Friday, February 27, 2009

Heraldry in Dallas, Texas: the good, the bad, and the ugly

(Sorry, I just couldn’t resist using that subtitle!)

In any case, the coat of arms (well, to be truthful, there are two of them, one on either side of the main entrance, but they are both identical) on the old Thomas Building at 1314 Wood Street in downtown Dallas probably should rank among the "good". It consists of the very simple arms, "[Field] three fleurs-de-lis". Carved in stone but without any hatching, the tinctures are unknown. The arms are, presumably, France modern, Azure, three fleurs-de-lis Or, but why the arms of France should be on a building constructed in downtown Dallas sometime between 1910 and 1924 is, alas, a mystery apparently lost in the mists of time. I’ve been able to find very little information about the history of this eight-story building, and nothing at all about the arms on its facade.

Now, to be fair, there is the historical fact of there having been "six flags over Texas": France, Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America, and the United States of America (not necessarily in that order). So it is at least a possibility that the French arms are on the building to acknowledge one-time French sovereignty over the area. (One day soon we will discuss another Dallas building with a coat of arms that clearly relates to Spanish rule.) But unless and until I can find some bit of information that can give me something more than conjecture, I’m afraid that I’m left sort of scratching my head over the presence of French arms on this building in the heart of downtown Dallas, Texas.

But it is pretty, isn’t it? (Or as they might say down here, "Purty, ain’t it?")

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Homemade American Heraldry (or, HAH, I suppose)

The following paragraph is taken from the description of a doodle made by then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower during what I can only assume was another boring meeting (as I suspect most such meetings are). From the discussion below, Ike apparently doodled at lot at such meetings. This one just happens to have ended up with a shield of sorts.
A pencil sketch by President Dwight Eisenhower on official "The White House" letterhead. The paper contains the typed agenda for "CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS MEETING [held on] Tuesday, August 20, 1957--8:30 am". The agenda includes "1. Lead and Zinc Legislation [by] the Under Secretary of the Interior 2. Veterans Housing [by] Dr. Saulnier... 6. House Report [by] Congressman Martin." Eisenhower sketched over this program in pencil. He drew a large nuclear insignia with an arrow diagonally piercing it in the center of the paper. ... According to California Congressman Jack A. Anderson, who was Eisenhower's Assistant Secretary of Agriculture and Special Administrative Assistant, the President would often "doodle"while in meetings. Sometimes he used the agenda, sometimes notepads, sometime loose pieces of paper. After Eisenhower would complete a sketch, he would slip it underneath the blotter at his place at the Cabinet table. For a while, Anderson collected these sketches, but soon Eisenhower began to take the sketches with him when he left the meetings and either throw them away or destroy them.

You can actually purchase this fine piece of historical American "heraldry" for only US$1,300.00. See the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America website at for this item. (I’d buy it myself, but for some reason I don’t seem to have a spare $1,300 laying about the house just now. And then, too, if I had that much money lying around, I’d have already spent it at Heraldry Today.* But I don’t, and I haven’t. Sigh.)

* To see why I would have already spent it at Heraldry Today, check out some of the books they have in stock now at their website. The link is on the left under "Websites of Heraldic Interest". But beware! Heraldry Today can be dangerous to your budget. Trust me about this; I know from experience.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Heraldry, Vexillology, and ... Sumo Wrestling?

An article in The Japan Times of February 20, 2009 ( has a great photograph by Mark Buckton of part of the ring-entering ceremony where the sumo wrestlers all stand in the circle, each wearing his patron’s (I assume) mon. In the circle and the photograph is makunouchi wrestler Kokkai, who is from Georgia (the one in Asia, not the one in North America). He is wearing the national flag of Georgia. (I have no idea where the gold eagle behind the flag comes from. The arms of Georgia are St. George on horseback killing the dragon, with golden lions supporting the shield. Nary an eagle in sight there.)

What a great use, and display, of heraldry and vexillology (flags), though! Oh, yeah, and really big sumo wrestlers.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

More Texas “Heraldry”

While traveling about west Texas (I don’t remember why. We must have had a good reason. You just don’t drive that far from Dallas – about 350 miles – without having a good reason to do so!), we ran across what I have long considered to be a great piece of faux heraldry there. I say "faux heraldry" deliberately, because while the whole thing may be placed on a shield shape, it’s not really a coat of arms.

