Thursday, April 29, 2010

Why Heraldry?

In a recent (April 18, 2010) post on his blog, Roger Derham’s Windsong (, blogger, gynecologist and forensic examiner Roger Derham talked about his design for a coat of arms (well, okay, he actually designed a complete achievement of arms, but let’s not pick too many nits here) for CASATS, the Children and Adolescents Sexual Assault Treatment Service in Galway, Ireland, where he lives and works. Taking everything into consideration, I think it’s not that bad a design, and certainly the charges and overall arrangement are well in keeping with the traditions of Irish heraldry. (I’d debate him about some of the choices of tinctures: or does not show up that well against an argent field; and the or bordure on the inescutcheon is impossible to see even in the largest image I was able to find, leaving me having to take his word for it that it’s there.) But he gives his rationale for each element in the design, and it seems to me that he did a good job of putting it all together in a meaningful fashion.
But what struck me the most is his take on why use heraldry? He said:

From the cartouches of ancient Egypt to the shields of medieval knights I have always been fascinated by the construct, seeming permanence and visual history of these physical marks of identification, of remembrance of people long dead.
“Construct,” “seeming permanence” and “visual history,” “identification” and “remembrance.” Exactly! Those are precisely some of the reasons why I have had, and continue to have, a deep-seated interest in heraldry. But he’s said it so much better, and more concisely, than I have. My hat is off to you, sir!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Oh, My!

I sat down and rewatched one of my favorite old "bad" movies the other day, The Black Shield of Falworth, and I picked up on a couple of items that I hadn't caught in prior viewings (at least not that I remember).
One was the shield given to Sir Miles Falworth to use in the trial by combat near the end of the movie. Though I'd seen the movie a couple of times before, this time around I noticed that the red griffin on the black shield was painted like it was a crest; it was a griffin rampant atop a torse (which torse would be blazoned, in heraldic parlance, as "gules and gules"). In the image of the movie poster, above, you can actually kind of make the torse out under the word "Technicolor".

The other thing that I noticed this time around was in the big book of heraldry that Miles was looking through in the Earl's library. While each page had a different coat of arms, the one that really caught my eye this time was the arms of George Washington, copied, from what I remember of the style it was drawn in in that book, from Washington's bookplate (below, from a souvenir postcard).

It continues to surprise me what heraldry you can find, and where, even in old Hollywood movies that you've seen before.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Oh! The _Other_ Georgia

Ran across a website which advertised “Georgia Official Coat of Arms Heraldry Symbol Bumper Stickers”, so of course I had to check it out. What I found there (, of course, was not the coat of arms of the State of Georgia in the United States, but that of the State of Georgia in Asia.
Though a little more hunting around on the site did find the Georgia, U.S. state seal on a sticker (below), tshirt, tote bag, and magnet.
Though, frankly, I like the arms for Georgia (in Asia) better than the seal for Georgia (U.S.). But maybe that’s just me.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A New, and Heraldic, Mascot

The College of William and Mary in Virginia has been in the news lately. They have selected a new mascot to replace Colonel Ebirt (“tribe” spelled backwards), the gold and green frog (sometimes described as “an amorphous blob”), which had replaced the even earlier “Pocohontas” and “tribe guy”. (The College’s team is known as the Tribe.)
But those days are gone. Following a search which included some 800 submissions, five finalists were selected in December: a griffin, a king and queen, a phoenix, a pug and a wren. And finally, in April the new mascot was chosen: the griffin.
In discussing its new mascot, the College says:
William & Mary's Griffin is a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of an eagle. The coat of arms of King William and Queen Mary was adorned with lions, and the lion's body of our mascot evokes our historic royal founding and early history. The eagle's head of the Griffin suggests the national symbol of the United States and represents the presidents, leaders, and productive citizens whom William & Mary has trained for centuries.
The College of William & Mary in Virginia is one of only two U.S. colleges or universities granted a coat of arms by the College of Heralds in London. Our mascot, the Griffin, is often depicted in British heraldry.
There’s a story dated April 8, 2010, about the introduction of the Griffin on the College’s website at

And though they make something of a big deal about having been granted a coat of arms by the College of Arms (back in 1694), I wasn’t able to find a copy of it on their website except for a brief mention of the blazon (and the photograph below) of the badge and chain made for the Chancellor in 1987.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mixed Emotions

I often have very mixed emotions when I see people working with children and getting them involved in creating heraldry and coats of arms. One the one hand, I’m glad to see that they are trying to stimulate a little interest in the field. On the other hand, I’m often dismayed because they obviously do not really understand the field.

One example of something that can create this dichotomy in me can be found on a recent post on Ali Graney’s blog, Draw-A-Rama ( Over a period of five weeks, they’ve been working with students at the Meynell School in Sheffield, England, to create “a textile banner populated with a personal Heraldic Coat of Arms, illustrating favourite foods, initials, symbols, plants and animals.”

