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Heraldry.  The creation and description of coats of arms, mostly inherited, which traces its origin to the symbols used on shields, banners and cloaks of armored knights of

the Middle Ages. Heraldry is very important to numismatics because of its influence in symbolism and the widespread use of coats of arms that appear on coins and medals. These arms have been established for countries, states, provinces, municipalities, corporations, firms, families, universities, church organizations, other institutions and organizations.

Heraldry is very symbolic. It has a technical language all its own and prescribed rules for designing and describing the coats of arms. While it has little formal standing in the United States, Americans still use heraldry for a number of national symbols, seals, logos and trademarks – including our national shield, "Stars and Bars." The military utilizes heraldic symbolism extensively, for insignia, emblems, badges, patches, and uniforms. The Department of Defense maintains an institute of heraldry to design and coordinate all such symbolic use.

Heraldry is far more accepted, respected and has legal statues in Europe, especially Great Britain. The institution in control of heraldry there is the Royal College of Heralds which is the arbitrator of correct heraldry symbolism and use in the English language. It also presides over armorial rights and maintains a large collection of records.

Blazoning.  Heraldry symbols – primarily coats of arms – have been used for

devices of coins and medals for many countries and other issuing authorities. Such armorial designs are described and cataloged in numismatic literature, the act of heraldic describing – called blazoning – requires knowledge of heraldic rules and the subject's own technical language.

Heraldic terms are mostly of French origin (from Norman French of Middle Ages) but are pronounced as English. While easy to pronounce they are sometimes difficult to comprehend. For example, right and left are dexter and sinister. But heraldry rules require this to be the shield's right and left in opposition to the viewer's fright and left as in all other numismatic describing.

Heraldic coats of arms often become an entity's modern trademark, logo, seal or symbol. Philip Morris Company, for example, has an elaborate coat of arms as its trademark. The symbol of a snake and eagle, long used in Mexican coin design, is taken from Mexico's coat of arms.

Blazoning is – like numismatic describing – a formal wording for a coat of arms design. In addition to a broad and colorful language it also has prescribed rules for all descriptions. Adjectives are always placed after their nouns. Lion gules is red lion. The elements of an elaborate coat of arms are blazoned in precise sequence and form.

Some heraldic terms are the same as those in numismatics. These include field, crest, engrailed, escutcheon, bar, cross, lozenge, couped, erased, banderole, canton, regardant, among others. In fact, heraldic terms were the source of many numismatic descriptive terms.

Beasts real and imagined.  There are numerous beasts in heraldry, any one or two

of which may appear on a coat of arms. These include mythical, imaginary, symbolic and mystical beasts, in addition to realistic animals, birds, fish and insects. They are often combined with parts of man to give them an anthropomorphic attribute. These need

to be correctly identified in all numismatic description.

Shields.  Forms and shapes of the shield are important, as well as sectioning (the dividing of a shield in halves, or quarters to reflect four predecessors, say, or the merging of four families, or a quartet of other design influences). The designs on a shield are called charges (on a coin or medal such a design would be the device).

Color is added by what is called tinctures. Unless a medallic item is enamelled,

color is indicated on coins and medals by a code of shading (similar to that devised

by print engravers several centuries ago). Thus horizontal lines indicate blue (azure), vertical lines mean red (gules), descending diagonal means green (vert), ascending diagonal is purple (purpure) and crosshatch is black (sable). Also a repeated small dot pattern indicates gold (or) and no shading or texture means silver (argent).

Like the knights' cloaks, the shields were infrequently embellished with furs. This presented another problem for engravers who solved it by limiting the symbolism of furs

to black tails and white (ermine) tails. Often this was in contrast to the tincture of the shield.

Other design elements.  Coat of arms were often surmounted with crowns (in heraldry called coronets). Each rank of nobility had a coronet of distinct design. A duke's crown was ornamented with strawberry leaves, a marquess with alternating strawberry leaves and balls, a viscount with nine balls, an earl with five balls, a baron with four balls.

Ribbons and banners are prominent in heraldic design, often with an inscription or motto appearing as a single line occupying the narrow ribbon. Lettering was limited somewhat to what would fit on a flowing ribbon. Language was most often Latin. Heraldic ribbons and scrolls are called banderoles and listons.

In creating a numismatic or medallic design which includes a coat of arms great care must be taken to insure absolute accuracy. The artist must understand the symbolism and faithfully execute an existing heraldry design.

Describing numismatic items.  A numismatic description is not complete until it fully describes every coat of arms or other heraldic design. It is the cataloger's option whether to use plain English in describing (as the viewer's right and left) or blazoned version (dexter and sinister), or both (making sure the reader understands).

Because coin designs are so small, and somewhat true or medals, the heraldic

design may be meager. It is the cataloger's chore to decipher the lines irrespective of how crude or tiny (or obscure) the engraving may appear on the coin or medal.

Thus in describing numismatic items with coats of arms it is often useful to do so with a heraldry reference book at hand. The heraldic terms listed here and the adjacent chart, the more notable ones used in numismatics, are only a small portion of the total heraldic technical language.