What it is, however, is the logo, if you will, of the House of Hair, located at 2803 Slide Road in Lubbock, Texas. We drove past it, my wife noticed it, and we turned around and went back so that I could take a picture of it, because, well, I "needed" to. Just like I "need" to take photographs of heraldry wherever we go, whether it’s here in the U.S., or Canada, or Europe. Come by my house sometime, and I’ll be more than happy to bore you to tears with literally hundreds of photographs of coats of arms, and some other faux coats of arms, that I’ve taken over the years!

Anyway, the House of Hair is a salon which caters to both men and women, and I thought that their logo, which could perhaps be blazoned as Azure, an open pair of scissors bendwise sinister, its round handles forming the symbols for woman and man argent, was just too good not to get a picture of.* It meets most of the requirements of early heraldry – good contrast, simple outline, recognizability. It doesn’t meet the "ten word blazon test", a rule of thumb devised by a friend of mine, who believes that most really good heraldry can be blazoned in ten words or less. (Not surprisingly, he really likes Brittany, which is blazoned simply Ermine, and of course, d’Albret, Gules, at least before the augmentation of the French Royal arms was added.) Still, as a modern conceit, it has, I believe, a certain charm to it. And it certainly serves the basic purpose of heraldry, that of identification. Once you see this logo, you pretty much know what you need to about the firm which occupies the building on which it is painted.

So, how’s that for a bit of Texas "heraldry"?

* I lately lost a preposition:
It hid, I thought, beneath my chair.
And angrily I cried: "Perdition!
Up from out of in under there!"

Correctness is my vade mecum,
And straggling phrases I abhor;
And yet I wondered: "What should he come
Up from out of in under for?"

Morris Bishop

Monday, February 16, 2009

The “Arms” of Mark Twain

While doing some of the research for the previous entry on the "arms" that Tom Sawyer was devising for Jim (because it always helps to double-check your facts), I ran across this amazing devisal of a "coat of arms" for Samuel L. Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, done by Tiffany & Co.
I’m really at a bit of a loss as to what I might say about it. I mean, about the only thing it has in common with real heraldry is that it’s placed on sort of a very Baroque shield shape. Other than that, it’s got six "quarters" with scenes relating to the great man’s life (including his house in Hartford), with a roundel in the center "charged" with his initials in a very foliated script. It is, in fact, just the sort of thing that I would expect from both the Victorian era and Tiffany & Company: florid, busy, overly fussy, and professionally executed by an expert craftsman. It is not, however, anything like what I think heraldry is supposed to look like.

But here, too, what an amazing piece of American "heraldry."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Heraldry in Huckleberry Finn

In Chapter 38 of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, in the process of helping the runaway slave Jim, Huck’s friend Tom Sawyer is trying to convince Jim and his friend Huck that Jim’s just got to have a coat of arms to go with the inscription he would carve on the wall of his "dungeon," like Lady Jane Grey or Gilford Dudley:

"Tom set to work to think out the coat of arms. By and by he said he'd struck so many good ones he didn't hardly know which to take, but there was one which he reckoned he'd decide on. He says: ‘On the scutheon we'll have a bend OR in the dexter base, a saltire MURREY in the fess, with a dog, couchant, for common charge, and under his foot a chain embattled, for slavery, with a chevron VERT in a chief engrailed, and three invected lines on a field AZURE, with the nombril points rampant on a dancette indented; crest, a runaway [racial slur deleted], SABLE with his bundle over his shoulder on a bar sinister; and a couple of gules for supporters, which is you and me; motto, MAGGIORE FRETTA, MINORE ATTO. Got it out of a book--means the more haste the less speed.’

‘Geewhillikins,’ I says, ‘but what does the rest of it mean?’

‘We ain’t got no time to bother over that,’ he says; ‘we got to dig in like all git-out.’

‘Well, anyway,’ I says, ‘what’s SOME of it? What’s a fess?’

‘A fess - a fess is - YOU don’t need to know what a fess is. I’ll show him how to make it when he gets to it.’

‘Shucks, Tom,’ I says, ‘I think you might tell a person. What’s a bar sinister?’

‘Oh, I don’t know. But he’s got to have it. All the nobility does.’"

Has the blazon confused you yet? Yeah, me, too. Fortunately, there’s a drawing that was done that may – well, probably not – help you sort it all out. Proof once again, as if we needed it, that a little learning can be a dangerous, or at least confusing, thing. But what an amazing piece of American "heraldry."

