Thursday, March 21, 2019

There Is a Good Reason for Heraldry's "Rule of Contrast"

No, really!

I have seen it argued again and again over the years, why certain "low contrast" (color on color, or metal on metal) combinations ought to be permitted, instead of slavishly following the "rule of contrast" as outlined in so many basic heraldry books.

Well, there's a reason for the existence of this "rule", and it's founded on some good basic principles, mostly going back to the need for identifiability.

Some years ago, the State of Michigan, which normally issued new auto license plates every few years, had a short-lived experiment with plates on which the letters and numbers were white on a gold background. (What heralds would call "metal on metal".) There were so many complaints from law enforcement agencies all across the state that these license plates could not be read if they were a little bit dirty and then only in very good lighting conditions - neither of which regularly apply to Michigan roads, especially in the long winters - that the state issued new, high-contrast plates the very next year.

While exploring Canterbury, England, last fall, I came across another example, this one "color on color", of the issue with low contrast heraldry.

It was the Three Crows Tattoo parlor, which had these signs marking their place of business:

The above photos have been unretouched. You can see that it is very difficult to make out what it is that is on the shield. Frankly, you learn more about what's there from the wording on the signs than you do from the shield itself.

Now, here's the same signs with the contrast heightened and the overall picture lightened:

Those are better, but frankly, the shield would be much more effective if they had chosen high contrast between the shield and the birds; for example, a gold shield with the black crows, instead of a red shield.

C'mon, people! This "rule" of heraldry is there for a reason, and truly, the counter-examples cited by others over the years in discussions about this matter comprise a miniscule percentage of all of the coats of arms that there are. (Even the most generous estimates of such low contrast arms run between 1% to 3% of all coats.)

And, yes, I have read (indeed, I own a copy) of Archbishop Bruno Heim's book Or & Argent. But a significant number of his examples don't actually break the rule of contrast; they are examples of or and argent being placed next to each other on the shield, or such things as, for example, the arms of de Lagrenée, Gules a chevron or interlaced with another inverted ("reversed" in English blazon) argent, where the actual area of overlap between the low contrast charges is minimal.

So the next time you see someone who wants color on color, or metal on metal, on their arms, show them the first two pictures above, and tell them the story of the Michigan license plates, and remind them that identifiability should be one of the hallmarks of heraldry.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Military Heraldry Explained (Humor)

It's an article more than two years old, but which I just ran across today, thanks to a recent posting on Facebook by Mark A. Henderson.

It's an article on Duffle Blog entitled "Army Heraldry Meanings".

I especially enjoyed the comments about the insignia of the Transportation Corps, a unit of which my father served during the Korean War, and whose insignia is this:

And this is a hand-painted sign photographed on the grounds of Fort Eustis, Virginia, where he was stationed at the time:

Anyway, it's a fun article, and can be found on-line at Duffle Blog at

A Little Commercial Heraldry, Part 3

Wandering, as I was wont to do, about the streets of Canterbury, England, I ran across another piece of quasi-heraldry which incorporated the white horse of Kent in a company's logo:

It was a sign for R. Durtnell & Sons Limited, Building Contractors.

It's not quite heraldic; the primary charge (the horse) carrying the banner ("Est. 1591") is almost more like a supporter to a coat of arms than a charge on such a coat, and the "base" is "color on color", but still, all in all it has a fairly heraldic "feel" to it.

Plus the fact that they are using the white horse of Kent is a clue to where they are established.

I still find it fascinating, all the ways today that people find to use heraldry or heraldry-like designs.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A Little Commercial Heraldry, Part 2

Another nice bit of commercial heraldry was found adorning the shop of Ernest Jones, "The Diamond & Watch Specialist" on Whitefriars Street in Canterbury.

Here's a closeup of the achievement of arms itself:

One of the things that threw me off a little was that in hunting about for more information on these arms, while the field on this shield is solid gold with a quarterly cross, other images of these arms (for example, in an image found on Wikipedia at,_Putney_Exchange_01.jpg) the arms are quarterly or and argent).