H1 {1840} Berry.

H2 {1889} Elvin.

H3 {1895} Zieber.

H4 {1945} Butler.

H5 {1979} Pastoureau.

Word List  #20

Heraldry Terms Frequently Used

In Describing Coins and Medals

A Couché.       Reclining.

Abouté.            Touching

Abraised.         Wings twisted back & inverted.

Absconded.     Hidden.

Accolée.          Shields tilted inward & overlapping.

Accollies.        Two shields touching side-by-side

(as man & wife).

Accosted.        Beside or between.

Accoutred.      Equiped with.

Accroché.        Hooked or conjoined together.

Accrued.         Tree in full foliage.

Addorsed.       Back to back.

Adorned.         Decorated or ornamented.

Adumbrated.   Painted in shadow; hidden by shading.

Adventail.       Armor with air holes.

Afronte.           Full face and facing forward.

Aguise.            Dressed in garments.

Aigrette.          Headdress of tufted feathers, originally

egret plumes. (Breen)

Aiguise.           Pointed.

Ailes.               Wings.

Ainent.            Running beast.

Aisle.               Wing of building.

Ajoure.            Voided.

Alant.              Mastiff.

Alatus.             Winged.

Alberia.           Plain white shield.

Alder.              Tree.

Ambulant.       Walking.

Animé.            Animated or excited.

Annodated.     Curved like letter S.

annulet.    Small ring.

Antique.          Ancient.

Appaumé.       Open hand.

Arbalest.         Crossbow.

argent.       Silver.

Armed.            Showing teeth & claw.

Armillary        Openwork celestial sphere.


ARMS.            A shield.

Arrache.          Tearing, pulling away.

Arrawwise.     Extended beyond an external corner as

a book or other object.

Arrondi.          Rounded off.

ascendant.           Rising, as rays.

Aspersed.        Sprinkled with.

assurgent.           Rising from sea or other water.

Attired.            Adorned with stag horns.

Attires.            Stag antlers.

Aversant.         Head facing backward, back of head.

Azure.             Blue; symbolized by horizontal lines.

Barbed.           With feathers (& claws) displayed.

Bale-fire.         Fire in open area.

Banded.           Belt or rope of color around object.

banderole.           Narrow flag or streamer.

Banner.           Nearly square flag.

Barbed.           Exposed feathers & claws.

Barbican.         Fortified gatehouse.

Barded.           Saddled horse.

Barrulety.        Of many pieces.

Barry               A field equally divided by horizontal lines.

Barsinister       Illegitimacy, bastard.

Bascule.          Drawbridge.

Base Point.      Pointed bottom of shield.

Baton.             Staff, symbol of authority.

Bearing.          Emblem or figure on a shield.

Bend.               Diagonal stripe, upper left to lower right.

Bezant.            Gold roundel [from Byzantine coin].

Bicorpo-          Two bodies joined to one head.


Bordure.          Border, as of a shield.

Cabossed.        Head of a beast with no neck showing.

Cadency.         Son taking father's coat-of-arms.

canton.       One of four quarters of shield or cross with four arms.

Cap-à-pie.       In full armor.

Chappe.           A cross in a field the arms of which are reticulated.

Charged.         Superimposed, advanced toward viewer.

Cheveron.       Two bars joined at a right angle.

Chief.              Upper third of shield.

Chief  Points. Pointed corners at top of shield.

Cinquefoil.      Five-pedal shape.

Clarion.           Horn or trumpet.

Close.              A bird with wings at side.

Cloué.             Studded with nails.

Cognizance.    Crest or badge.

conjoined.             Joined together.

Couchant.        Lying down with head raised.

Courant.          Running, as at full speed.

Counter-          Repeated with changed sequence. charged.

Cressent.         Quarter moon shape, points upward.

Crest.               Device above the shield.

Croisette.         Arms ending in Y shape.

Crosses.           See cross (2).

Coronet.          Crown with design differing by rank.

Crescent.         Quarter moon shape (points to viewer's left).

Cuirassed.       Bust in armor.

Dancetty.         Zig-zag shape.

Decrescent.     Quarter moon shape, points sinister (to viewer's right).

Dexter.            Right (as shield's right, viewer's left).

Dialted.           Opened or extended, as compass legs.

Dimidiation.    Divided in half vertically.

Displayed.       Wings of a bird fully extended.

Dormant.         Lying down with head raised.

Embattled.       With battlements.

Engouled.        Being swallowed or devoured.

engrailed.            Festooned with joined arcs.

Ensigned.        With official headgear (as coronet, miter) set above the shield.

erased.        Cut off, with jagged edge.

escutcheon. Shield.

Estoile.            Star flickering (engraved with 5 wavy lines).

Fasces.            Bundle of rods around ax with axe head visible.

Fess.                A horizontal band on a shield.

field.            Surface of shield.

Fleur-de-lis.   Stylized lily.

Fleuron.            Simple fleur-de-lis.

Flotant.            Waving flag.

Fresné.            Horse in rampant position.

Fumant.           Emitting smoke.

Fusilly.            Covered with design of lozenges or diamonds.

