Spring 2014 edition of The Armiger’s News,
the quarterly newsletter of the American College of Heraldry, asked the
question: “What symbols/elements/flora/fauna best represent the USofA...?”
most recent edition just out earlier this week published some of the responses to that
question. Included in those responses
were a number of suggested items, including: redwood tree; American bison; Liberty
(head only or entire body); the Liberty Bell; a cowboy or western hat; native American
war bonnet; Mississippi river boat; corn cobs; American beaver; wild turkey; bighorn
sheep; and mountain lion.
an interesting list, though I think that it could certainly argued that the
beaver is already very much used as a Canadian symbol, and thus doesn’t really
represent the United States. And a
cowboy hat (blazoned a “a stetson hat,” though I believe that “Stetson” should
be capitalized, it being the brand name of the company which makes them) has
already been granted nearly 23 years ago (November 5, 1991) by the Canadian
Heraldic Authority in the arms of the Calgary Petroleum Club, though I can
certainly see it’s being a symbol of the American West as much as or more than
a symbol of something Canadian (or even the Canadian West).
published in this edition of TAN was
a detailed response, with examples of coats of arms, from me regarding the
question put forward by the Editor. What
follows here is my (slightly edited) response to “What symbols/elements/flora/fauna best represent the USofA...?”
has been my observation that the heraldic items that more or less instantly say
“United States of America” to the viewer fall into three or four basic
categories: (1) individual human figures (usually found as supporters) in
distinctively American dress; (2) native birds and animals; (3) native plants,
and (4) identifiably “American” architecture. To give specific examples of each
of these (some in arms granted by an heraldic authority, most commonly the
College of Arms in London, and some self-assumed):
find both native Americans (American Indians) in their native garb and, for
example, a general officer dressed in the uniform of the Confederate States of
America being used as supporters. As examples of the first I give here the arms
of New York City (whose sinister supporter is a native American), the arms of
Hampton, Virginia (whose dexter supporter is one), and those of Kinston, North
Carolina (whose sinister supporter is one).
As an example of the latter, we
have the arms of Loudon County, Virginia, whose sinister supporter is a
Confederate officer. It seems to me that all of these pretty clearly say “United
States of America” without the need for any additional explanation.
the category of native birds and animals, which may appear on the shield, in
the crest, or as supporters, in addition to the bald eagle (for example, the
crest of the arms of the Magnolia Building, mentioned below), the beaver (which
is used more in Canada than here in the USA as a national symbol), or the moose,
which appears in the arms of the State of Maine and as a supporter in the arms
of the State of Michigan (this last along with an elk or wapiti), ...
we find the
turkey supporters in the arms of Charles City County, Virginia, and the
cardinal supporters in the arms of Prince George County, Virginia. The turkey
especially has been associated with North America since early colonial days,
and remains a potent symbol of the country.
use of native plants, though less commonly used as symbols of the United States,
can be found in a number of arms: a pine tree in the arms of the State of
Maine (above); an American dogwood flower in the arms of Prince George County,
Virginia (above); and a branch of a magnolia tree in the canting “arms” of the Magnolia
Building, now the Magnolia Hotel, in Dallas, Texas.
finally, the much rarer use of identifiably “American” architecture, such as
the representation in the arms of the City of Topeka, Kansas, of – well, I’m
not sure whether the building in the sinister chief is some kind of a barn or
is a representation of a native American wickiup, and none of my on-line
research has turned up a description of it. These arms also contain in base a
representation of the dome of the state capitol building in Topeka, but I am
uncertain that this (or other similar capitol domes sometimes found in other
states) really says “United States,” given the use of similar domes in Europe
(most notably on St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City in Italy).