Thursday, February 27, 2014

It's Not That Hard. Why Is It So Often Wrong?

I've been looking at some of the uses (and sometimes, misuses) of the arms of the United States of America for a potential upcoming presentation.  (I'm still waiting to hear back from the Scientific Committee for this year's International Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences about my proposal.  I mean, it was conceived with the theme of the Congress in mind, but you never know for sure until you hear back whether it's been accepted to be included.)

It's a fairly simple coat of arms, Paly of thirteen argent and gules, a chief azure, as shown here with the bald eagle supporter, crest, and motto,

and yet it also seems to be one that many people don't get right.  They put stars on the chief (probably under the influence of the national flag),

or reverse the white and red stripes (probably also under the influence of the flag), or get the number of stripes wrong.  Common errors, seen often.  But it's a simple coat of arms.  Why does it seem so hard to depict it correctly?

Because this is a project that I'm working on right now, you may hear a little bit more about this from me - with examples! - but for now, I thought I'd share three depictions of the emblem (it's not really a seal; it's certainly not a coat of arms, though it contains the arms of the U.S. in it; and it's not exactly a logo, either, so "emblem" is the best description I can think of right now) of an agency of the federal government.  The first is the real emblem; the other two are cartoon versions by people who think that this agency may have overreached what should be its constitutional limits in one way or another.

But I'm sharing them with you here because they illustrate my point above.  All three depictions contain the arms of the United States on the breast of a bald eagle.  And yet, all three have differing depictions of those arms, two of them reversing the colors of the white and red stripes, and one changing the number of the stripes.  Take a look and compare the different renditions of the U.S. arms.

See what I mean?  So what's a heraldist to do?

Monday, February 24, 2014

A New Website of Heraldic Clipart

Late last week I ran across a new website for heraldic clipart which I have added to the On-Line Heraldic Clipart listing (in the left-hand column on this blog), but I also thought that it was worth mentioning in a separate post, as well.

The Pictorial Dictionary of Heraldry is an on-going project begun back in 1986 - before the widespread use of the internet - and first published as a book in 1988 by Bruce Miller and Kevin Munday.  Then titled A Pictorial Dictionary of Heraldry as Used in the Society for Creative Anachronism, it was designed as a "mug-shot" book for "[c]onsulting heralds, scribes, and heraldic artists" in the S.C.A.  A second, updated edition was published in 1992, and this third edition is now being placed on the internet.

Though designed primarily for use within the S.C.A., and therefore focused on charges which may be used in the heraldry of that organization, which would include charges used in heraldry before 1600 A.D. ("period charges") and charges unique to the heraldry of the S.C.A., it is especially the former category of heraldic charges (those used in heraldry before 1600) that I thought might be of more general interest and therefore worthy of inclusion in the listing of websites of on-line heraldic clipart.

All of the drawings in the Pictorial Dictionary are by Mr. Miller, but he notes in the preface to the printed editions that "[w]herever possible, we went to original sources" to find examples of the charges in period heraldic art to use as the basis for his renditions.  And in this new, on-line edition, he has "tried to cite sources for every charge, either as a period charge or a period artifact."  So, for example, his drawing of an apple (below) is taken from "the canting arms of Holtzapfel, 1605 [Siebmacher 196]."  (I have included a scan from Siebmacher's Wappenbuch von 1605 so you can see for yourself how close he comes to the original here.)

And where usage in the S.C.A. is different from usage elsewhere or in earlier times, he specifically notes that, too.  To go back to the apple example, "[t]he Society default is with slip to chief, which seems to be the opposite of medieval convention."

If you think that you might have a use for such heraldic clipart, or even just want to browse through what's been uploaded to date and learn what you can about some of these general heraldic charges (or even S.C.A.-specific charges not found outside the Society, like the "Bog Beast" or "Cross of Coldharbour"), please drop by

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Really Neat Heraldic Bookplate

I've added another heraldic artist to the list of artists down the left-hand column of this blog, and added his blog to the list of blogs which is also in that column.

The artist's name is Tudor-Radu Tiron, an up and coming heraldic artist from Romania.

