Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Heraldry (No Longer) for Sale!

The eight Eglinton shields that were the subject of my last post have now been sold at auction in Edinburgh. (No, alas, not to me! I can afford the occasional moderately expensive antiquarian heraldry book, but I knew from the beginning that these shields were going to well out of my price range.) The updated on-line catalog (see the link in the previous post) notes that the eight painted wooden shields, with an estimated sales price of £3,000-£5,000, went to a high bid of £6,500 (that's US$10,385.95 at today's exchange rate).

And the BBC has picked up the story. You can find the story on-line at

Monday, September 28, 2009

Heraldry for Sale!

Lyon & Turnbull, a fine arts auction house, has, among a whole lot of other cool stuff, some remarkable and historic heraldry up for bid. In the Fine & Decorative Furniture and Art - Sale 266 - Lot 281, are eight 'Eglinton Tournament' heraldic shields from the well-known tournament held in August 1839 by the Earl of Eglinton. These eight shields, in polychrome on wood, were hung in Eglinton Castle after the tournament. In the the 1920s, when the castle was partly demolished, some of the relics of the Tournament were sold at auction; these eight shields went to Skelmorlie, where, after some restoration work in the mid-20th Century, they adorned the walls of the Great Hall. More information about these historic shields can be found on the Lyon & Turnbull website at

Below is the shield of Lord Glenlyon (later the 6th Duke of Atholl).

Heraldry in America’s Heartland, Part 5

For this final post on heraldry in the heartland of America, we leave Omaha, Nebraska, and go a few miles south to Topeka, Kansas.

I first saw this coat of arms on a very large water tower as I exited the interstate at Topeka on my way to Omaha, but did not have my camera out and had no place to decently stop to get it. On the drive back, I was prepared! Immediately after collecting my toll ticket at the gates, I pulled over to the shoulder of the road, turned the camera on, took the lens cap off, stuck my head out the window, turned so I was facing backwards, and grabbed two quick shots of the water tower. (I must admit, I do like the autofocus feature of my current camera.)
And here’s the (cropped) result.

These "arms" also show up on the flag of the city (about which - that is, the flag - more information can be found on the Flags of the World website at

It’s difficult to find more information about the arms themselves. Unfortunately, despite its prominent placement on the water tower, the City of Topeka does not seem to show its coat of arms anywhere on its website, nor does it explain the meaning of the various elements on the arms. Here’s the little I have been able to glean, plus some of my own speculation about the arms. The stars on the chevron represent the city’s founding fathers (according to a website about the nuclear submarine USS Topeka). The charge in dexter chief appears to be a locomotive engine wheel, and the railroad was certainly a large factor in the development of the city. The charge in base is the capitol dome; Topeka is the capitol city of Kansas. For the rest, well, your guess is very likely as good as mine.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Heraldry in the News!

Over at the on-line version of the Telegraph dated Thursday, September 24, 2009, they're running a quiz, "Coats of arms: Guess the 25 British cities", in which they show in full color the arms (and sometimes crests and/or logos, along with mottoes) of 25 different British cities, and you get to try to identify them. (They're supposed to run the answers on Friday.)

If you want to try this quiz for yourself, hop on over to the at:

Heraldry in America’s Heartland, Part 4

For our final "coat of arms" found in Omaha, Nebraska, we go to the arms-like logo of the Union Pacific Railroad Company, as mounted onto a marble wall outside the Union Pacific Center there.

The logo of the UPRR is basically a shield of the arms of the United States (well, they do reverse the tinctures of the paly field; in the U.S. arms they are paly of thirteen argent and gules, while on the UP logo they are paly of thirteen gules and argent), with the addition of the words "UNION PACIFIC" one above the other in white letters on the blue chief. Here’s a color version, photographed from the side of a UPRR boxcar.

The bottom line? It’s not "real" heraldry, but it comes close.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Heraldry in America’s Heartland, Part 3

Okay, we’ve looked at an achievement of fake arms, and at a shield that only held some monogrammatic lettering. Today we take a look at some real heraldry.

One of the buildings in downtown Omaha had some blank shields between pairs of neo-Gothic arches spaced regularly about the exterior. ("Why blank shields?", I find myself asking. But in much of the American architecture I’ve looked at, I have found far more blank shields and cartouches and oval shields than I have found with coats of arms or even faux coats of arms carved onto them. As a herald, I find this to be a shame, but I suppose it’s easier, and cheaper, to put up a blank shield than to research an appropriate coat of arms to place on it. But I digress.)

On that same building was an actual, honest-to-goodness crest! No torse, but identifiable as a crest nonetheless. It took just a few minutes of research in Fairbairn’s Crests of the Families of Great Britain and Ireland to learn that it was the crest of Stanley (Northampton) which is blazoned as: An eagle, azure preying on a child proper, swaddled in a basket gules. There are several families which bear a crest of an eagle preying upon an infant, but the Northampton family of Stanley appears to be the only one where the child is not only swaddled but is laid in a basket.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Heraldry in America’s Heartland, Part 2

Continuing our survey of some of the heraldry and pseudo-heraldic devices to be found in downtown Omaha, Nebraska, these come from the exterior of what is now called The Omaha Building.

