Achievement of Arms

The Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers was incorporated by Royal Charter on 16th May 1629, but it did not approach the College of Arms for an official “Achievement of Arms” on which it could base its seal until 1950. Before then, the Spectacle Makers of London had adopted two unofficial coats of arms.

The earliest reference to the first of these appears in W. Maitland’s “History of London”, published in 1739. It is possible that this device was adopted, without authority, between the years 1629 and 1666, but unfortunately the records for that period were lost in the Great Fire.

Presumably, this device was depicted on the Company’s seal that was reported lost in 1810. As that loss rendered Company unable to purchase stock, the Court resolved to remedy the situation forthwith (but without reference to the College of Arms), and on 28 June 1810 it adopted what became known as the “pseudoheraldic device”, which had been designed by Henry Lawson (Master 1803-04 & 1822-23). Its composition emphasises that the early nineteenth century spectacle makers were also highly competent manufacturers of scientific instruments, and today it may be seen on the Upper Warden’s badge.

It was not until 1949 that the Company opened negotiations with the College of Arms for an official grant. This was made on 18th September 1950, after a degree of argument, and is properly described as follows:

Blazon: Vert a chevron or between three pairs of nose-spectacles proper framed of the second.
Crest: On a wreath or and vert two arms embowed vested vert cuffed or the hands proper holding a sun in splendour within an annulet gold.
Mantling: Vert doubled or.
Supporters: On either side a falcon proper belled or charged with a sword erect gules.

Development of Arms

On the 27th June 1771, a Mr. Kittle was paid the sum of £5 12s. 6d. for painting the Arms of the Company and, according to the Master’s and Wardens’ Account Books, he was given a further 10s 6d. to alter his original depiction. On 3rd October 1771 a “sash Case for Arms” was purchased for the munificent sum of £12, and on 1st January 1778 £2 12s. 6d. was paid for the seal of the Company’s Arms.

Were these the Arms painted on the side of the “Norville Chest” (see First Arms (1739?) picture)? Perhaps, and it is probably safe to assume that the Company adopted them at some time before 1739, for that is the date given in Bromley and Childs “ The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London” for the first reference to the Company’s Arms in W. Maitland’s “History of London”, published the same year. But bear in mind that the Spectacle Makers had no official right to a coat of Arms at that stage; the College of Arms has confirmed that it received no approach from the Company until the grant in 1950.

By 1810, the “1739/1778” seal had been lost, prompting the Upper Warden to report to the Court on 29th March that, “stock could not be properly bought as ordered at the last special Court by reason of his not having the seal of the Company” – from which it seems reasonable to deduce that a similar difficulty with the purchase of stock lay behind the adoption of the “1739” Arms and Seal. (It is a pity that so much conjecture surrounds this issue, but that is the price to be paid for previous Clerks’ failure to write full and accurate minutes!) Be that as it may, the Court resolved to remedy the situation forthwith (but without reference to the College of Arms), and on 28 June 1810 it adopted the “pseudoheraldic device” designed by Henry Lawson (Master 1803-04 & 1822-23), which today forms the basis of the Spectacle Makers’ Society’s emblem.

The “1739” Arms as depicted on the Norville Chest.

Henry Lawson’s “pseudoheraldic device”.