Monday, June 29, 2009

Heraldry Is Alive and Well.

Well, it’s alive, anyway.

And for those of us who don’t live in England and so will not be seeing these advertisements "on thousands of bus stops across England", you might check out this link ( to Bombardier Beer’s "new advertising celebrating everything that is 'Positively English'. The advertisements feature Bombardier at the heart of a selection of English icons, such as Stonehenge, Henry VIII and Red Squirrels in a modern take on a coat of arms."

These ads are the kind of thing where the longer you look at them, the more you see in them. I noticed the White Cliffs of Dover right off, but it took me a little while to notice both Stonehenge and the Cornish pastry as compartments. (Winston Churchill in a Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper uniform popped right out at me - as did Queen Victoria as Robin Hood - but it wasn’t until a later viewing that I noticed the 99 ice cream cone that he is holding.) I’m clearly not enough of an Anglophile to recognize every "Positively English" thing in these three "achievements of arms", but the Red Arrows precision flight team did pop out to me. (But then, I’m a military aviation fan from way back.)

I guess, really, that if people can have some fun (like they pretty obviously do here) with heraldry, then heraldry is probably both alive, and well.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Another Heraldic Authority Puts (Some of) Its Records On-Line

Digital images from Scotland’s Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland for the years 1672 (the year it was begun) through 1907 have been placed on-line at Scotland’s People, "The official government source of genealogical data for Scotland." Searching the images is free, though you do have to be an existing user or register as a new user to perform searches. Successful searches (and you can, for example, search for a full name or just a surname) will produce the following information: the full name; the date of the grant or matriculation; and the volume and page numbers from the Public Register. Unfortunately, viewing the images is not free, running £10.00 per entry (most entries are one or two pages. There is no additional charge for the second page of two-page entries). Still, if you are only looking for a few individuals, it’s a whole lot cheaper than flying to Edinburgh and going to HM New Register House to look through the volumes of the Register there.

I went ahead and did a search for one of the Scottish surnames in my family tree. The search for "Forbes" returned 45 entries. A screenshot showing the first eight appears below, so you can get an idea of the results you will see from a search. They also make it easy to print out each page of search results with a "Click here for printer-friendly version" link at the bottom of the page.
More information about the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland, and coats of arms in general, as well as a couple of sample images from the Register, can be found on-line at

The first heraldic authority to begin digitizing and placing on-line illustrations and basic information about the arms, badges, etc. that it has granted was the Canadian Heraldic Authority. This is still an on-going project for them, and new images are placed on-line periodically as the work of digitizing them is completed. The CHA’s Online Register currently includes pages 1 to 100 of Volume III and all of Volume IV (pages 1 to 538). You can access the Online Register, which contains the uploaded images and information from The Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges of Canada, at

I think it is great that the Court of the Lord Lyon and the Canadian Heraldic Authority are making their Public Registers so much more truly public by placing them on-line. What a boon this can be to heraldic researchers and genealogists alike.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

“A New York Minute”

Wikipedia says that the term "a New York minute" "is an informal term used to mean a very short period of time. The term refers to the common perception that the people in New York City are hurried and impatient. Johnny Carson once described a New York Minute as being the time it takes ‘From the (traffic) lights to turn green, till the guy behind you starts honking his horn.’ During the late 1980s crime wave, David Letterman defined a New York Minute as the length of time it took to be mugged in New York City."

I was reading through a copy of Mr. Punch’s Book of Arms (which, as you can probably figure out from its title, is satire wrapped in the cloak of heraldry, attributing coats of arms to political and contemporary figures), and in the arms for "Viscount Stanley of the Congo" ran across the blazon (for the third quarter) of "a New York herald blowing a trumpet of his own in exultation over repeated columns of copy sensational to the last."
Anyway, the "a New York herald" - which theoretically could be a College of Arms-type herald but which could also be a newspaper, like The New York Herald - got me to thinking about two things. The first was the phrase "a New York minute", and wondering if a New York herald was considered somehow faster than other heralds. The second was heralds in what was the British colonies in America. There have been two heralds in the colonial period of what is now the United States that I can recall:

There was the Carolina Herald,* Laurence Cromp (appointed 1705, when he was also York Herald), who was to grant arms and crests to the landgraves and cassiques, colonial nobility of the low lands, of South Carolina. He does not seem to have actually granted any arms, though he may have had a hand in the design of the seal of the Lords Proprietor of the colony (below). Cromp died insolvent in 1715; no successor was appointed.

