AMERICAN COLLEGE OF HERALDRY


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Try to keep the design as simple as possible. Arms are still meant to be means of identification and representation and should be easily recognized and remembered. Crowded designs do not answer to this condition.

- The Art of Heraldry (Carl-Alexander von Volborth, Blandford Press, Dorset, 1987)

 

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Many persons, unacquainted with heraldry, experience great difficulty in ascertaining their proper family-arms; and very often, no doubt, those who are fairly entitled to hereditary coat-armour are induced to assume any bearing belonging to their name, however mistaken, it may be, because it has been assigned to them by some coach painter, seal cutter, or engraver. By these means, there must be numerous instances in which gentlemen exhibit on their carriages, their seals and their plate, arms, with their crests and mottoes, which appertain to different families, although of the same name. This is, in fact, a very common abuse of an useful object, in this country; and an error into which persons entitled to hereditary coat-armour are too often inadvertently led.

Every man, therefore, who holds a respectable standing in society must be desirous not only of avoiding, in the first instance, mistakes of this nature; but of having them rectified, as speedily and as far as possible, after it shall be discovered that they have been actually committed. Because, independently of the consideration, that no person of reputable character would wish to use, and thereby probably perpetuate in his family, any armorial insignia, which might evidently appear to be the right of another - every abuse of this sort tends to diminish the usefulness of coat-armour, in an important particular: - it thus loses its aptitude to serve as a permanent badge of discrimination between families of different lineage bearing the same name; and it also ceases to be an useful mean of determining the rights of inheritable property, in cases of descent.

- William Barton, Esq., 1814


The American College of Heraldry is a Chartered, non-profit body established in 1972, with the aim of aiding in the study and perpetuation of heraldry in the United States and abroad. Registrations are restricted by policy to American citizens or residents, as well as to others with significant personal or business connections in America.

 

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INTRODUCTION

Heraldry is at once both an art and a science. Its origins are rooted in the social and political structure which existed in Europe and the British Isles from about the year 1100 A.D. However, far from being an obsolete relic of a bygone era, heraldry has rather emerged as a vibrant and growing cultural form. Legitimate coats of arms are more widely used throughout the world today than ever before in history.

 

The notorious "Coat of arms for the Name of Jones, Smith, or whatever," purchasable by mail order or in one's local shopping mall, represents no more than improper and illegitimate armorial bearings.

A large and rapidly growing number of Americans rightfully bear coats of arms. Many of these were granted, certified, registered or otherwise recognized by armorial authorities abroad, and a sizable number of these have been registered by their owners with The American College of Heraldry. In addition, the College has assisted many persons in designing a new coat of arms for their use which is then properly registered and published. An increasing number of corporate bodies have also acquired coats of arms which they display on armorial flags and in place of the less distinctive logo which is so rapidly outdated in terms of artistic style and structure.

 

While Americans are usually fascinated by the beauty of heraldry, they are rarely familiar with its meaning and traditions and, therefore, often misunderstand and even abuse this rich cultural heritage. They seldom understand that a coat of arms is usually granted, certified, registered or otherwise recognized as belonging to one individual alone, and that only his direct descendants with proven lineage can be recognized as eligible to inherit the arms. Exceptions to this rule are rare. It is highly inappropriate for one to locate the arms of another person sharing the same surname, and to simply adopt and use these arms as one's own. In order to properly claim the right to existing arms, one should approach an office of arms offering genealogical proof of proper kinship, and to receive confirmation of the right to bear the arms and thus to be recognized by the heraldic community as legitimately bearing the arms.

 

The notorious "Coat of arms for the Name of Jones, Smith, or whatever," purchasable by mail order or in one's local shopping mall, represents no more than improper and illegitimate armorial bearings. To buy and bear these commercially produced arms is to claim for oneself a direct kinship which has only the most remote possibility of validity, and is thereby to deny one's own legitimate and rightful line of descent. Such infraction of armorial regulation and custom constitutes a flagrant abuse of arms which no knowledgeable and honorable person would intentionally commit.

 

Sadly, most of the heraldic abuse in this country is done by honest, well-meaning persons. They greatly admire the heraldic tradition, but in their desire to participate in that tradition they inadvertently abuse heraldic arms due to their lack of familiarity with heraldic regulations and customs. While such armorial abuse does not apparently violate state or federal statute in this country at this time, still to usurp the use of another person's coat of arms is highly improper and is a dishonest practice. Such conduct disregards the regulations of all recognized heraldry and violates the rights of the legitimate owners of the arms.

 


Original artwork of the American College of Heraldry's Armorial Bearings illustration shown in the navigation frame was painted by Andrew Stewart Jamieson. The background behind the content frame is courtesy of the late Richard McNamee Crossett.