Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Piece of Good (Heraldic) Advice

I ran across the following in a Facebook post.

I don't think anything more needs to be said.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Heraldry at London's "Cathedral of Sewage"

A friend recently sent me a link to an article entitled "London's Cathedral of Sewage" about the Abbey Mills pumping station, which was built in the mid-1860s as part of sewage treatment system.  Designed by architect Charles Driver and engineers Joseph Bazalgette and Edmund Cooper, the building has a cruciform layout with intricate Byzantine architecture, making the place look like some kind of a monastery, hence the nickname, "Cathedral of Sewage."

The article has a number of photographs of the exterior and interior of the no-longer-used pumping station, including this great piece of armorial ironwork (click on the picture to see a larger version):

The arms shown here are:

Center:  The Royal Arms of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

And clockwise, beginning at the one o'clock position:

     Borough of Guildford
     Borough of Westminster
     Borough of Colchester
     County of Kent
     City of London
     County of Essex

The full article and all of the accompanying photographs (including the one above) can be found on-line at:

Once again, it's true; you can find heraldry everywhere.  Even in the pumping station of a sewage treatment system.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Heraldry Is Alive and Kicking Within 21st Century British Society"

So says Dan McCabe, who recently completed his Masters study in Graphic Design at the London College of Communication, achieving a Distinction for his work.

He had created an experiment whose purpose was "to find a way to use graphic design to engage the public in the subject of heraldry and challenge issues related to societal perceptions and misconceptions of quasi-heraldry."

Dan had run across me on the internet and I had helped him with a brief introduction to the language of heraldry, blazon, as well as my thoughts on the difference between "traditional/'authentic" heraldry, and designs that are deemed as being "quasi-heraldry."  I like to think that I gave him some solid information in addition to my personal opinions, and that all that was able to help him focus his work the way he wanted to.  (Naturally enough, I don't believe that I was the only heraldry enthusiast that he contacted with his questions.  I'm sure he got a lot of input from a lot of sources.  But it's nice to think that I was approached, too.)

You can find out for yourself by visiting his project on-line.  You can begin at Experiment No. 1, Quite an Achievement  (, or at Experiment No. 11, A Call to Arms (, or any of the others.  (My personal favorite, I think, is No. 9, "These Arms of Mine," as much for the poster as for the text accompanying it.)

The key premise of all eleven of these experiments is that he is "looking at the subject of heraldry through the lens of graphic design, and attempting to generate societal interest and understanding of the subject."

I found his work an interesting take on heraldry through the eyes of a graphic designer without a background in heraldry but with an interest in seeing how the heraldic "vocabulary" could be integrated into and inform other works.  See what you think, and if you like it, let him know!  (His email address can be found on each page of his experiments.)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Tempest in an Heraldic Teacup

For almost all of the last ten years, this has been the seal of Los Angeles County in California:

It's very busy, heraldically speaking.  But the building in the center panel on the right (heraldic sinister) is the Mission San Gabriel Arcangel, a Catholic mission dating back hundreds of years. It's missing a cross because from 1987-2009 the actual building didn't have one (due to it being destroyed in an earthquake, then stolen). It wasn't until 2009 that the cross was restored on the building.

On January 7 of this year, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to add a cross back to the county's official seal, despite warnings the decision would invite legal challenges that doing so might be seen as a governmental promotion of a specific religion, something which is prohibited in the Constitution of the United States.

The Board members voting in favor of adding the cross point out that for much of its history, the Mission did have a cross atop the building.  Opponents of the addition of the cross to the seal point out that the image of the mission on the seal doesn't include bells, either, but note that San Gabriel's bells are famous.

Some find the controversy important, since the county seal used to have a free-floating cross above a rendition of the Hollywood Bowl (below), and this was changed in 2004 to the new version above at least in part because of concerns about that cross.

Who would have thought that such a small charge could stir such passions on both sides of the argument?  And they say that heraldry isn't relevant any more.

More stories, and letters to the editor from both sides of the controversy, can be found on-line in the Los Angeles Times website at:,0,3226327.story#axzz2qcZxx7rz,0,3226327.story#axzz2pvsQjH96,0,4275975.story#axzz2pvsQjH96,0,3990783.story#axzz2pvsQjH96

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A College of Arms "Mashup"

It's always interesting to me to see some of the on-line discussions about the English College of Arms in London, almost entirely by people who aren't affiliated with it, but you get such a wide range of opinions about the College, what it is, what they think it should be, how much it charges for its services, and on, and on, and on.

Admittedly, though, a couple of my favorite quotes about the College of Arms come from people who have been a part of, or worked closely with, the College.

Dealing with the College of Arms ought to be compulsive therapy for the impatient.
Quoted in The Heraldry Gazette, March 1997, p. 3

The Kings of Arms tend to be rather like oil tankers sailing in a determined and serene manner through the ocean of life, and as a result they take a long time to change course.
Conrad Swan, A King from Canada, p. 237

A recent Facebook discussion about the College of Arms has resulted in some discussion about the College of Arms and its defense, to the point sometimes of hyperbole, of its prerogatives and its statements, or as some would note, its overstatements of what its grants of arms are.  It seems some recent pamphlets put out by the College discuss such things as the "law of arms" in England, prompting others to ask exactly where this "law" is written down.

Which led heraldic artist Alexander Liptak to create and post this amusing rendition of the arms of the College, done with inspiration from the computer game Angry Birds:

You gotta love it, don't you?