Assuming that the arms here are miscolored, then the blazon would be: Quarterly or and argent on a cross quarterly gules and azure a lion's head cabossed or langued gules on a chief per pale azure and gules a hanging balance or.

The unicorn supporters each have a quarterly shield hanging about their necks, and the demi-saint is holding a chalice with his left hand. The motto is Concordia Integritas Industria (Harmony, Integrity, Industry).

I feel certain the whole achievement is just chock full of meaning and symbolism. And counterchanging.

The design feels a tad "busy" to me, and yet it seems to come together pretty well. Still, it's not something that you could easily work into or as a commercial logo.

Still, I suspect that no one seeing this coat of arms is going to mistake for that of some other firm.

And it's not all that often that you seen an entire achievement of arms out on the street that aren't the Royal Arms of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. So this was a nice change of pace while wandering about the streets of Canterbury, England on a fine fall day!

Monday, March 11, 2019

A Little Commercial Heraldry, Part 1

One of the many uses of heraldry, and one which goes back literally for centuries, is the application of an heraldic element for use as a trade, or even inn, sign.

This ancient (well, to we folks in the United States, anyway*) usage can still be seen in modern use today.

For example, there was this little sign over a shop in old Canterbury:

It's not quite an heraldic crest; it's on a hill or mound instead of a torse or wreath, but still ....

It is, of course, a crabapple tree, and marks the shop of Crabtree & Evelyn on Burgate Street in Canterbury. So this sign has not only the advantage of being nearly heraldry, it is canting near-heraldry. (Canting heraldry is heraldry that is a pun on the name; examples include the bird bolts in the arms of Bolton, a bow in the arms of Boven, bird wings in the arms of Wingfield, and so on.)

Of course, as an Appleton, I found it especially attractive. So be it.

* It has been remarked that the difference between Europeans and Americans is that Europeans think that a hundred kilometers is a long way, and Americans think that a hundred years is a long time.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Faux Arms

Down one of the side streets off of High Street in central Canterbury, England, was a large sign across the front of a building that said "Historical Canterbury."

On each end of the sign was the image of a knight, front facing, holding in front of himself a sword, issuing from the center of a lindwurm, rather like a snake with a dragon's head, circled about not terribly unlike the strap and buckle of a Scottish clan badge, or the garter of the Order of the Garter.

But right in the middle of the sign, between the words "Historical" and "Canterbury" was this image:

It's not a real coat of arms, of course; it's one of those modern, somewhat florid, pseudo-heraldic designs that one sometimes finds adorning a tee shirt.

Still, it uses a fairly stock lion rampant (even though it is facing the "wrong" way, to sinister) on a 19th Century shield shape, surmounted by a non-standard coronet in front of a pair of polearms in saltire.

It's an interesting design, and I seem to find something new in it just about every time I look at it.

But it ain't heraldry, though it tries hard to give that impression. Something to draw the tourists in, I suppose, but which left me somewhat bemused, as it is neither "historical" nor related to "Canterbury."

Monday, March 4, 2019

A Case of Mistaken Identity?

Next door to the Café St. Pierre on Canterbury's Peter Street was a place called the Black Griffin.

I thought it was a nice use of an heraldic monster, but what I found most intriguing about it was the fact that the so-called black "griffin" was depicted, in fact, as a black dragon.

To review:

Griffin: Foreparts of an eagle's head, talons, wings, complete with feathers; hind parts the rear legs and tail of a lion, complete with fur.

Dragon: Scaly body all over, bat wings, pointed tail, squarish wolf-like head.

Yep. They need to rename the place the Black Dragon.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

An Amusing Bit of Heraldry

I found this coat of arms on Peter's Street in Canterbury, near where it becomes High Street.