I was introduced to his work when I saw a recent bookplate that he had done for a client in Denmark who was born in Canada.  I found the ex libris interesting because it was based on a late 15th Century equestrian seal, and I thought it was a wonderful piece of heraldic art.

Isn't that a great bookplate?  And one certainly a step or several from the usual form of bookplates that we've all seen (and used) for so long.  What an inventive way to mark the ownership a book.

If you think so, too, and want to learn more about this heraldic artist or see more of his other heraldic art, please feel free to click on the link to artist Tudor-Radu Tiron or to his blog, Heraldic Art, or just use this link:

I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

Monday, February 17, 2014

"Hark! the Heraldry"

A nice review of a recent heraldry book appeared recently on the Catholic News Service under the headline: "Hark, the heraldry: cracking the coat of arms code."  I think that the headline may be a little bit over the top; the "code" of heraldry really isn't really all that hard to "crack," or else we would all have taken up other, easier hobbies.

Still, it's a nice review of the Manuale di araldica ecclesiastica by  Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo and Antonio Pompli, noting that the book (written in Italian) "gives an in-depth look at the history and 'grammar' of a properly designed coat of arms."  The review also includes a number of pictures from the book, including the arms which the Cardinal devised for, and his proposed revised coat of arms for the retired, Pope Benedict XVI.

The full article can be found at the website of the Catholic News Service at and is worth reading.

In a bit of fun, the article ends with an heraldic hunt: "see if you can catch a very small, yet 'inexplicable' detail in Francis' papal coat of arms" just above.*

The book is available here in the U.S. in paperback on's website from an Italian seller for US$36.15 (plus $3.99 shipping).  You can see more details regarding this at

All in all, it looks like an interesting and )fortunately for those of us who don't normally read a lot of Italian, although my Spanish will carry me through a lot it) well-illustrated volume on ecclesiastical heraldry in the Catholic Church.  It won't topple Archbishop Bruno Heim's Heraldry in the Catholic Church from its premier position in this subject, but certainly looks like it would make a good companion to it.

*  The motto ribbon beneath the shield should remain white on top and end up red when it curls at the end.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Better Than the Average Self-Assumed Arms

I recently ran across a self-assumed coat of arms for a Scottish society (one of probably hundreds which exist in the United States; sometimes it feels like you can't swing a dead bagpipe without running into one or another society celebrating some folks' Scottish heritage.  Not that I have any cause to say anything; one family line goes back to Aberdeenshire in the early 1600s in the person of one Daniel Forbes).  The Tennessee Valley Scottish Society is based in Huntsville, Alabama, and I thought that their self-assumed arms did a nice job of combining symbols of both Scotland and Alabama:

The shield, of course, is divided per fess wavy (which I presume symbolizes the Atlantic Ocean and the voyage across it which their - and my - ancestors took to get to these shores), with the flag of the "Scottish saltire" (a white cross of St. Andrew on a blue field) with the flag of the State of Alabama (a red cross of St. Andrew on a white field).

The design also includes other symbols of the respective nation and state (the thistle and the three mullets), with the lion from the crest from the Scottish Royal Arms (only in gold instead of red, and issuing from a bunch of cotton plants and bolls) and holding the two flags.

All in all, I rather like the design.  It's clear just from looking at it what it represents, and isn't that one of the primary functions of heraldry?  So, kudos to the Tennessee Valley Scottish Society of Huntsville, Alabama, for their heraldry!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Heads Up! Exhibition Coming.

For those of you with an interest in heraldry, heralds, and Shakespeare, and especially if you live on (or can get to) the eastern coast of the United States, The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC is going to be having an exhibition this coming summer and fall entitled "Symbols of Honor: Heraldry and Family History in Shakespeare's England."