[Picture removed at the request of Ali Graney.]

On the one hand, as I say, I’m happy that they’re getting the students at least a little bit interested in heraldry. On the other hand, the results often look very little like real heraldry. Indeed, most of the “arms” are quartered (something that in one way I’m relieved to learn is not solely an American failing, but still....). On the other other hand, it seems to me that many of the children have a better, almost innate understanding of the heraldic “rule of contrast” than many adults to whom I've tried to explain it; a lot of the childrens' designs tend to be of higher contrast.

So, like I said, mixed emotions.

Monday, April 12, 2010

You Just Never Know ...

... where you're going to run across a discussion about, or pictures of (good or bad) heraldry.  In this case, I ran across a recent string of posts in a guitar and musician forum, My Les Paul, at

Johan Åberg posted there about a coat of arms he has designed for himself and his family.  He goes on to discuss the symbolism of the various elements.  It's a decent design, all in all, and is, I think, pretty impressive, all things considered.

Then, of course, someone else had to get into the conversation with "Here's mine".

Alas, of course, it's really just the not-terribly-well-designed coat of arms of the State of Alabama, with a rock guitarist substituted for France Modern in the first quarter.  (More information about the Alabama coat of arms can be found on-line at:, where it is noted that "The original design of the Alabama coat of arms was made in 1923 by B. J. Tieman, New York, an authority on heraldry."  Frankly, I have to question how much of an "authority" he really was, but maybe that's just me.)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Oh, Dear.

Well, I have to admit, it's an added twist on the old "bucket shop," folks who will sell you a copy of "your family crest" without, of course, knowing anything about the genealogy of your family, so they can't tell you that you have any relationship or right whatsoever to the coat of arms you're paying them for.  This one, though, adds the snob appeal by putting a coat of arms that matches your surname onto the bottles in a case of wine.  They note: "We have recently enlisted the help of one of the world's leading heraldry companies" [without naming them, I notice] and arranging "for your very own Private Label Wines to bear a Coat of Arms that matches your surname."  The wine in this case is a French Bordeaux Rouge.

They are at least honest enough to note that, even with "over one million names and 'blazons' on file," they ask you "to accept that many family names have more than one Coat of Arms and for this reason, all we can guarantee is that the crest we apply to your labels will be one that has in the past been adopted by a family bearing the same surname as you."

And all this for only £136.56.  Pfft.  If you really think you want to know more about this offering, you can visit them on the web at

Monday, April 5, 2010

Differing Emblazons, and Copyrights

There is a discussion that I think well worth reading even by those who, like me, couldn't draw a straight line if their life depended on it, much less an achievement of arms.  I do however, have a decent collection of heraldic clipart, and can cobble something together that's not too bad together that way.  (I'm reminded of an exchange on an old Hudson and Landry skit:  "Can you read?"  "Nope."  "Can you write?"  "Nope.  But I can trace!")
In any case, this discussion was between the originator and someone else on Wikipedia, talking about the Greek Royal Coat of Arms (this is his version, above) and why not all depictions (emblazons) will look exactly alike, and then wandering off into related copyright law in the EEU and in the U.S. and Wikipedia and fair use issues.  The entire discussion can be found at:

I thought the originator did a decent job of explaining to his critic why different emblazons will not look identical, and I found the discussion of copyright, and what Wikipedia will and won't allow as "fair use" based on copyright laws, to be interesting and certainly very relevant to heraldic artists (of whom I am proud to say I know more than a few.  I just wish I were half as talented artistically as many of them).

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Heraldry and Numismatics

Two (well, okay, five) new coins are making the news recently, at least in part because of the heraldry contained on them.

First, from Denmark, a new coin (1,000 kroner) has been designed to celebrate the 70th birthday of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark. The reverse was designed by young, but extremely talented, heraldic artist Ronny Andersen. The flowers around the Royal arms are daisies, marguerites, a personal and informal symbol of the Queen, making this design a pleasing combination of official and personal.

Next, from England, we have a new, well, okay, four new, £1 coins. The first has already appeared (see image above), another will come out later this year, and the remaining two will be minted next year.

What the four coins of this series have in common are the arms of the four capital cities of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland (London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Belfast, respectively), with each coat of arms being emphasized in one of the four issues. Designer Stuart Devlin has given the designs a contemporary flavor by making the shields round to reflect the shapes of the coins themselves.

Dave Knight, Director of Commemorative Coins at the Royal Mint, said: “Capital cities have always had an important role to play in nurturing and projecting the identity of a nation and this is why the Royal Mint wanted to represent and celebrate these UK cities in the new £1 UK coin series. As capital cities are so close to the nations’ heart it was really important to create something people identify with. Stuart Devlin has achieved this brilliantly in his design which symbolises both the sense of regional individuality and contemporary British unity that UK capital cities champion.”

It is such a pleasure to see armory being used in these coins.