy rigger? Not much. There's nowhere to put it.
In days of yore, the Mermaid as commonly imagined had two tails, approximately in the same places as a woman's legs. One assumes that they were anatomically compatible in other respects too. These were called Melusines.
When looking for a logo for the newly merged Starbucks business, the co-founder, Terry Heckler, found a 15th century woodcut of a Melusine. Rendered in brown and circled by the words “Starbucks – Coffee - Tea – Spices” it formed the Starbucks logo from 1971 til 1987. The female figure is depicted in a vulgar porno pose- she's holding her fishy ankles up by her ears, with her fishy legs spread. And a pert lil come-hither smile. This original woodcut can still be found in A Dictionary of Symbols by J. E. Cirlot and on a display by the public footpath between the Millennium Dome and the Thames.
For the next revision of the logo, the basic idea was retained, but heavily stylised. The current green, black and white colour scheme was introduced. The full figure of the Melusine was still visible, but she looked a lot less brazen. Then, in 1992, the image was cropped a bit, resulting in today's familiar logo. The odd striped shapes the figure is holding up are not Aquarian water pails, but the ends of spread legs from the horny imaginings of a maritime Norse woodcarver.
Melusine Madness: Spread-fin Redux
In May 2008, Starbucks began to reuse the image from the centre of their original logo on their coffee cups, as part of a promotion.
Sources (with images, if you don't believe me!):
Further Reading (more SB Logo rudeness fun):