Another English herald in the Colonies was William Crowne (Rouge Dragon Pursuivant) who emigrated to America in 1657. He does not seem to have had any official duties here, and he resigned from the College of Arms a month after attending the coronation of Charles II. He did bring with him the Promptuarium Armorum, the book of arms of his predecessor as Rouge Dragon, William Smith. That book ended up for a time in the possession of the Gore family of Boston, Massachusetts, painters and designers of heraldic embroideries, as one of the three main sources for their own 18th Century book of arms, now commonly known as the Gore Roll.**

Alas, I do not find a "New York herald" other than the newspaper (published 1835 until 1924, when it merged with The New York Tribune).

* His full title was "President of the Court of Honor and Principal Herald of the whole Province of Carolina."

** A book about the Gore Roll, the most complete and accurate to date on its history and contents, has been written by David B. Appleton, and is available for sale at

Friday, June 19, 2009

Heraldry in the News!

An heraldic artist at the College of Arms has been honored with an MBE on the Queen's Birthday Honors List. Dennis Field has been an artist at the College of Arms since 1965, where he filled an opening at the ripe old age of 15.

You can read the full story here:

I really admire heraldic artists and the work they do. A lot of that admiration has to do, I think, with the fact that the extent of my artistic talent seems to be the ability to photocopy and scan, and then manipulate said copies and scans into something vaguely resembling heraldry.

In any case, congratulations are in order to Dennis. Well done!

Keep Checking the Links Lists Redux

I know I’ve posted on this before, but it’s probably not a bad idea to remind regular visitors and new folks alike to check (or re-check) the links lists down the left side of this blog for new items. Periodically, as I get some "free" time to search on my own or as I run across something in one of the heraldic newsgroups I visit, when I see something that I believe may be of particular interest to readers here, I will post a link to it in one of the links categories here. Indeed, I have added some new links just a couple of days ago.

The main categories are: other blogs discussing heraldry; heraldry websites; armorials (and ordinaries); heraldry books; and heraldic clipart. (I'm thinking about adding a new category, for sites dealing with military heraldry. What do you think? Would that be worthwhile?) For each of these categories, if I find something of particularly American interest, I will almost certainly add it. Everything else that gets added is chosen on a case-by-case basis. (Imagine the number of links that would be there if I went out to the Internet Archive or Google Books websites and simply linked to everything that came up doing a search for "heraldry", "heraldic", "heraldica", or "coat of arms", much less "wappen", "wappenbuch", "heraldique", and so on!) But if I see something of general or more often, of particular, interest (e.g., Ye Comic History of Heraldry), I will add it. As a general rule, I will not add commercial websites, unless they’ve got a bunch of good stuff that is available for free. All this really is just to remind you, whether you’re here for the first time or have been a regular reader, to check, and to keep checking, the links lists for new items that might be of interest to you. And if you should happen to know of a website or an armorial or ordinary or other heraldry book that you think I or the readers here might be interested in, please don’t hesitate to email me with a URL. (My email address can be found by clicking the "Email" button in my Profile.)

And, of course, given the sometimes fluid nature of the internet, if you find any broken links here, be sure to let me know, and I’ll either remove them or find an alternate site for them. After all, it’s all about sharing this wonderful field with each other.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Arms vs. Logos, More Evidence

I ran across a link to a website the other day that brought to mind the post here on June 1, 2009 entitled "Do They Really Need a New Logo?" The point I was trying to make in that post was that a coat of arms is readily adaptable to any number of different applications and artistic styles, and is appropriate for use in most, if not all, of the applications where cities and corporations are seeking to "update" their image through the adoption and use of a logo of some kind. This in many cases even though the city or corporation already has or uses a coat of arms. I feel that a coat of arms may be "updated" just as well as, and certainly a lot cheaper than, the adoption of a new logo, and used some examples from the City of Dublin, Ireland, as support for that belief.

The specific webpage I found the link to ( is hosted by the Kircaldy, Scotland, Civic Society, and is more about the way the town’s motto has been depicted over the centuries. But all of the many (46!) photographs there include the arms and show the many ways that those arms have been reproduced over the years. Some are very traditional, some very logo-like, and others just kind of neat in the artists’ creativity in depicting what really is a fairly simple armorial design.

