Monday, March 29, 2010

Another Victim of the Heraldry Bug

A recent (March 17, 2010) post on the blog Paren(t)hesis entitled “Family History” ( talks about someone spending some time tracking down his family roots, and coming across a coat of arms.

As he notes, “as part of my investigation, I found my family’s official coat of arms. I remember going through a heraldry-geek phase in middle school, and I must not have grown out of it, because I think that this is unbelievably cool.”  (Here's the coat that he found for his family.)

Well, he’s not alone. There’s a lot of us out here who also think that heraldry – whether for our own family or someone else’s – “is unbelievably cool.”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ecclesiastical Heraldry in the News

An interesting article appeared over the weekend (Saturday, March 20, 2010) discussing the upcoming installation of a new bishop at the Corpus Christi Cathedral in Corpus Christi, Texas.  Among the other items discussed in the article (which can be found on-line at are the new bishop's cathedra (chair, or throne) and his coat of arms.

W. Michael Mulvey's ordination and installation of Bishop of the Diocese of Corpus Christi will take place today, March 25.  His new cathedra is being made by a local Corpus Christi furniture maker, and his coat of arms has been designed by Deacon Paul Sullivan of the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island.  As is usual, the arms of the Diocese appear on the dexter side of the shield (to the viewer's left), and the new Bishop's personal arms appear on the sinister side (to the viewer's right).  According to the article, the symbolism of Bishop Mulvey's arms are as follows:
"The upper portion is gold with a red scallop shell taken from the coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI, also a symbol of baptism. The lower portion has two blue lions taken from Mulvey’s family coat of arms.  A blue wavy bar across the center represents the Colorado River that runs through the Diocese of Austin, where Mulvey served for 35 years. The bar has three silver stars that symbolize the Holy Trinity."
The motto, Sententia in Christo Vobis, comes from Philippians 2:5, and is translated as “Serve others the same way you would serve Christ.”

Monday, March 22, 2010

An Innovative Use of Heraldry

Spotted recently over at Andrew Cusack (

The Eden Spiekermann group, which redesigned The Economist in 2001, recently developed the logo below for the Netherlands province of North Holland. The conjoined legs of the ‘N’ and ‘H’ integrate the province’s coat of arms.

Now this is a logo which I, as an academic herald, can support.  It's modern, but it doesn't just toss out the historic heraldry as so many logos do.  Rather, it incorporates the heraldry into the design, for a refreshing update.  Hoorah!  (Now if we could only get more graphic design firms to do similarly.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Heraldry For Sale

A recent article in the Toronto Sun noted the sale this summer of an early version of Canada's former flag.  This Red Ensign, dated 1868, consists of a red ground, a canton of the Union Jack, and in the fly a quartered shield containing the arms of the founding provinces of Canada: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
The flag, in pristine condition, dates back to a year after Canada became a Confederation in 1867.

Sotheby's Canada expects the flag to bring in $40,000-$60,000 when it is sold.  So start saving your pennies now!

The complete story can be found on-line at:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Today in (Heraldic) History

Today, March 16, is the date on which, in 1802, President Thomas Jefferson signed a measure authorizing the establishment of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.  The coat of arms of the Academy are:

Now, admittedly, the coat of arms (and motto) of the USMA are not as old as the establishment itself.  According to the Academy's website discussing its coat of arms at, "the coat of arms and motto were adopted in 1898. Col. Charles W. Larned, professor of drawing, headed a committee to design a coat of arms for the Academy and stated several criteria for the design. The committee decided that the design should represent the national character of the Academy, its military function, its educational function and its spirit and objectives."

Alas, the committee turned everything on the coat of arms and the crest to sinister (to the viewer's right), instead of the usual heraldic default, to dexter (to the viewer's left).  Nonetheless, it did get fixed later.  "The coat of arms was used without change until 1923, when Capt. George Chandler, of the War Department, pointed out to Superintendent Brig. Gen. Fred Sladen that the eagle and helmet faced to the heraldic sinister side. The helmet, eagle’s head and sword were soon turned to their current position."

Since that time, the Academy's coat of arms has been used extensively, and can be found on many of the buildings at the site, on their website, and on much memorabilia from there.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Novel Idea, or, It's Art, But Is It Heraldry, Part Two

As part of a "One Hundred Days to Make Me a Better Person" project, blogger and freelance illustrator Angela Fernihough is doing a series entitled "One Hundred Days of Coffee".  Her entry for Day 98 (which can be found on-line at is a "coat of arms" with a coffee press, a rising (I presume; I've been known to be wrong once or twice in my life) sun, three coffee beans, and a per pale wavy line of division that could symbolize coffee, coffee creamer, and/or the steam rising from a good hot cup of the brew.  (Me, I don't know.  I know it makes me an oddity, but I've never developed a taste for coffee.  Some of you might consider this to be a failing on my part.  Oh, well.)

Anyway, I thought it was certainly a novel idea, although clearly not adhering very strictly to the usual forms, tinctures, and customs of heraldry.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Heraldry (Sort of) in Houston, Texas

We had the opportunity in February to travel down to Houston for a presentation.  (I'd been invited to talk about the heralds visitations to the Friends of the Clayton Library down there.)  Having a few extra minutes before driving over the library where the presentation was to be given, we drove around a bit to see what we could see.  And, doggone, if not three blocks from hotel but we found some heraldry.  Sort of.

