American Heraldry Society

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American Heraldry Society
AHS Arms by Alexander Kurov (PNG).png
Arms of the American Heraldry Society (emblazoned by Alexander Kurov)
Formation 2003
Joseph McMillan

The American Heraldry Society is a learned society that promotes the study of heraldry and education of U.S. citizens about heraldry. The organization also advocates the development of a distinctly American heraldic tradition and encourages the legal protection of armorial bearings in the U.S. The organization's membership is primarily U.S. residents, although it has members in Europe, including the United Kingdom, and Australia as well.

The current president of the society is Joseph McMillan, of Virginia. He was elected July 2, 2012. The society is governed by a seven-member board of governors.

Society coat of arms[edit]

The coat of arms of the American Heraldry Society are blazoned "Gules an American Bald Eagle proper displayed on a Chief Azure three Escutcheons Argent". The eagle on the red field alludes to the society's purpose of promoting heraldry in the U.S. and the escutcheons refer to heraldry; the tinctures gules, argent, and azure also allude to the U.S. For a short time after the adoption of the arms, an argent fimbriation was included on the chief, but this has since been removed.


Educational goals[edit]

The society's education mission is headed by the society's directors of education and research. The society undertakes an education program to increase the heraldic knowledge of Americans. One of its primary concerns is to combat popular misconceptions about heraldry. These misconceptions include:

  • Heraldry is snobby, pretentious and anti-egalitarian;
  • The study of heraldry and its use belong to an "old world" sensibility that was shrugged off during the War of Independence; and
  • There are such things as "family-name coat of arms" (i.e. a coat of arms which may be borne by anyone who has a particular surname).

The last fallacy—that there are family-name coat of arms—is the most destructive to heraldic practice in America. The false pairing of coats of arms with surnames is aggressively promoted by hundreds of American heraldry bucket shops, i.e., businessmen who, for profit, provide unsuspecting people with bogus armorial bearings. For example, bucket shops will sell arms borne by someone named "Smith" to thousands of Smiths who have no direct ancestral relation.

The society publishes educational material on its website, and is currently conducting a survey of all personal coats of arms used by former U.S. presidents; the presidential series articles were alluded to in a 2006 New York Times article on the Army Institute of Heraldry.[1] It also maintains an active web forum for discussion of heraldic topics.

After extensive discussion and debate, the society's governing board approved and published "Guidelines for Heraldic Practice in the United States" on its website and in its annual journal. This work outlines a uniquely American standard for creating and displaying coats of arms.

Legal protection of arms[edit]

Prior to the American Revolution, the College of Arms in England served as the heraldic authority for the granting of arms to American colonists. British heraldic regulation and protection in America effectively ended with the Continental Army's victory in the war.

Currently, United States law, including trademark and copyright law, does not adequately protect coats of arms used by individuals and organizations not engaged in business. Thus, many armorial bearings in the United States enjoy no legal protections to prevent their unauthorized use. There are several private organizations in the United States that register coats of arms. While private registration may prevent unintentional usurpation, it offers no legal protection.

The society seeks to discuss and, if helpful, recommend new policies that will offer some protection to individuals and organizations who wish to prevent their arms from being usurped.


In addition to its website, the society publishes The American Herald, an annual journal, and Courant, an electronic newsletter. Originally published as a PDF, The American Herald will be published in a physical format beginning with its fourth issue in 2009.

Organization history[edit]

The society was formed on 5 November 2003 by Thomas Shehan and others who followed a thread on the Usenet rec.heraldry newsgroup discussing the need for an American heraldic authority.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Erik Eckholm, A Federal Office Where Heraldry of Yore Is Only Yesterday, N.Y. Times A16 (June 13, 2006). Reprint

External links[edit]