The exhibit will run from July 1 through October 26, 2014, and looks to be something of interest of heraldry enthusiasts.  The overview of this exhibit on the Folger's website describes it as follows:

Discover the colorful world of heralds and their rivals, all competing to profit from the craze for coats of arms that seized England during the reign of Elizabeth I. An ambitious world was full of newly wealthy and successful families, eager to display their success and status. Genealogy in its modern form also took off: ancestral research was vital to a rich heraldic display, and new ways were established for setting out family trees graphically.
In this show-the largest and most comprehensive of its kind ever mounted-you will see pedigrees and family trees, books explaining heraldry's complex rules, manuscripts illustrating actual coats of arms, and documents written by professional heralds seeking to regulate heraldic practise in a fast-changing society. Exceptional treasures include the original drafts of William Shakespeare's own coat of arms.
Then it (successfully) tries to pique our interest further by telling us to "Discover the colorful world of heralds and their rivals during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I."

The illustration above from the promotional materials for the exhibit is from one of those "manuscripts illustrating actual coats of arms," the "Alphabet or blazon of arms."

Unfortunately, as much as I'd like to see this exhibit, I'm not certain that I'll be able to make it there; I may be flying over the east coast later this summer, but flying over isn't the same as visiting, and while I am scheduled to give a presentation nearby, that's not until December, well after the exhibit has closed.  If you can make it, by all means do!  I may have to settle for buying a copy of the catalog when it becomes available.  (I'll start checking the Folger Library's website for it beginning in July.)

More information about this upcoming exhibit can be found on-line on the website of the Folger Shakespeare Library at, or you can always contact them at Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Symbolism in One City's Coat of Arms

A book in the Images of America Series entitled Kinston, by Nina Moore (Arcadia Publishers, Charleston, South Carolina, 2002), gives the history and symbolism of most of the various charges and emblems in the coat of arms of the City of Kinston, North Carolina.

These arms were granted to the City in 1960 by the College of Arms in London, following a campaign by Marion A. Parrot, who was influenced by the fact that when he was stationed in England during WWII, he noticed that all of the towns in that country had their own coat of arms. Since Kinston was about to celebrate the 200th anniversary of its founding in 1762, he thought that his city should have a coat of arms, too.

According to the book Kinston, "[t]he crown int he middle represents Kinston's original name of Kingston in honor of King George III.  The gold lion symbolizes courage and fortitude, and the two sprigs of golden tobacco refer to Kinston's principle [sic] industry.  Reminiscent of the Tuscarora War, a sword and an arrow are crossed on the bottom.  The blue and white waves under the cross sword and arrow are the River Neuse upon which the Town of Kinston is situated.  The female figure on the right [well, heraldic "right," or dexter] holds a cornucopia, representing prosperity, and on the left [heraldic "left," sinister] stands a Native American, a brave of the Neuse Tribe, smoking a 'pipe of peace."

I didn't find anything to explain the meaning of the unicorn's head crest, nor of the ermine fess.

The City of Kinston is the county seat of Lenoir County, North Carolina, which has its own coat of arms.

Monday, February 3, 2014

I Thought I Recognized That Shield!

Working at a law firm as I do, occasionally I'll see some correspondence or an envelope from another law firm which uses an heraldic-like device as a logo.  Recently, a letter came over my desk with the following:

It's okay as a design, I suppose, though it's not really heraldry.  And the motto on the scroll is, I suppose, a decent one for a law firm: "Truth overcomes all things."  Though Fairbairn's Crests gives the Latin for this motto, borne by the de Courcy, Eaton, Goodchild, and Laffan families, as Vincit omnia veritas, slightly different from the version here.  But vicit is "conquers" (also according to Fairbairn), so that part may be okay, too.  (But what do I know?  Putting on my best Dr. McCoy voice: "Dammit, Jim, I'm a herald, not a Latinist!")

Anyway, what really struck me about this logo was that the design of the shield and motto scroll looked familiar to me somehow.  So I pondered on it a little, and thought that I remembered where I'd seen it before.  I then dug through some of my photographs and depictions of heraldry from over the years and, sure enough, found what I had remembered.

This design is used frequently in the heraldic unit insignia of the United States Air Force.  Witness the following sampling of examples:

I don't know if the founder of the Loya Law Firm was ever in the Air Force, or whether the resemblance of his logo is a deliberate modeling of the design of much USAF heraldry, but I think you can see here why it just seemed "familiar" to me, somehow.  It's really a fairly distinctive shield and scroll shape combination.