I was in a dorm with a bunch of '76ers. When the Balfour guys came around to take orders for '76 rings, they made quite a production of it. They camped out in the lobby of Building 10 for what seemed like weeks, with display cases and mountains of brochures, and if whilst traversing the Endless Corridor I'd stumbled into a Balfour bevy of dancing girls and a bear trained to juggle knives with burning handles, I wouldn't have been a bit surprised. The offerings were lavish, even a bit confusing. There were several sizes, which was puzzling until we realized that the sizes were of the big rectangle circumscribed about the beaver, and not the size of the ring itself. There was silver, and white gold, and regular gold, but in light, medium, and dark, which seemed extravagant. There was also green gold, which we thought might be a pre-tarnished look, to make up for the fact that the gold wouldn't tarnish on its own. There were options for the buyer's name - block letters, script, or initials, I think - maybe even a genuine signature. The most frivolous of the options was a diamond chip for the beaver's eye. I never ran into anyone who would admit to getting that. I seem to recall the basic price being about $79.00 - remember, this was a while ago, when an HP-45 calculator cost $400.00 at the Coop. Sic transit...
The next year - my year - the contract went to Jostens. Jostens wasn't so big on showmanship, it seems, as the rep was in and out again in a day or two. I completely missed him, sneaking in like that between 18.075 problem sets. I didn't get a ring until some fifteen years later. The options weren't so lavish as with Balfour. I think small, medium, and large sizes were available, and a strange "antique" finish instead of that weird green gold. And I vaguely recall that the price was up to something around $500.
There were some design changes from '76, but in those days they were trivial. They boiled down to -
Weighty considerations, indeed.
- Did the class year appear as "19XX" or just "XX"?
- Did the Building 10 facade and the Great Dome appear on both sides of the ring, or only one? If only one, then the MIT and Mssrs. Mens et Manus could be larger.
- Did the stippling appear on the bottom (the palm side) of the ring, or just on the upper and lower sides of the top rectangle?
Everyone always seems inordinately impressed that MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY is visible in near-microscope letters on the Building 10 architrave. Or maybe it was on the frieze. Wherever it is, back then, some of us could read it unassisted.
Another oddity is that on one side of the ring, the Dome bears the date LXXVII - the class year. The other side has the date MCMXVI, which was the year MIT moved from Boston to the new buildings in Cambridge.
The really radical innovation was that the class year was spelled out in the sticks on which the beaver is chewing. I don't think this strange custom dates back to earlier rings - 77 is a natural if there ever was one. The Ring Committee was so pleased with itself that they made 77s of some of the sticks the beaver is standing on, as well. It's enough to make one suspect that they were all Architecture majors.
When I finally got around to buying my ring, the price had risen to $500 (although to be sure, $500 which I had then was certainly better than the $100 or so I didn't have fifteen years earlier). And for some strange reason it was only available in "antique" finish. I may have that name wrong. Anyway, it seemed to be a lacquer applied, none too neatly, to the low points of the design. I didn't like it much, so I put the ring in a beaker of acetone and stirred it up a bit in an ultrasonic cleaner. So now it's just plain old gold.
My ring ended up a bit too tight, which I suppose is better than being too loose, as this is a heavy sucker and will fall off if given the chance. I just have to be sure there are no witnesses when I take it off, as the procedure is a bit primitive. You'd think an MIT ring would have something like a rack & pinion adjustment for that.
William Whitelaw '77
These are strange generic MIT class rings sold through the Coop. The Coop lists rings under Commencement Center rather than Jewelry & Gifts. Why anyone would buy one of these rather than their official class design is a mystery.
The Webmaster for Herff Jones really has to look up that word legacy. It doesn't mean what he thinks it means.