Garb.               Sheath of wheat.

Garter.             Ribbon or belt containing lettering, often a motto of an order of                                                      knighthood.

Genuant.         Kneeling position.

glory.         Halo (engraved circle over head).

Gouttes.           Droplets.

Guardant.        Animal looking full forward.

Guarded.         Trimmed or turned up.

Gules.              Red, engraved with verticle lines.

Habited.          Entirely clothed.

Hatchment.     Coat of arms displayed at time of death.

Hauriant.         Fish shown upright.

Helment.          Metal head protector.

Herald.            Senior heraldic officer.

Impaled.          Two vertical halves brought together.

Increscent.      Quarter moon shape, points dexter (to viewers left).

Inescutcheon. Small shield superimposed on larger shield.

Indented.         Notched.

Issuant.            Emerging.

Invected.         Line of spikes pointing inward.

Label.              A bar with pendants, indicating the eldest son.

Lambrequin.   Scarf over helmet.

Laminated.      Reptile scales.

Langued.         With tongue exposed.

Lis.                  Fleur-de-lis.

Liston.             Scroll or ribbon containing lettering.

Lymphad.        Longboat with high bow & stern.

Mace.              An ornamental staff.

Manche.          Sleeve of garment.

Mantling.        Drapery or fur surrounding a shield.

Molet.             Five-pointed star, pentagram or spur rowel, often with line (voided).

Morion.           High crested helmet with edges turned up, often used by Spanish.

motto.         Short phrase in coat of arms design.

Mound.           Ball or orb of gold.

Mullet.            Star.

Naiant.            Fish shown horizontal, as in swimming.

Nowed.           Knotted.

Or.                   Gold color (engraved with dots or bosses).

Orb.                 A globe.

Pale.                Vertical stripe.

Pale Gules.      Vertical red stripes (engraved vertical lines).

Paly.                Field divided into vertical stripes.

Passant.           Walking animal facing forward.

Passant            Walking animal with head turned toward viewer.


Pelure.             Purple (engraved ascending diagonal lines).

Pheon.             Stylized arrowhead, spear head, javelin.

Potent.             Shaped like the support of a crutch.

Proper.            Of natural colors.

Purfled.           Mantle embellished with fur.

Quarterfoil.     Flower of four equal petals.

Quincunx.       With five elements, one in each corner & fifth in center.

Rampant.         Animal standing, right leg forward, both front legs elevated.

Rebated.          Broken cross or weapon.

reguardant. Looking backwards over shoulder.

Rising.             Bird about to take flight.

roundel.                Round disk, originally a coin.

Sable.              Black (engraved as crosshatching).

Salient.            Leaping, jumping or rearing.

Saltire.             X-shaped, as crossed spears.

Sanguine.        Engraved with crosshatching (crossing diagonal lines).

Seeded.           Flower with center dots as stamens, pistils.

Sejant.             Sitting.

Semé.              Scattered with small figures.

Sinister.           Left (shield's left, viewer's right).

Sixfoil.            Flower with six equal petals.

Slipped.           Flower with stem showing.

Slipped and     Flower with stem and leaves showing.


Soleil.              Sun, engraved with face, serrated or with rays.

Splendor.         Sun with human face & rays.

Statant.            Standing in profile.

supporter.            Figures (human, animal, mythological) at side of shield.

Surmounted.   Partly covered by a charge.

Tenne.             Orange, engraved with descending diagonally lines

superimposed with vertical lines.

Tierced.           Divided into three.

Tinchure.         Engraved lines representing color.

Torse.              Twisted wreath of cloth, seen from edge, beneath crown.

Tour.               Chess rook or castle tower.

Transposed.     Turned in a way different from the normal.

Trefoil.            Flower with three equal petals.

Tricorperated.  Three heads joined to one body.

Triple Stripes. Verticle stripes (pales gules) engraved with three lines.

Undé.              Undulated, wavy.

Vair.                A repeated design of small shields.

Vert.                Green (engraved with descending diagonal lines).

Vested.             Clothed part.

voided.        Openwork (hollowed out, empty interior).

Volant.            Flying.

Wavy.             An undulating line.

wreath.     Twisted circle of branches or foliage on head.

Beasts: Real, Mythological, Imaginary

Adder.             Snake.

Agaccella.       Gazelle.

Aleyon.           Water bird like swan.

Allerion.          Eagle without beak or claws.

Allocamelus    Ficticious beast with head of ass and body of camel.

Alphyn.           Monster with front leg hooves and back leg eagle claws.

Amphisbaena  Ficticious snake with head at each end, wings & four short legs with                                     claws.

Apre.               Bull with bear's head.

Ayrant.            Bird of prey on nest.

Bagwin.           Ficticious horse with antler head, long curving horns.

Camelopard.  Giraffelike creature with horns.

Cockatrice.      Cockerel with dragon's wings, tail.

Griffin.            Beast with head of eagle, body of lion.

Martlet.           Swallow, bird without feet.

Renard.           Fox or fox-like.

Urinant.           Water animal with head bowed.

Wyvern.          Two-legged winged dragon.

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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