With the prevalence of online auction sites such as Ebay, there is a tendency to guess at the provenance of anything resembling an official seal bearing an eagle. Too many times, many listers wrote that their special item features the seal of the president of the United States where instead it was that of the Great Seal of the United States, and vice versa.
Side by side, you can now readily recognize the obvious differences between the modern Great Seal of the United States and that of the president of the United States. Both use a variation of the eagle and shield, but both are quite different in design.
The main similarities is that both utilize the eagle of the United States, our great national symbol since 1782. This modern version was created in the 1880’s and is still in official use. Both have 13 arrows in the left talon and an olive branch in its right talon. Both have shields over their chests, although they are of different shape.
The main difference between the two is that above the head of the eagle of the Great Seal is that of a circle of 13 clouds surrounding 13 stars in the center. In heraldry this is called a crest and the crest of the Great Seal is called a glory. There are no stars or words surrounding that of the Great Seal.
The crest above the eagle of the seal of the president is still 13 clouds with 13 stars but arranged in a “rainbow” pattern with the stars arranged 9 above the eagle’s head and 4 on the right side of its head. The eagle is surrounded by 50 white stars on a blue background surrounded by a legend that reads: “Seal of the President of the United States.”
At times, the legend or words of the presidential seal is missing and only the eagle and circle of stars is used. This is called the coat-of-arms, a lesser seal. When each version is used is strictly at the discretion of the president with no difference in legality.