Anyway, I thought that these depictions helped to bolster my argument that there’s really no need to go out and spend a lot of money on a new logo when there is already a perfectly good, suitable, and adaptable coat of arms available for no extra cost to those cities, etc. which already have or use one.

So if you enjoy seeing some of the different ways the same coat of arms can be depicted by different artists in various media and over the course of several hundred years, I highly recommend that you drop by the Kircaldy Civic Society website and "Check it out!"

Friday, June 12, 2009

I Love This Hobby!

No, really!

It’s been a while since I have had sufficient spare change to do something that I was able to do again recently. And that is to buy old heraldry books. I’ve been lucky enough to at times have sufficient funds – and a wife who doesn’t object* – that over the years I’ve been able to acquire for my personal heraldic library a fair number of books that are 100 or more, sometimes significantly more, years old. I’ve managed to acquire a copy of the fourth edition of Guillim’s A Display of Heraldrie, published in 1660 which has the wonky page numbering because while it was in the process of being printed, Charles II was restored to the throne of England, and they wanted to include such things as the Royal arms. My personal favorite remains a 1795 edition of Porny’s The Elements of Heraldry, which I pull off the shelf periodically not so much to read, really, but just to enjoy the feel of turning the pages. The paper has such a high linen rag content that the pages in it feel almost like cloth rather than paper.

But, as I said, I recently had a bit of a personal windfall (money that wasn’t otherwise earmarked already), and so I went out to the Heraldry Today website ( for those of you who haven’t run across this site already) and ordered, and have now received, the oldest book yet in my library, E.B.[olton]’s The Elements of Armories, published in 1610. I realized after it arrived in the mail that I’d forgotten how truly exciting it is to hold something in your hand that was in existence when James VI and I was on the thrones of Scotland and England, respectively. It’s not in mint condition (very few things that old are; there’s a little water spotting and some page discoloration), but I have every reason to believe that "look so good in [400] years [I] will not, hmm?" It also used to be owned by the late "H.S. London, FSA", as witnessed by his bookplate, which makes it even more special, since he was at one time Norfolk Herald Extraordinary of the College of Arms in London.

So is this a great hobby or what? I get to own bits of history that have their own special histories. That is just so cool!

* There’s a reason she doesn’t object. She figures the odds are in her favor of outliving me, and the day I die, she intends to (1) put all of my heraldry books up for sale on eBay, and (2) notify all of my heraldry hobbyist friends that they’re out there, in order to finance her "grieving" trip to Venice, where she hopes to spend a fair bit of time with Vito the cabana boy getting over her recent loss.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Good Article on Blazon

The post for June 10, 2009 over on Blog de Heráldica ( is a good one discussing the difficulties than can be caused by excessive rigor in blazon. To illustrate his points, the author uses two examples from Spanish heraldry: first of the growth in the number of serpent heads in cauldrons, from an original two (which were really just a decorative version of hooks for the handle to attach to) to four, to a whole bunch issuant from the cauldron itself; and then of the problems which have arisen from specifying the number of squares in a checky field.

I can highly recommend this article. For those of you who can read some Spanish, you can probably just pop on over there and read the article. For others, you might want to get a (_very_ rough) translation through AltaVista Translations (

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Trouble With Needlework Charts

As a part of my on-line heraldry business, I create a new 3"x3" needlework chart of some heraldic charge or other every month (the most recent dozen are always posted at I am now into my seventh year of doing these. (I published the first one in April 2003.) They are fairly small, so they really have to be kept relatively simple, else they end up not looking like much of anything. But after having created over 60-some charts, I find it is getting harder and harder to be original, to find "new" charges, even though I’ve even gone through a number of 15th and 16th C armorials for different artistic styles and charges seen more rarely in English heraldry. Indeed, I noticed recently that I had done two slightly different versions of the same charge (a grenade) just a few months apart, because I hadn’t carefully double-checked the running list that I keep of what charges I’ve done.

So I find myself casting about for new ideas for needlework charts. One that I find myself returning to is to do a series of shields with the ordinaries and subordinaries on them. Or maybe shields with the various simple and complex lines of division. But that feels like it’s taking me away from the original intent of the series, which was common (or now, increasingly uncommon) heraldic charges.