Monday, February 9, 2009

No heraldry in my family, until ...

As I’ve had the opportunity to learn about heraldry, work on my own genealogy, and make presentations introducing heraldry to other genealogists, I’ve had the fun of remarking about how I thought that it was very inconsiderate of all of my ancestors, that they never took into account their descendant’s hobby and used a coat of arms themselves. It was a fun statement because it allowed me to be a little bit self-deprecating, and it also, I believe, helped those in my audiences to relax a little bit and enjoy the presentations more.

Except that now I’ve discovered that not all of my ancestors were so inconsiderate, and that the statement I’ve been making that none of them had used a coat of arms is an untruth. (In other words, "I’ve been living a lie!") We took the opportunity last summer to spend a week in and around Boston, Massachusetts, eating seafood, seeing the sights, walking most of the Freedom Trail, seeing the Gore roll of arms (an 18th Century American roll of arms, about which I’ve written a book),* and visiting the gravesites of family members.

It was while visiting the table tomb of my 10th great-grandparents, John Winslow and his wife Mary Chilton Winslow, in King’s Chapel Burying Ground on the Freedom Trail in Boston that I discovered my previous error about the use of arms in my family tree. Because right there on the side of the tomb was a cast plaque of the Winslow arms! (Blazon in Crozier's General Armory: Argent, on a bend gules, seven lozenges conjoined or.) Now, to be clear, I do not know for certain that John Winslow actually used these arms. I fully suspect that the plaque was added many years after his death. But it is certain that John’s older brother, Edward Winslow, sometime Governor of the then-colony, did use the arms. And if Edward Winslow had the right to a coat of arms, even under the most rigorous interpretation of the British law of arms so did his younger brother John. (Strictly speaking, John’s arms would have had to have been slightly different than Edward’s, though this is a rule honored far more often in the breach than adhered to, even in modern English heraldry.)

So, on the one hand, this is very cool! I have finally found people in my family lineage who used a coat of arms. On the other hand, though, it means I’m going to have to come up with another line for my presentations.

* If you are at all interested, more information about The Gore Roll book can be found at

Friday, February 6, 2009

College of Arms Fire: Updated Articles

I haven't been able to find much more than general articles about the fire. The biggest concern, after the possible damage to the builing itself, is of course the records held by some of the heralds whose offices are in that wing. (The library and main collections of the College are housed in the main wing.) And though the fire damage appears not to be too extensive, the amount of water the fire brigades were using to put the fire out is, of course, a concern. How much water damage may have been caused to the fabric of the building itself, and how much to the records in the offices in that wing? I'll keep watching for further news, and post links here as I can find out more.

And then (in the interest of completeness) there is the following, a parody "news" story about the fire at the CoA:

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

You’d think historians would do better

My wife is always watching out for me (in so many ways), for which I very often have to thank her. Recently, she sent me a photograph (shown here) that she found of part of the Governor’s Mansion at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Central in the photograph is the Royal (British) arms, beautifully carved and placed prominently above the entrance. Beautifully carved, prominently placed, but poorly painted.

Admittedly, they got part of it right. All of the parts which should be gold are, in fact, gold. But everything that should be red is dark blue, even the velvet cap in the Royal crown and the tongues of the two lions (crest and supporter). Everything that should be dark blue is painted a light blue. (The sole exception being the Garter, which is the dark blue that it is supposed to be.) And the white is painted a bluish-gray. (See the drawing of the Hanoverian Royal arms to the right for what the colors are supposed to be.)

I have no idea why these arms were painted this way. Did they run out of red paint? Then why not substitute the light blue for the red, since they obviously had sufficient quantities of dark blue. It still wouldn’t have been right, but it would have been more correct than the current version. Did someone just not care? Did no one double-check to confirm the colors before sending someone out to paint the arms?

For a place which prides itself on being "History in Motion" as "the world’s largest living history museum" containing "hundreds of restored, reconstructed, and historically furnished buildings" (all according to their website, I, frankly, expect better than what I see here. I mean, if they can’t get the coat of arms right, what else may they be getting wrong? It’s not like it’s hard to find the correct colors. There are any number of books and websites that give photographs and drawings in full color of the evolution of the arms of England and Great Britain through the centuries. (See, e.g., So what happened here?

As I said, you’d think historians would do better.