What’s the difference between a Family Crest and a Coat of Arms?

The meanings of words change over time. The meanings of the terms “family crest” and “coat of arms” were quite different in the past but now seem to be used interchangeably. Most heraldry enthusiasts prefer to call these artworks coats of arms.

Historically, the “crest” indicated the top portion of an armorial achievement, or the part of the drawing typically  above the helmet. Crests were often personalized for the individual who was awarded the arms. Common crests included lions, birds, trees, and more, and made up part of the whole armorial achievement.  

In the past, a “coat of arms” referred to a garment that a person could wear. It included emblems to identify that person. Since a knight was covered in armor during an event or in battle, a coat of arms functioned like a modern-day sports jersey; it provided information that would help other people identify them.

Some governments and offices still award and register arms to individuals and companies.  You can register an official coat of arms in England, Scotland, New Zealand, and even Canada. Most people in the US don’t have a “real” coat of arms. Most companies that sell information and images of coats of arms are selling pieces reproduced from historical records of people with the same last name.  If more than one person had been awarded arms, there might even be several artworks out there for any given name.

My artworks are not official coats of arms. They are not registered with or regulated by any college of arms or armorial register. I often call my artworks family crests because I hope to celebrate family with these heraldic-inspired pieces.  

My works celebrate our connection to family through the pomp and pageantry of a different era.  I often draw from vintage pieces and reinterpret them to create new meanings. You can call them family crests, coats of arms, armorial achievements, or heraldic art, but I hope you will call them unique, beautiful, and personal.

 

Coat of arms artist Jamie Hansen

When I was a kid, I drew unicorns on the backs of all my school papers.  In high school, I carried a sketchbook and sat in the back of the classroom hoping for my next art class.  In college, I spent a semester in Europe traveling with a backpack full of watercolor supplies. I earned a BFA in Fine Art and have been working in watercolor for over 15 years.

After working in the gift and home industry to create wall decor and giftware, I felt called to create something more purposeful and personalized.  There are thousands of images and paintings available to an art buyer, but I wanted to help my clients create images that spoke about their unique story.  I wanted to be an artist that created things that were beautiful, but also meaningful.  Using my background in calligraphy and drawing, I created my first coat of arms for a client in 2009, and opened an Etsy shop in 2010 to collaborate with even more families.

My artworks and materials are inspired by pieces created long ago, but the stories behind these pieces are as current and contemporary as the families who hire me.  Like the families I work with, each piece is nuanced and unique.  Each artwork brings me joy as I use my love for art to help families celebrate their relationships and their lives together.