Crowns and heroes

Gilded crown atop the reconstructed Gate of Honour at the Chateau de Versailles

Gilded crown atop the replica Gate of Honour at the Chateau de Versailles

To know which leader is in charge, look for the largest headdress, tiara or crown. They are usually finely crafted from rare feathers, beads, or precious gold and jewels. Crowns are one of the most historic and ceremonial hallmarks of leadership.

We begin 2021 wishing all goodwill with optimism for year under a new, healthier regime. Continuing our Insignia Insights series, we start by sharing stories of notable crowns of history, and their role in an epic epidemic.

Royal recycling

Signifying who is at the top, whether tribal, royal or religious, crowns are the ultimate status symbol.

Napoleon's tiara designed by Marie-Etienne Nitot House of Chaumet 1805

Napoleon’s Tiara, illustration public domain

Crowns are highly visible decorative motifs like those on the re-created Chateau de Versailles Gate of Honour. Originally built in the 1680s, the gilded iron gates are one of many symbolic objects destroyed during the French Revolution in 1789. The fate of the crowned gate foretold the ending of the monarchy under Louis XVI.

Placing crowns on the heads of a new leaders is a highlight of ceremonial coronations, signifying a regime change. That moment is a feature of many paintings, monuments and trinkets. A royal rebranding to inform the masses.

Remaking crowns into fresh designs for a new era was a job of court appointed goldsmiths. Working with inherited jewels, and sometimes the spoils of war, when reparations could be paid in gold and gems.

Napoleon’s Tiara made by his official jeweler, the House of Chaumet, is an example of such royal recycling. Not made for the new emperor. He sent this crown along with an insulting message to the conquered Pope.

Crowns that changed the world

Crowns are the signature spikes on the coronavirus shown on this CDC image

Photo: coronavirus by Alissa Eckert, MSMI; Dan Higgins, MAMS, courtesy CDC

Looking back at 2020, we quickly learned how an invisible crown became the icon of a new global power. Spiked proteins are the hallmark of a strain of a new virus with the nickname “corona”.

It is that signature crown which took charge last year. Spreading illness throughout the world, making us all subjects of pandemic history.

Seeing how quickly scientists began genetically harnessing the crown of spikes on the coronavirus gives us ammunition to fight back. We are witnessing a rapid and historic development of vaccines. Enabling our immune systems to recognize and neutralize the viral intruder is the crowning triumph of science and medicine.

While awaiting worldwide inoculation, we note some crowns serving a different purpose.

Queen Victoria’s crowns

Queen Victoria's sapphire crown designed by Prince Albert 1840

Queen Victoria’s sapphire crown at the V&A

Wearing the Royal Crown Jewels, Victoria was crowned Queen of the British Empire in June 1838 during her coronation at Westminster Abbey. She was just 19. Two years later she married her love, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

Taking gems from her old pieces, Prince Albert designed a new sapphire and diamond cornet for her soon after they married. It has the Saxon Rautenkranz, or circlet of rue (rue is a herb), an element of Prince Albert’s coat of arms. He commissioned Joseph Kitching of Kitching & Abud, the official “Jewellers to the Queen” to craft it.

Eleven glittering sapphires are set in gold and surrounded by diamonds set in silver. The crown can be worn in a closed circle coronet, or open at the back as a tiara. It is just one of several tiaras and crowns Queen Victoria inherited or had made. This is the crown she chose to wear for her portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter in 1842.

It is a portrait that takes her image right around the world. Its the great jewel of the young queen. – Victoria & Albert Museum, Senior Curator, Richard Edgecumbe, video, April 11, 2019.

This coronet is the star of a new jewelry gallery unveiled at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2019, the bicentenary year of Victoria and Albert’s birth.

Since it’s founding in 1852 as the Museum of Manufactures, the V&A has been educating designers, makers and the public by showcasing exemplary design and decoration. Housing over 2 million artifacts, it is the world’s largest repositories of decorative arts and design spanning 5,000 years. And it is free for all to access (except during a pandemic).

Honours system

Royal Victorian Order medal awarded to Governors General of Canada

Royal Victorian Order medal courtesy DND

Besides crowns, hallmarks of the Victorian era include advancements in science, medicine, arts and industry. During Queen Victoria’s reign (1837- 1901), several new orders were added to the British Honours system.

The Royal Victorian Order medal is a dynastic order of knighthood originating with Queen Victoria in 1896. It is given at the discretion of the sovereign for service.  The eight-point Maltese cross RVO medal was first made by the same jeweler who crafted her sapphire crown.

Governor Generals of Canada, and the 54 Canadians recieving the award since 1972, can use “CVO” (Commander of the Victorian Order) after their name.

