Most heraldry designed in the Victorian era was intentionally presumptuous. It crowded as many illustrious affectations into as small a space as possible. The result was beautiful and increasingly detailed heraldic artwork, sometimes used for show and sometimes just for contracts.
The historic Rothschild coat-of-arms displayed at right is typical of the times. The Victorian-ilk heraldry bears great resemblance to the re-popularized and ostentatious Renaissance styles.
Copper-plate engravings of armorial bookplates – available by custom order – were quite in demand with the General Public and sometimes commanded royal prices.
In general, armorial shields could be spotted on the sides of coaches, or worked into stained glass designs, or even displayed or disguised in Victorian architecture. University fraternities, such as Psi Upsilon, were going to great lengths to define and register their heraldic coats-of-arms.
A friendly web page with articles and resources is at The Heraldry Society www.theheraldrysociety.com. Other good reference sources exist with cultural historical groups, such as The Hispanic Society of America which often displays armorial textiles.
Debates arose, officially and unofficially, during the Victorian Era over whether a true ‘gentleman’ carried a coat-of-arms, or not, and about whether he could be considered a true gentleman if he didn’t. Definitive answers were unavailable, as heraldry even to this day is largely under-regulated.
Attempts to redefine and consequently regulate popular usage of heraldry were made by barrister Arthur Charles Fox-Davies. His tome, The Art of Heraldry – An Encyclopedia of Armory, [0 906223 34 2] attested to his status as an expert on heraldry during Victorian times. His angle, though, was to disprove most usage of heraldry by any but certain registered armorial families in English and Welsh domain. (His studies didn’t cover other countries or groups, for the most part.)
Civic heraldry designed during the Victorian Era remained true to popular sentiments with aggrandized artistry, making for fascinating displays intended to hold audiences enrapt.
The topic was a hotbed, and as a result, many heraldic artists decided to remain anonymous. Because heraldry was mostly unregulated, bestiaries listing definitions of the elements were closely horded like State Secrets. To this day, many countries and their armigers don’t share bestiaries with the public.