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.

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coats of arms which they display on armorial flags and in place of the less distinctive logo which is so rapidly outdated in terms of artistic style and structure.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.

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