Note the Royal Cypher in the centre. VRI (Victoria Regina Imperatrix) are the superimposed gold letters on the crimson enamel oval. The Imperial State Crown, sometimes called a Tudor crown, sits atop the blue enamel riband with the motto VICTORIA in gold.

Retaining symbolic elements of the British Crown reflects Canada’s Constitutional Monarchy. These insignia from the Victorian era may seem unnecessary now, but have a role in recognizing service and Canada’s unique history.

Heroes and royal charters

VON Victorian Order of Nurses Argyle St Ottawa designated National Historic Event in 1997

VON Argyle St Ottawa, courtesy Parks Canada

Occurring in the late 1800s were severe shortages of nurses, doctors and hospitals in Canada, especially in remote areas. Learning of these dire circumstances was Lady Ishbel Aberdeen, wife of John Hamilton-Gordon, Canada’s 7th Governor General. Described as a liberal Scottish aristocrat by supporters and detractors, Lady Aberdeen was a champion of the idea to form an order of visiting nurses.

Undaunted by resistance of some ‘medical men’ concerned about proper training, Lady Aberdeen enlisted help from a Harvard doctor. He literally wrote the book “Nurses & Nursing”, and created the Waltham Training School for Nurses considered gospel by the legendary Florence Nightingale. Proposing a name for the order in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee drew criticism, and also helpful in overcoming objections:

Strategically invoking the sovereign, the VON affirmed women as active citizens in a northern nation, a female equivalent of the North-West Mounted Police. –Veronica Strong-Boag, biographi.ca

Signing up the first 12 nurses into the Order in November 1897, the Victorian Order of Nurses for Canada was granted a royal charter by Queen Victoria in March 1898. A few months later, they were granted permission to wear the same badge as those give to the Queen’s Nurses in Great Britain and Ireland.

Predating provincial public health, hospitals and the Canadian Nurses Association was the VON. Traveling with a basic kit and homemade uniforms, they delivered care, compassion (and many babies) to people across Canada. All these organizations are on the front-line of COVID-19 today. More than 6,000 VON Canada nurses, and almost equal number of VON volunteers are continuing their mission. They are providing charitable nursing, home care and social services in Ontario and Nova Scotia.

Heroes worthy of new honours?

Front Line Workers lawn sign hearts and heroes in Canada

Early in the present pandemic, people banged pots and stuck plastic signs in their lawn thanking ‘front line workers.’  Those sounds and signs have faded. And the challenge has only increased.

We think all those who continue making it possible for the rest of us to get through tough times are deserving of more formal recognition. This is a moment when Canada could create a new more permanent insignia and honour the heroic everyday people fighting the pandemic battle.

We are not alone. Learning that the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada is advocating for a ceremonial medal for exactly that purpose to be inaugurated in 2022. It is part of a controversial proposal for a Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

Honouring the thousands of ordinary Canadian heroes with a gesture of thanks is the least we can do. Just think what a great inclusive national celebration it could be.


Hallmarks-royal origins and modern uses

Hallmarks royal origins are featured in Trimtag Trading Inc lasted Brandspotting Blog: Insignia Insights

Hallmarking is a word that has come to mean the essence of a brand, or signature of an individual. But hallmarks actually began as a fraud prevention tool in medieval times. Assuring royals they got quality goods from gold and silversmiths, is how a hallmark became, literally, the stamp of approval.

Explaining how monarchs chose royal symbols, as well as the legal beginnings of hallmarking in medieval England is the subject of this Insignia Insights article.

Queen bees, beasts and empires

Crafting strong and recognizable visual icons, many monarchs looked to the animal kingdom for ideas. Choosing beasts for their coat of arms was common. Using allegory on insignia communicates power and influence over royal subjects, and signals strength to rival empires.

Insects also sent strong messages.

‘My emblem is a bee, flying from plant to plant, and amassing honey to take back to the hive’, wrote Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, in her letters to Voltaire during her reign in the 1760s and 70s, according to Susan Jaques in her book, The Empress of Art.

In 1804, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte also chose the bee as part of his coat of arms. Connecting to the origins of France itself, his symbols suggest immortality and resurrection. Bees appear on the imperial mantle flowing from the crown and draped around the central eagle. They are signs of industriousness and sweet benevolence. He added the ancient Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honour) chain and cross, a chivalric symbol established in 1320, well before the French Revolution. (Read more about Napoleon’s choice of symbols of empire.)

During the First Empire, imperial bees buzzed everywhere: on flags, fashion, jewelry, porcelain, silks and wallpaper. Beasts, birds and bugs of all sorts continue to appear as symbols of royalty and prestige around the world. Another part of hallmarking history is how they came to be legal intellectual property in England.

