DNA double helix as an heraldic charge

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Arthur Radburn
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Joined: 11 Jul 2012, 09:56
Location: South Africa

DNA double helix as an heraldic charge

Postby Arthur Radburn » 15 Jul 2016, 18:51

This topic was inspired by the recent design of arms (discussed in the Members' Area), which have a DNA double helix as the principal charge.

The double helix made its heraldic debut in the 1960s, and is a suitable charge for the arms of people and institutions connected with biology and medicine. What are the conventions of blazoning and emblazoning it? Well, we can deduce them from examples to hand.


Here are five examples, from three countries :
• University of Warwick (College of Arms grant, 1966)
• South African Medical Research Council (Bureau of Heraldry registration, 1971)
• Baron Drayson (College of Arms grant, 2007)
• Gen-Find Research Associates Inc (Canadian Heraldic Authority grant, 2010)
• Canadian Food Inspection Agency (Canadian Heraldic Authority grant, 2013).

The University of Warwick has "... on a chief Argent a representation of a DNA double helix, spirals Azure lined Gules with connecting lines Or".

The SAMRC has "... on a pale Or ... a double helix Gules".

Lord Drayson's blazon is "Sable a Mullet of eight points gyronny Or and Argent between four strands of DNA issuing in saltire Argent and four strands of DNA issuing in cross Or".

Gen-Find has "...a spiral of two bars azure," to "evoke" the DNA double helix rather than to represent it directly.

The CFIA has "... a double helix fesswise," the CHA's explanatory notes calling it "simplified".


These examples show that :

• the charge can be called a "DNA double helix", or a "strand of DNA", or a "double helix" without mention of DNA;

• it can be "evoked" as "a spiral of two bars";

• there's no default orientation -- the charge can be displayed fesswise, palewise, in saltire, and in cross, and no doubt other ways too;

• the orientation therefore needs to be specified in the blazon (unless it's on an ordinary, where it's assumed to follow the direction of the ordinary);

• evidently it's the default that the charge stretches the full width or height of the field -- if it doesn't, it would presumably be blazoned as "couped";

• the number of loops is not fixed, nor are the "connecting lines" always shown.


What else can we say about the DNA double helix as an heraldic charge?

Does anyone have any other examples to look at and discuss?

Over to the forum!
Arthur Radburn
IAAH Vice-President : Heraldic Education

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