As you can see, it's not really a coat of arms (it would be, what, Sable, a bendlet sinister [or even a riband* sinister] argent?), and even the shield looks like a combination of shield and single eagle supporter, not too unlike the arms of the United States on the breast of a bald eagle, but done in a very modern style.

But, hey, as I always say, "heraldry is where you find it."  And, as I also note, you can find it just about anywhere.

* Parker's A Glossary of Terms Used in Heraldry defines "riband or ribbon" as "[t]he term Ribbon is used by one or two heraldic writers for a diminutive of the bend, of which it is one-eighth in width."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Missed It By This Much!

The United States Mint has announced a new reverse (back side, or "tails", as opposed to the obverse, front side, or "heads") to the one cent coin for 2010.  This will be the third time that a major change has been made to the reverse since 1909 when the first pennies were minted with a profile of President Abraham Lincoln on the obverse,* and this time they're going for a design which only misses being heraldry by "this much".

As you can see below, the design is basically a shield with the arms of the United States (Paly of thirteen argent and gules, a chief azure) with the not-quite-so-heraldic addition of the official motto (E pluribus unum, out of many, one) on the chief.

It's nice to see the U.S. placing some heraldry on its coinage.  (It's had heraldry on the $1 bill for a very long time.)  It's certainly a tradition in numismatics (and how often do you get to throw a word like that into a conversation?) that has not only a long tradition, but is still being used and updated by other countries even today (witness the recent changes to English coinage that incorporate the Royal coat of arms, and even more recent new coin issued by Denmark which celebrates the 70th birthday of Queen Margrethe II).  And really, they came so close.  They only "missed it by this much."

*  Prior to 1909, pennies had the profile of an American Indian on the obverse (hence their being referred to as "Indian head pennies").  In 1909, the year of the centennial of his birth, a profile of Lincoln was placed on the obverse with a wreath of wheat on the reverse.  In 1959, in the first change since 1909, the wheat design was replaced with a rendering of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.  In 2009, a second change occurred during the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth when the Lincoln Memorial was replaced by one of four different scenes from Lincoln's life: a log cabin where he was born; a young Lincoln reading while sitting on a partially split log (from his nickname, "the Railsplitter"); as an adult, a standing Lincoln in front of the Illinois State Capitol Building in Springfield, Illinois; and from his presidency, a view of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC with its then unfinished dome.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Heraldry in the News!

An article last week in the Orangeville Citizen of Dufferin County, Ontario (dated February 25, 2010), gives a bit of the history of Dufferin County's flag, and of the coat of arms which is so prominent upon it.

I found the article interesting for the interesting mix of accurate information and errors.  Among the latter, ones that I found of particular note are the use of the French "Marquis" rather than the English "Marquess"; the note that "the middle bar [that is to say, the fess] became solid" when a fess, unless otherwise described, is always "solid"; and the inferred belief that the "maple leaf sprays" added outside the shield are somehow a part of the coat.  And no mention at all is made of the bordure which has been added to the arms.  Still, it's a nice article and gives a fair bit of the history of the flag (and the coat of arms).  If you would like to read it for yourself, it can be found on-line at:

One thing that they didn't note in the article is exactly what the arms of the Earl of Dufferin either looked like or were blazoned.  So, naturally, I went hunting.  In Burke's General Armory, the arms of Blackwood, Earl of Dufferin, are given (in the first quarter of a quarterly coat) as: Azure, a fess or, in chief a crescent argent between two mullets or, and in base a mascle argent.  [I try to avoid the difficulties inherent in the old English blazons of not repeating a tincture but forcing the reader to count tinctures back from the beginning of the blazon by describing repetitions as "of the first", "of the second", "of the third", or "of the field".  It can be confusing, and sometimes leads to some pretty obvious errors when the arms are drawn from the blazon.  Since not even the College of Arms in London retains this awkward system, but just goes ahead and repeats the name of the tincture where needed, I have altered the blazon from Burke's to reflect this practice.]  From the description in the article, the mullets in the Earl's arms are pierced.

I also noted an error in Burke’s for another Blackwood, Baronet, descended from a younger son of Sir John Blackwood, Bart., by his wife Dorcas, Baroness Dufferin and Claudeboye, whose arms are blazoned: Azure, a fess or, in chief a crescent argent between two mullets or, and in base a mascle “of the field”, thus making the mascle effectively invisible (blue on blue).  (Though that would certainly make drawing it a lot less work!)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Heraldry in the Blogosphere

There's a nice post today over at Savage Reflections by Berowne about the granting of a coat of arms to William Shakespeare, "ye Player", back in the day.  It's a well-informed post, covering even disagreement between Garter King of Arms Dethick and York Herald Ralph Brooke about the grant, and is certainly worth reading.  You can find it on the web at:

Monday, March 1, 2010

Family Heraldry

I ran across an interesting new take on the idea of "family heraldry" the other day.  On the website of the Registro Internacional de Armas Gentilicias (, among their recent registrations, was a set of three coats of arms to James William Baker (below, top left), Katrin Baker (below, top right), and Tracey Katrin Baker (below, lower center).  The various arms, shown below, have a recognizable theme to them that might lead you to think that they belonged to individuals who could related in some way, even if the relationship itself is not clearly shown.

But it's when you place all three arms side-by-side that you see the "overarching" (if you will pardon the pun) theme of the arms, and that you see that the three individuals must be very closely related indeed.

It's an audacious design, to say the least, to create three coats of arms that fit together to make a single comprehensive composition.  I haven't decided how much I like it personally, but it's certainly an intriguing concept.