It caught my attention because it really does do all of the things that a coat of arms should do: it's simple, easily identifiable, and it tells you a lot about the bearer.

In this case, you can tell right off the bat without knowing anything else that the shop there is French and presumable sells baked goods in addition to its role as a place to eat.

And really, what else do you need to know?

I'd blazon those arms as: Tierced per pale azure, argent, and gules two baguettes in saltire proper.

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Arms of Canterbury Cathedral

Well, technically, is the arms of the Cathedral Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral, which arms are also used by some closely related entities, such as The King's School (said to be the oldest continuously operating school in the world, having been founded in 597 A.D. by St. Augustine).

In any event, this coat of arms is to be found on and around the Cathedral in Canterbury, in several different media: painted on wood and metal, carved in stone, cast in metal, and painted/printed on a flag.

The arms are blazoned variously as: Azure on a cross argent the letters I/X sable and Azure on a cross argent the letter X surmounted by the letter i sable. The arms were recorded by the College of Arms during the Visitation of Kent in 1619 (400 years ago!), where they are listed in the heading as "Canterbury: Dean & Chapter" (with the text giving the full name as "the Denery & Chapter of the Cathedrall church of Christ in Canterbury") and blazoned as: Azure on a cross argent a Roman letter X surmounted by the letter I sable.

Some accounts say that the letters on the cross are Greek (iota, chi) and stand for the initial of Jesus Christ. Others say that they are an abbreviation of Christi, and thus properly chi, iota; hence the lower case "i" in some versions.

However blazoned, and whatever the meaning, though, here's a collection, in the order that I found them, of the arms that I saw while roaming the streets of Canterbury:

The Canterbury Cathedral Shop has a very nice selection of souvenirs, mementos, artwork, etc. all available for you to buy.

The tower at the entrance of The King's School flies a flag of its arms:

This is your official warning:

And here we have the arms on and in the Cathedral itself. There is even a small copy of the arms on the blue sign by the side of the gate into the building:

All in all, a fine display of these arms, having been in use for more than 400 years, having been recognized by the College of Arms in 1619.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

An Armorial War Memorial

In the small square immediately outside the gate to the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral stands a memorial "Dedicated to the honoured memory of the men of Canterbury who fell in the Great War 1914-1919"

Each of the four sides bears the image of a soldier, sailor, etc., as well as a coat of arms relevant to the city and county.

The first side bears an image of a medieval man at arms, and the arms of the City of Canterbury:

The next side bears the image of a soldier, and the arms of the Archbishopic of Canterbury:

The third side bears the image of a pilot of the then Royal Flying Corps, and the arms of Edward of Woodstock, son of King Edward III, the "Black Prince" (1330-1376), who is buried in Canterbury Cathedral.

This side of the memorial also bears four other smaller shields, with the floral emblems of (top to bottom, first left and then right) England (a rose), Wales (a leek), Scotland (a thistle), and Ireland (a shamrock).

The fourth side of the memorial bears the image of a sailor, and the arms of the County of Kent.

I found it a touching armorial tribute to the men of Canterbury who lost their lives in the service to their country during World War I.

Monday, February 18, 2019

An Admixture of City and County Arms

Kent College in Canterbury is a co-educational independent school for boarding and day pupils between the ages of three months and 18 years. It was founded in in 1855 as the Wesleyan College, Canterbury, and in 1920 was acquired by the Board of Management for Methodist Residential Schools.

It sits on a 70-acre tract on the edge of the City of Canterbury.

But, of course, what caught my attention was the school's coat of arms, which by incorporating elements from both the City of Canterbury and the County of Kent, allows you to identify its location without knowing anything else about it.

I would blazon the arms as Gules a demi-horse couped forceny argent on a chief or three Cornish choughs sable, with the crest A pair of ostrich plumes argent charged with a Cornish cough sable. The motto is Lux tua via mea (Your light is my way).