The King’s Mark: lions, leopards and legal gold standard

Leopard's head London Assay Office

Leopard’s Head of the London Assay Office

Lions, the king of beasts have been used as personal symbols of rulers for centuries. Rearing up with three clawed paws outstretched, lions rampant appear on Royal Standards of the King or Queen of Scots. Walking lions, or lion passants, appearing in threes on a red field, are on the royal arms of Richard I dating from 1198.

Historians generally consider these as origins of early heraldry. Lions have since been mixed with other symbols. Looking closely, you can see history as it unfolded.

In medieval times, monarchs or members of the aristocracy would commission goldsmiths to make objects from precious gold or silver to show their wealth and status. Trouble arose because it was hard to know if they were getting the genuine article.

The King of England, Edward I (1239-1307), stepped in, establishing a gold (and silver) standard for the skilled trade organization in 1300. It was the beginning of hallmarking.

King Edward I passed a statute requiring gold and silver to be of a defined standard and requiring ‘les Gardeins du Mester’ (Guardians of the Craft) to test it and mark it with the leopard’s head. This was supposedly taken from the royal arms and later known as the King’s mark. – The Goldsmith Company.

Why not a lion, you might ask? Well that is part of the mythology around Edward I’s personal character. Being both fiercely powerful and deceitful at the same time. Going from a lion passant to a crowned leopard’s head reveals how royal hallmarks are not only powerful symbols, but also evolve to burnish and modernize reputations.

By creating the gold standard, Edward I made significant progress in establishing quality control. Building upon that, a series of royal charters followed over the next several hundred years, establishing the legal basis of hallmarking.

The Goldsmiths Guild and Hall

In 1327, Edward III granted a formal charter establishing the first craft guild for the goldsmith trade. Needed next was a way to identify individual makers.

In 1363, goldsmiths and silversmiths required to have a mark unique to them, to be struck on all their wares to identify the maker. – The Goldsmiths Company

It wasn’t until 1505 when rights to register a maker’s hallmarks was possible. Issuing letters patent, King Henry VIII granted this legal authority to The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. Known commonly as the Goldsmiths’ Company, it is one of the Great Twelve Livery companies of the City of London.

The Goldsmiths’ Company set the hallmark for gold as ‘a leopard’s face ducally crowned’ along with its own motto: Justitia Virtutum Regina (Justice is Queen of Virtues) and coat of arms. (The cat’s crown was later dropped.)

It was the actual Goldsmiths’ Hall, on Foster Lane where a maker would go to have his work checked for quality by the Assay Office, marks registered and dated. This physical place became known where ‘hallmarking’ happened.

The present grand neo-classic Goldsmiths’ Hall built in 1829 on same site in use by goldsmiths since 1339. Continuing to this day as a library and event venue, gold and silversmiths register their marks and have their work tested by the assay office around the corner, or at one of the three others in England.

Unique markings for who, what, where and when

Assay marks for London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Edinburg

Photo: Courtesy The Goldsmiths Company

The Goldsmiths’ Company devised a clever solution using a combination of strictly controlled marks.

A maker’s mark identified the goldsmith. Assigning a unique mark for each one, it was usually the initials of Christian name and surname in a surround. No two maker’s marks are the same.

Certifying the quality or fineness of the item is done by other marks, such as the carat weight of gold, or silver quality, which used a Lion passant guardant, Britannia or a lion’s head erased.

Confirming the place it was made is the mark of the Assay office. It corresponds to the English town where it was verified. The first was in London, and now there are three others: in Sheffield, Birmingham and Edinburgh. Representing the date, a letter mark corresponds to the 20-year cycle set by Goldsmiths’ Company.

Hallmarking Authorities: foiling fakes by policing

Hallmarks are symbols of trust. Becoming more than just product verification, hallmarks increase a company or brand’s bragging rights, and the value of intellectual property. However, just like in the 14th century, fakes remain a concern. Confirming what real is getting harder than ever.

Enforcement of hallmarking law faces challenges with reducing resources and increasing concerns about unscrupulous traders, particularly online, and particularly online traders based outside the UK. –  Noel Hunter, Chair, 2019 annual report,  The British Hallmarking Council.

Continuing as originally intended, the 1972 Hallmarking Convention of  Vienna legally set precious metal standards and symbols used in other jurisdictions.  Canada’s Precious Metals Marketing Act of 1996 helps consumers make informed purchasing decisions of precious metals articles made of gold, silver, platinum or palladium. The quality mark must be accompanied by a trademark that has been applied for or registered with the Registrar of Trade Marks, Canadian Intellectual Property Office, Industry Canada.

When royalty received their jewelry, silver service or gold candelabras with hallmarks stamped into them, they had assurance they got the real thing. Maintaining the reputation of hallmarking today through enforcement, and technical consistency is the task of today’s hallmarking authorities. It is still about protecting integrity of precious metal articles. Hallmarks give the buyer, and any subsequent owner, a warranty.