It’s always an odd feeling when you have something you intended to do trying to morph itself into something else. (Oh, no! It’s a Transformer!) And yet that’s something that happens to nearly every artist that I know. And so it is in heraldry, as in all of life, that there are lessons to be learned. This one, I think, is that I shouldn’t try to force it, but just open my mind to greater, or at least different, possibilities. Every month. Because there’s a whole wide world of heraldry out there, just waiting for me to re-discover it.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, stupid)

It’s been interesting to me to see some of the registrations/grants of coats of arms by some heraldic organizations, because sometimes the arms they register just seem so complex and hard to identify. (For examples of which, see the picture below.) And, really, isn’t identification the raison d’être of heraldry? Now, by this I don’t mean just the function of identifying knights in full armor on the battlefield or in the lists. In some of the presentations I give to genealogists and other groups, I use the analogy of a coats of arms being like one of those "Hello, My Name Is ..." nametags that people wear at meetings or events. That name tag, and a coat of arms, is just a way to identify someone. But if the coat of arms is so complex that you have trouble making it out, doesn’t that reduce its value as an identifying symbol? In just the same way that using an extremely florid script or medieval German blackletter on that nametag would make the name harder to read, and therefore identify?

I also certainly don’t mean to state, or even imply, that this tendency to overburden the shield is anything new, or has only occurred in recent years. Goodness knows, when you look at some of the grants done by the heralds in the time of the Tudor kings and queens of England, you see a lot of pretty complex stuff.

And I fully understand that many of these heraldic registries are, and must be in order to stay in business, "customer-oriented", and that there is only so much that you can do to guide a client determined to commemorate every significant event in his or her life on the shield. It isn’t always possible to apply the advice once offered by Garter King of Arms Peter Ll. Gwynn-Jones who, when asked what could be done with a client to wanted to put his resume on his shield, replied "Tell him he can’t have it!" But surely there must be some nice but effective way to explain to some of these clients that "resume heraldry" might not give the effect they are trying to achieve.

The best "rule of thumb" I ever heard regarding designing a coat of arms was by then-State Herald of South Africa Frederick Brownell, who opined that you should take a line drawing of the proposed coat and reduce to about the size of a postage stamp (roughly the size it might be on, say, a business card). If it is recognizable at that reduction, then it has achieved one of heraldry’s primary goals: identifiability.

And so it is in heraldry, as in so much else in life, that it helps to remember what has been called "the K.I.S.S. principle": "Keep It Simple, Stupid."

Monday, June 1, 2009

Do They Really Need a New Logo?

The post for May 4, 2009, over at the Cheshire Heraldry Web Journal ( is a great one about the adoption of a new logo by Stirling Castle, and its cost. That posting got me to thinking about the times over the last several years where one organization or another, even some who already had perfectly good coats of arms that they have been using for years to "brand" themselves to the public, pay sometimes ridiculously large amounts of money to some commercial design firm to develop for them a "new," "more contemporary," or "more relevant" logo, with which they often replace their "old", "outdated" coat of arms.

In the example of Stirling Castle, it seems to me that if they really wanted, as they said, to "convey a sense of depth, experience, royal authority, richness and intimacy" of the Castle, they could have used the coat of arms here, which appear on a tapestry right there in the Castle.

I have to wonder, though, if part of the problem doesn’t lie in the fact that many people seem to think that a coat of arms is just like a trademark, in that it absolutely, positively must be drawn exactly the same way every time it appears, no matter what. Because that is clearly not the case, as a minimal amount of study would serve to demonstrate. Take, for example, the coat of arms of the City of Dublin, Ireland. The arms appear in a very traditional fashion on a bicycle rack; in pretty traditional fashion on many of the city’s street lamps, both colored and monochrome (most in silver, but some in gold paint); in a simplified but still fairly traditional version on waste receptacles placed about the city; in a modern, logo style on city-owned services sites and vehicles (again, both colored in blue and white or monochromatic in black and white); and finally in an extremely stylized fashion on metal services access covers on the sidewalk.

And yet, each version, traditional and modernized, is the same coat of arms that the city has used for who knows how many years. (The arms were officially granted in 1607, but elements of it appear in the city seal as early as the 13th Century.) No need to pay some design firm thousands or even hundreds of dollars/Euros/pounds sterling for a new design. Just update the depiction of the coat of arms you already own! (And then take the money you’ve saved and give it back to the taxpayers from whom it came. See? Heraldry can be of positive benefit, even in our modern times.)