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To Arms...

Updated: Feb 16

Browsing through the December 2023 issue of Architectural Digest I came across an article by Sam Cochran on page 58 titled “A Knights Tale”. It’s illustrated in the first photo above.

He describes how Tiffany & Co.’s new artistic director for its home category, Lauren Santo Domingo, created a crest and a coat of arms for Tiffany that will be used on a new line of china. She based the design on designs and motifs from Tiffany’s past.

When I showed this to a friend, they scoffed that the crest and armorial weren’t “real”.  After probing, they explained that by “real” they meant granted by or registered with the English College of Arms or an equivalent body.

In thinking about that I realized that there were many examples I’d run across on Chinese export porcelain that weren’t “real” in that sense but were clearly “real” in the sense that they were used in their day and have come down to us as prized examples.

The second photo is of a vegetable dish from a service designed for Bahadur Shah II, the last Moghul Emperor of India. Like the Tiffany coat of arms, it is composed of motifs of significance to him; a cheetah, an elephant, and a jandar dagger.

The third photo is of a saucer produced for the Dutch market. The arms are arranged “accollee” or side by side. The service is illustrated and discussed in Kroes, “Chinese Armorial Porcelain for the Dutch Market”, at pp.468-469.

The sinister oval (viewer’s right – the designation is based on that of a shield’s user rather than its viewer) bears an image of a sailing vessel flying the Dutch flag. Kroes believes that this image was used by Willem Koelbeir, master of the Dutch East Indiaman Kanaan.

Koelbeir was not of an armigerous family and apparently adopted this sailing vessel as his coat of arms to reflect his position of Master of an East Indiaman. An image of a sailing vessel was used by other Dutch sea captains and traders in creating their own coats of arms.

After the American revolution a number of well-to-do families created their own crests or coats of arms from whole cloth, often incorporating their initials. This practice is discussed in Howard, “Chinese Armorial Porcelain” V.1 and in numerous other sources. (Armigerous American families of British origin generally declined to use their “real” coats of arms after the Revolution.) Such self-designed coats of arms are often referred to as “pseudo-armorials”.

Another example of self-designed coats of arms are those of the States. New York State created its coat of arms in 1780’s. This is discussed in Howard, “New York and the China Trade”. An example is shown in the fourth photo.

So, are Tiffany & Co.’s newly created crest and a coat of arms “real”? In my view they are as real as those of Bahadur Shah II, Master Koelbeir, and New York State.

Feel free to take issue, but also take time to appreciate their creativity.

I hope to see you at the 2024 Washington Winter Show at the Katzen Arts Center at American University Friday January 12 through Sunday January 14. Please stop by our booth 1-6. Even if you're not in the mood to buy, feel free to look, ask questions, or just schmooz.

R.J. Ruble Ericsson Street Antiques

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