I thought it was a nicely designed coat of arms - simple, and readily identifiable - that is certainly evocative of its location in the City of Canterbury and the County of Kent in England.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Arms of the County of Kent

It wasn't just the arms of the City of Canterbury that can be seen in the old city, but also the arms of the County of Kent, in which the city is situated.

The County arms, Gules a horse forceny argent, were officially granted in October 1933 and re-confirmed in 1975. The white horse is said to be the symbol of the old Saxon kingdom of Kent dating from the 6th to 8th Centuries. The County's motto, Invicta (Unconquered), is based on a legend that a year after the Norman Conquest, in 1067, a band of Kentishmen ambushed and surrounded the new King William. In return for his life, he promised that the county would be able to keep its ancient privileges, thus making Kent the only part of England "unconquered" by the Normans.

Whatever you may wish to make of that, the arms of the County of Kent can be found in and about the old city of Canterbury.

For example, here's one found on High Street (on the same building housing a Tex-Mex restaurant, a type of eatery which I did not expect to see there), though given the same respect that pigeons seem to give to all art forms, whether full sculpture (my wife took a picture of a Florentine statue with a pigeon roosting on its head when we were in Italy a few years ago) or highly three-dimensional carving, as here:

As you can see, there are a couple of pigeons roosting here, one atop the arms, and the other presumably acting as a sinister supporter (in the manner of a number of late 18th Century English achievements, where the supporters aren't really "supporting" the shield, but simply lying or lounging about it).

The building may originally have been a firehouse, given the picks, axes, hoses, and bucket (labeled "Kent") surrounding the arms.

Other versions of the County arms in different media were:

Once again, it's always nice to see heraldry in use!

Monday, February 11, 2019

On to Canterbury!

Following our week in Arras, France, we hopped aboard the Eurostar train and took rode through the Chunnel (the Channel Tunnel) to London and then on to Canterbury in the County of Kent, England, where we spent several day wandering about the town and visiting with friends.

We had decided to return to Canterbury on this trip, because the last time we were there, we only had a day in Kent, and spent it visiting three parish churches - one in Sandwich and two in Canterbury - where I had ancestral ties. As a consequence, we had no time at all for the primary tourist attraction in the city, Canterbury Cathedral. So we decided to make up for that this time, and in addition to visiting a lot of the city within the old city walls, spent the better part of a full day at the Cathedral.

Naturally, I was looking forward to seeing what heraldry could be found in and around the city. I already knew that the Cathedral itself was chock full of coats of arms (some of which I'll get to in a later post), but I wanted to see what other uses of heraldry could be found. And I was not disappointed!

The arms of the City of Canterbury (Argent three Cornish choughs proper on a chief gules a lion passant guardant or) were, according to the website Heraldry of the World, first registered at the College of Arms in London in 1619 (exactly 400 years ago!), but they appear on official documents as early as 1380. The birds are taken from the arms ascribed to Thomas Becket, and the lion and chief denote Canterbury's status as a royal city since the 6th Century. The motto is Ave mater angliæ (Hail Mother England).

And the city's arms are to be found depicted in a number of different media all around the old city, not always to denote official government buildings or functions. Witness the arms found on the facade of the Sidney Cooper Gallery, for instance:

But this next one is definitely for a public accommodation. (If only the public toilet facilities here in the States were denoted with such class!)

The City Arms Inn:

This cast iron box and post are marked "Canterbury Corporation Electricity Supply."

Another "unofficial" use, on the sign of The Old Coach House. (Well, at least they resisted the temptation to name it "Ye Olde Coach(e) House".)

This brass plaque marked the entrance to the Westgate Gardens (just a block down from our hotel, which was just outside of the west gate to the old city).

On a City building just off the Westgate Gardens:

And finally, on two markers on the Guildhall, a former church, where the City Council often meets:

All in all, the City makes a good display of its civic arms, and it was fun to run across all of these versions of it.