The History of Diplomas

Imagine working for a business that lives and breathes diplomas? Imagine having access to diplomas from popular schools all over the world? If so, you might know a bit about them. You may also start to notice how diploma designs and materials change school to school and year to year. You would probably writer a paper on the history of diplomas!

As the Internet's most trusted supplier of fake degrees online, Diploma Company has received a countless number of photographs of real degrees from our customers! Most customers provide these because they are requesting a replication of an existing degree to keep their original in safe keeping. Other times they pass these images along just to confirm that we are aware of the actual diploma. Usually, having the original diploma is not necessary, as our collection is vast enough that there are few graduate certificates we aren't aware of. Still, we find diplomas fascinating to study, especially when they come from different areas of the world and date back decades. All the diplomas in our collection, regardless of how they were obtained, are used by our design team to create original template replications of each document. These specific templates ensure our clients a high quality replication that honours the original.

What is the oldest diploma you've collected?


That would date to the early 1910's. The document was obtained by an employee of ours who found it at an estate sale. He brought it into the office for everybody to marvel at, and yes, as true diploma lovers, we all found it fascinating! Although, that was a very old document, the oldest diploma we've ever replicated for a client dated to the early 30s. The client was having it made for her grandmother, who had just turned 90 years old!

What surprises you most about older diplomas?


Well, it's amazing how intricate diploma designs were and how much simplistic they have become in time. The amount of artistic details showcased on graduate certificates, a once common characteristic, has all but been eliminated for simple layouts to scale production along with modern day printing techniques.

Diploma History from 1900s to 1980s


copy of vinage and collectable 1923 tennessee public high school diploma copy of vinage and collectable 1923 tennessee public high school diploma
diploma fail of a vinage dallas school diploma that looks too fake diploma fail of a vinage dallas school diploma that looks too fake

Diploma History from 1980s to 2000s


Before the advancement of digital printing, which has made the production of degrees much more cost-effective for schools, a diploma was seen as more of a work of art. A lot of this was because there were fewer graduates on average, and due to the lower number of individuals needing diplomas, schools could focus more on a few beautifully crafted documents vs mass-producing thousands of documents at once.

Some differences you will spot with degrees from this period are decorative detailed borders that wrap the edge of the certificate and sometimes the school's name too. And although the documents featured rich dark black inks, most did not contain as colour printing was not as easily obtainable as it is today.

Another lesser known fact about older degrees, was that many were printed on sheepskin instead of the typical diploma paper used by schools these days. The sheepskin itself was known to age, which is why many older diplomas that are collected show signs of wear and tear and yellowing as a byproduct of the sheepskin's aging process.

And the last difference which is the most noticeable, in my option, are the signatures. Notice how on both the examples above, the signatures were hand-signed! This was very common during this period, but almost nonexistent today. As you could imagine with fewer graduates from the school, officials could make time to sign each diploma. Nowadays, with thousands of graduates per semester at some top schools, signatures are digitally printed with an auto-pen onto each document. A hand-signed diploma is truly a piece of our history. This doesn't mean that are not some schools that still hand-sign diplomas today, but such diplomas are very rare and often associated with lesser known private institutes.

master of education diploma from Minneapolis university master of education diploma from Minneapolis university
image of a 1984 high school diploma from dover ohio shiny shiny gold embossed state seal image of a 1984 high school diploma from dover ohio shiny shiny gold embossed state seal

During the early parts of the 80s, schools saw an immediate interest in college rise! This meant schools would have to produce more graduate diplomas at an even faster rate. This brought in changes to the typical design of a diploma which included less attention to detail regarding decorative borders and other detailed elements that slowed down production. This saw a much cleaner document design.

Still, what was a massive step up was printing techniques such as embossing. Now school seals on each diploma and some text was raised to the touch, two things that were uncommon twenty years prior. You can see our seal gallery of fake diplomas for an example of these. This was due in large part to mass production. Because schools could now print thousands of diplomas at once, they would raise many of the content on the document that wouldn't change from student to student including the school's name, the seal, basic wording, etc. Then personal details such as the degree and student name were printed later over top of the document.

Another big change was colour. Although many of the diplomas were still done in traditional black ink as colour ink was becoming more common but still expensive, that didn't mean colour printing for graduate certificates was nonexistent. Some schools started to use simple colours such as red, green, blue and yellow with their seals. Blending colours, sharing and other elements were still a few years away as common practice.

Diploma History -- Present


Upclose image of a Western College University diploma featuring shiny gold lettering in school name Upclose image of a Western College University diploma featuring shiny gold lettering in school name
closedup of diploma from Thomas Edison State University featuring shiny gold and red embossed school seal closedup of diploma from Thomas Edison State University featuring shiny gold and red embossed school seal

Due to the arrival of online colleges and private institutes, the number of college attendees continued to skyrocket at an even faster rate. Fortunately, modern advances in printing and lower cost materials including colour inks, have kept up with the demand of custom diplomas obtainable by these institutes. These days, students are awarded with graduate diplomas that showcase less decorative borders than those graduates before them but documents with more colours and applied crafts, such as embossing techniques that were not available before. You can see a great assortment of diplomas from this period, and a few older ones, in our diploma gallery.

This does not imply that all diplomas today are full of colour and sheen either. For instance, we have spotted many diplomas from high schools and even diplomas from colleges in some smaller cities that still choose to print in all black to cut costs for taxpayer-funded certificates. This also doesn't mean that schools have all revamped their designs for more modern layouts. We know many schools that still use the same diploma layout design from fifty years ago, today. The truth is, many colleges and universities have diplomas whose look is as commonplace as their team's colours or mascot! Many schools refuse to change because, as the old saying goes, if it isn't broken, don't fix it.

Still, the possibilities of what can be achieved with a diploma have changed as our printing and production techniques have vastly improved. In the end, what most schools are doing is allowing modern day techniques to easily produce the classic diploma designs their schools are known for.

I hope what you've gathered from this lesson in diploma history is that not all graduate degree certificates are alike and when ordering a replacements online or investing in novelty diplomas to fool a friend with, it's important that the company creating your document has a true understanding of diplomas to ensure your document highlights the elements and characteristics that make it unique.

Interested in Diplomas for Yourself?


We invite you to reach out to Diploma Company and ask how we can be of assistance! As always, we are available via phone at 001-866-687-5403, live chat or email! We look forward to speaking with you soon and discussing your next diploma project.