Hallmarks are more than just small symbols, they verify something is authentic and worthy of the price asked.

Ask us how to create your own custom hallmarks

Trimtag makes custom insignia of all types. We can help your organization, company or brand create or accurately replicate your own registered insignia or hallmark. We can do this in a nearly endless variety of media and techniques such as bullion, embroidery, embossing and printing. Ask us how to apply custom insignia on uniforms, apparel, trims or corporate branding items .


Canada Remembers peace and poppies

Final Battle of Mons Belgium and the origins of Peace and poppies #CanadaRemembers #insigniaInsights

Peace and poppies are the sentiment and symbols #CanadaRemembers in November. In this edition of Insignia Insights, we look at how Remembrance Day came to be. Tell you about the ultimate and untimely sacrifice of one Canadian soldier. And why the poppy endures as symbol for more than a hundred years.

Remember poppies, peace and veterans

Veterans Affairs Canada twin poppy and maple leaf enameled lapel pin by ©Trimtag Trading Inc.

On Wednesday, November 11, 2020 at 11 am, we will still pause, be silent for a minute. Think of those who have sacrificed to give us peace.

Wear a poppy to honour them, even if no one will see you.

Producing these enameled gold and red poppy lapel pins once again for Veterans Affairs Canada, is something Trimtag Trading is very honoured to do.

Veteran’s Week is from November 5-11. This year’s theme is the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Find more information about how you can be involved in honouring those who have served Canada, past and present, in times of war, military conflict and peace.

Looking back to 1918, it was  the WWI peace agreement which is the origin of Remembrance Day. Enduring for more than a century, poppies also continue as a powerful symbol ever since Canadian soldiers fought at Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, in Ypres and Flanders Fields.

Armistice Agreement

Early on Monday, November 11, 1918, the Armistice Agreement of WWI was signed. Meeting in a railroad car in the Forest of Compiègne, three Generals from the armies of the Allies and Germany found a way to stop the fighting and devastation on both sides.

This was a peace agreement instead of surrender. The Generals agreed a cease-fire would begin at 11 am on that day, ‘for tidiness’.

Canadian sacrifice

In 1914, Canada’s population was less than eight million. During the First World War,  619,636 men and women served in the Canadian armed forces, of whom 59,544 were killed and 172,950 wounded. Fighting on the plains of Flanders lasted four years for four Canadian divisions. One quarter of Canadian dead in the First World War fell on Belgian soil.

On November 11, 1918, The Battle of Mons, Belgium was the last conflict for the Canadian Expeditionary Force. (Read the Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War)

Photo of Pte. George Price, 28th Bn, Canadian Infantry (Saskatchewan Regiment) the last British Empire soldier to fall just minutes before peace on Nov 11, 1918 Generally recognized as the last British Empire soldier to die in battle, was Canadian, Pte. George Lawrence Price of Falmouth, Nova Scotia. Working on a farm in Moose Jaw, he became part of the 28th Battalion, Canadian Infantry (Saskatchewan Regiment).

Peace did not come soon enough for this soldier.

Attempting to liberate citizens of Ville-sur-Haine, Belgium, Price was shot  just two minutes before the bugles were heard sounding the end of the fighting.

The cost of the First World War in terms of human lives was overwhelming. One of the more poignant moments is the loss of Private Price mere minutes before the guns fell silent. –– Stephen Quick, Director General, Canadian War Museum, 2 Nov 2016

Private Price rests in the Military Cemetery at St Symphorien (Grave V C 4). By chance he is surrounded by the first and last British soldiers killed in action as well as the first Victoria Cross recipient killed in action.

Poppies, peace and plaques

WWI Pte. George Price memorial plaque donated to the Canadian War Museum

George Lawrence Price Bronze Next of Kin Memorial Plaque, Canadian War Museum. Artist: Edward Carter Preston Cast: Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, c 1920.

Today, a monument, primary school and footbridge near where Private Price fell are dedicated to him by the people of Belgium.

Supported by Private George Lawrence Price’s descendants and Royal Canadian Legion in Kentville, Nova Scotia, a medal set and this Next of Kin memorial plaque in his honour were donated to the Canadian War Museum in 2016.

In Flanders, there is an extensive Canadian Remembrance Trail where you can get a sense of history, and learn more about the “War to end all Wars”.

Remembering the 1.7 million lost by Commonwealth countries during WWI and WWII is the mission of The Commonwealth War Graves. One of the most visited sites is Essex Farm Cemetery. Here, Canadian John McCrae wrote the enduring poem inspired by red poppies and the war he witnessed.

Reciting In Flanders Fields every Remembrance Day is our duty. Lest we Forget.