British Ancestry

IS IT WORTH IT? ....... communicate with

The answer:-

Yes ....., compared with the fees payable to the heralds, at The College of Arms, The Lyon Court or elsewhere, for the Grant of Arms, Letters Patent and subsequent artwork, the price quoted is comparatively little. Your purchase may be from a respectable tailor or gentleman's outfitter, or from a souvenir shop in a tourist town. ..... HOWEVER --- CAVEAT EMPTOR - "Buyer beware", should be the Motto of all those seeking to acquire a Coat of Arms.....What follows is not simply a personal opinion.

For many years, my dear friends and great heraldists, now deceased, were among the Trustees of The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies, of which I am still The Principal. Archbishop Bruno Heim foremost among heraldists, who was one time Apostolic Nuncio in the U.K. was a Vice-President. He and I first corresponded in 1939 and 1943. We remained firm friends until his death.

Sir Colin Cole sometime Garter King of Arms was a friend from childhood and John Brooke-Little Clarenceaux King of Arms from the first day of the foundation of the organisation that became The Heraldry Society. These and Wilfred Scott-Giles who was Fitzalan Pursuivant at the time of the Queen's Coronation, supported me strongly in the fight against bogus and misappropriated coats of arms. I joined these as a founder member of The Society of Heraldic Antiquaries in 1947. It later became The Heraldry Society and I served as a member of its Council for 50 years, and since then as an active Vice-President. From 1976 I have also served as a member of Council and an Académicien de l'Académie Internationale d'Héraldique.

Who were selling the bogus coats of arms or misappropriated ones? Unless you can prove a direct male lineal descent from the original bearer or grantee of a coat of arms, you cannot have any right to pretend that it signifies yourself or your family. To do so is tantamount to stealing the identity of another person. Yet the bucket shops continue their trade, now more frequently promoted in magazines and catalogues on Internet, or with the "junk mail" through the door.

Originally, bucket shops were associated with under-the-counter financial scams in North America , a pool of money being thrown into a bucket beneath a shop-keeper's counter.In the context of heraldry, the term "bucket shop heraldry" was coined by the late Sir Gerald Woods Wollaston Clarenceaux King of Arms in a conversation he had with me in the 1940's.

Shops selling candy rock, pop-corn, postcards, children's fishing nets, all the sweets, candy floss and paraphernalia including buckets and spades that parents purchased to keep their children happy when on holiday at the seaside were known as bucket shops. They mostly came into existence about the same time as seaside piers and the popular seaside holidays of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In the late nineteenth century, a number of respectable emporia began selling shield plaques painted with the coats of arms of universities, colleges, hospitals, schools and other institutions with authorised or long-established coats of arms. When Burke's General Armory was published in its popular edition in 1884, some began to offer shields with coats of arms associated with specific families. In the immediate decades before the second World war a number of enterprising firms started to produce standard plaques of "family arms" indiscriminately. In the U.K., Messrs Hunter & Smallpage of York and G.K.Beulah of Hull came on the scene developing their business in shields for schools and other institutions to the production of shield plques of "family arms". The publication of my edition of Kennedy's Book of Arms in 1967 followed by my General Armory Two with its admonishing introduction and comprehensive supplement in 1973 seems only to have increased the trade. New printings of Burke's General Armory, Siebmacher and Reitstap followed.

Shields were sold in the "bucket shops" to tourists and holiday makers who took home "their" family coat of arms. Soon, another enterprising organisation, temporarily supported by heralds of The College of Arms jumped on to the band waggon and produced "certificates to accompany their products. Pretty "certificates" appeared in the bucket shops too. These outlined the history of the family and how the coat of arms arose. These were frequently totally inaccurate but they marketed well!

In the early 1950's I was Editor of the Register for The Heraldry Society and answered most of the enquiries that reached the society. I was asked to advise the York and Hull companies to help find the blazons of "family arms". Having the largest collection of armorials in the U.K. including the complete set of all editions of Siebmacher, I was able to take the opportunity with these companies and later with Sears Roebuck and Canterbury Arms in the U.S. to correct the misrepresentations and the many errors. Most importantly, I had produced a small booklet, HERALDRY, for The Heraldry Society and insisted that all these companies should include a copy with each plaque that they sold. The booklet went to tens of thousands, many of whom then approached the College of Arms and the Lyon Office for personal grants of arms as a result.

Unfortunately, this did not put an end to the business of the bucket shops, and many of them still exist continuing to sell "Your Family Coat of Arms ... With Certificate and Surname History. Caveat emptor is hardly fair advice to those who do not know what heraldry is all about, but before making a mistake and obtaining someone else's arms it is worth finding out from The Heraldry Society and also from - or contact me Cecil R. Humphery-Smith
5 March 2008

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