Built in 1888, probably its most noticeable feature is the statue of the eagle, snake in its claws, with its eaglets in the nest immediately below the rock on which it perches.

But, of course, as a herald the eagle is not what drew my eye first. Shield shapes. That’s what catches my eye. And there was, in two places on the facade, one on either side of the main entrance, these really great shields. No real heraldry, alas, and it took me a little research to figure out what the monogrammatic letters on the shield stood for. While it may be called The Omaha Building now, it was originally built for the New York Life Insurance Company. And if you take just a moment to carefully study the shield, sure enough, you can pretty easily make out N-Y-L-I-C. (There's also that lion's face above and to the left of the "arms", one of a row of such lion's heads along the length of the facade.)

Finally, there was this really great double rose, placed directly over the main entrance to the building. (I won’t call it a Tudor rose, since it has no tinctures, and Tudor roses are always a combination in one way or another of red and white, or more specifically the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York.) But what a beautiful piece of carving of a classic heraldic charge.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Heraldry in America’s Heartland, Part 1

I had the opportunity over Labor Day weekend (September 3-5) to attend a conference in Omaha, Nebraska. I was more than happy to go, if only because it was another opportunity to do something I really enjoy: talk about heraldry. There were more reasons than that to go, of course, but still ... I got to talk about heraldry and listen to others talk about heraldry. And for an academic herald, it really doesn’t get much better than that. (Well, maybe if they’ve got pictures, too!)

But as I always try to do when I go someplace new, I dragged out my camera and went looking for representations of coat armour, or at least things that look somewhat like heraldry. And I found some. More, in fact, than I had expected to find, considering that Omaha is not, compared to many cities around the world, all that old. (There’s an old joke about the difference between Europeans and Americans that has a lot of truth in it: Europeans think that a hundred miles is a long way, and Americans think that a hundred years is a long time.) But having found some, I thought I would over the next several posts share with you a few of the best or at least most interesting of what I discovered in the way of heraldry and heraldic-style devices out there in the heartland of the United States.

The most "complete," if you will, was what I call "an achievement of fake arms", a sign hanging over Ashley’s gift shop in the Old Market in Omaha. Parts of it are pretty classic heraldry; other parts are maybe not so much. Yet in a number of ways it comes so close. Good contrast: vert on or on the shield. A castle proper for a crest, atop a barely noticeable torse argent and gules. Two stags proper as supporters, but gorged of yellow bow ties, and standing atop a pair of logs which are then superimposed on one of the old Victorian "gas bracket"-style compartments. And, of course, the "motto" is no such thing, but merely a description of the goods carried by the store.

And yet, what an amazing thing to run across while strolling down the street of a Friday morning!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Heraldry in the ... Op-Ed Pages

A recent op-ed piece by Quentin Letts appeared in the UK’s Daily Mail that discussed heraldry in regard to Lord Sugar of Clapton (formerly Sir Alan Sugar, recently created a Baron) petitioning the College of Arms for a coat of arms. The central figure in the British version of "The Apprentice", Lord Sugar's arms (suggests Mr. Letts) may include a mouse as a pun on a computer "mouse". In any case, you can read the full op-ed piece here:

Monday, September 7, 2009

“Heraldry is ... respected.”

Well, sometimes. But sometimes not, too. A quote from Peter Spurrier in our last post said: "Heraldry is traditional; it is also fun, colourful, historic and respected." I would posit that the "respect" it receives may not always be the respect it deserves. For example:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Why Do People Want Heraldry, Anyway?

This is a question which comes up periodically in some of the heraldry-oriented societies, newsgroups, and other organizations to which I belong. One regularly-recurring answer, of course, can be described as "snobbery". The idea is that people want coats of arms to show that they are better than the other folks around them, rather like being a member of an exclusive club. Not just anybody can get in.

While this is an answer that may apply to some folks who want to use heraldry, I think that for most people, it’s a little too simplistic. That is, I think many people’s interest in heraldry is far more complex, and interesting, than just a desire to set themselves apart from the riff-raff.
A couple of quotes that I’ve run across help to demonstrate this, I think:

"Why do people in the twentieth century still want an outmoded means of personal identification? The answer is, I believe, ... people are still looking for ways of laying down a solid foundation for their family. Heraldry is traditional; it is also fun, colourful, historic and respected." (Peter Spurrier, The Heraldic Art Source Book)

"I was mildly familiar with heraldry (I don’t think I even knew what the name was when I first started actively attempting to understand it...) and it dawned on me one day that these ‘family crests’ are powerful familial emblems that I could appropriate in establishing my own family traditions. ... I’ve found that friends are very interested in my coat of arms. I usually don’t say anything about it but when they see my framed COA [coat of arms] in my house or see my desktop background at work they start asking a lot of questions. After I explain that I’m not royalty, I haven’t been knighted and so on, many of them say, ‘That’s exactly what I want to do. It’s called heraldry? I’m going to check into that.’" (Sanjay Merchant, American Heraldry Society Forum, January 7, 2005)