For those of you who may not recall the arms of the College of Arms, here's a more usual rendition of them:

Monday, January 13, 2014

Some New Heraldry for My Office Wall

I'd been paying attention to an on-line discussion with an artist who was asking for some advice about a coat of arms which he was interested in carving.  I was paying especial attention to it because the coat of arms in question was one which may have been borne by an ancestor of mine, my 10th-great-grandfather, John Winslow.  Here's the table tomb of John and Mary (Chilton) Winslow in King's Chapel Burying Ground in Boston, Massachusetts, ...

... and on the side of that table tomb (around the corner to my left), is a depiction of the arms of this family.

The artist of this new carved plaque, Joe Winslow, is a very distant cousin, a descendant of John's more famous brother, Edward Winslow, a Mayflower passenger and governor of Plymouth Colony in the 1600s.

I don't know whether or not John actually used these arms in any manner, but I know that Edward did, as a seal when he was Governor.  And what Edward used, John would have had a right to also use (ideally, in a slightly differenced form, but I have seen many instances in English heraldry where different branches of a family used identical arms, both then and now).

So I was thrilled when Mr. Winslow announced that he had finished the carving and had made a limited number of casts of it, mounted on a wooden plaque, which he was going to sell on eBay.  Because you just know that I was going to have to buy one for my office wall, especially since it was of both heraldic and genealogical interest to me.

I'm happy to say that I did go out to eBay, bought one, and it has arrived and has been carefully hung on the wall over my heraldic bookshelves in my office.  (Yes, I had to take something else down to make space for it.  Unfortunately, I only have so many walls, and I've got a lot of items of heraldic interest, so sometimes decisions have to be made.  I am sure that none of you have this problem, right?)

Anyway, it's here, it's on the wall to the right (sinister) of the large Swedish tile in the center, where I can look at it, and I'm happy to have it!

If you are interested in seeing some more of the details of it, Mr. Winslow has a description and more photos on eBay at

Thursday, January 9, 2014

"It's Everywhere! It's Everywhere!"

One of my favorite quotes to cite when talking to genealogists about heraldry is one from author L.G. Pine in his book Heraldry and Genealogy:

At the outset there is a curious fact in the relationship between the two subjects.  While students of Heraldry do take to Genealogy and acquire a considerable knowledge of it, those who begin as genealogists seldom if ever take any interest in Heraldry.  This is most unfortunate because the two subjects are necessarily connected.

I ran across an example of a link between heraldry and genealogy while attending last year's Federation of Genealogy Societies in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on the front of a pamphlet for The Society of Indiana Pioneers.

Now, no one would call this a "real" coat of arms; it's a heraldry-like logo which falls into several of the all-too-common mistakes (or at least, misunderstandings of good heraldic design) made by organizations which want a "crest" design for their logo.  For example: it's a quarterly shield with completely different charges in each quarter; it has metal upon metal, thus falling afoul of the rule of contrast; the overall charge in the center faces to sinister rather than dexter; it adds a skinny chief with the name of the group on it (also with low contrast, making it harder to read than it ought to be*); it surrounds and divides everything with gold edging.

As pleased as I am to see people trying to use heraldry and arms-like logos, I wish they'd learn just a little bit more about some of the basic rules of heraldry before creating some of their designs. Because this could have been so much better than it is.

But it is yet another example of the ability to find heraldry (or heraldry-like designs) everywhere!

*  Indeed, were the gold and white to change places, it reminds me of the time when the State of Michigan, which changed the colors of its automobile license plates every few years, one year went to white lettering on a gold ground.  There were so many complaints from law enforcement officials all across the state because they could not read the lettering except under the best of conditions - which Michigan often does not have - that the state went to a high contrast combination the very next year, having learned the hard way that the heraldic rule of contrast applies to much more than identifiability in heraldry.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Heraldry in the World of Fine Art

For the first blog post of a new year, I ran across an article in Antiques & Fine Art Magazine entitled "X-Radiography Examination of an Embroidered Coat of Arms" by Angela Duckwall, about the examination of a coat of arms that was embroidered in New England in the last half of the 18th Century.  The embroidery itself is based on a pattern that was common at that time (I have written about similar patterns in my work on the Gore roll of arms dating to about the same period), but the opportunity to use x-rays to examine the underlying materials without damaging the delicate work is helping us to learn a lot more about how the patterns were created, how they told the embroiderer what colors to use, and how the pieces were then worked.

Despite the appearance of the arms on a lozenge ground, this it not a hatchment made for someone's funeral memorial.  These embroidered patterns were often placed on a lozenge shape at that time.

The article does not identify either the embroiderer or the armiger (the scroll underneath the shield would often have "By the Name of" and the surname, but this one does not), and a quick review of Papworth's Ordinary and Fairbairn's Crests does not come up with any likely candidates.  For example, of the five names given in Papworth for the arms Azure three suns in their splendour Or (I am assuming "azure" from the blue on the shield and in the wreath), none are listed in Fairbairn as having A sun for a crest.

Even without a name to go with the arms, though, it's a beautiful example of late-18th Century New England armorial work, and the use of x-radiography has given us some more insights into the process from printing a pattern to the finished piece suitable for hanging in the family parlor.

The full article can be found on-line (with a link at the bottom of the page to download it in .pdf format) at:

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Herald in the News!

Philip O'Shea, New Zealand Herald of Arms Extraordinary since 1978, has been honored by Queen Elizabeth II by being made a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.  (He was previously a Lieutenant of the RVO, and is a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Our heartiest congratulations go out to Mr. O'Shea on this honor. It's always nice to see a herald recognized for his work.

The (short) story of this, with some additional details, can be found in a December 31, 2013 article on the website of 3News at

A page detailing the particulars of the office of New Zealand Herald of Arms Extraordinary can be found on-line at