Rather like stamp albums, crest albums were produced to house collections of arms, crests and monograms which were cut from letterheads, notepaper and envelope flaps. Crests, as these were generically known, were produced by die-stamping either with or without ink. The design was cut, in mirror image, on the face of a metal die, usually steel, by a skilled craftsman known as the die-cutter, it was then mounted in a die press which was applied to the paper with great pressure, transferring the image to the paper. This process could be done without the application of ink, when the resulting crest is termed blind or albino. Embossing with ink could be achieved in two ways, the actual paper being embossed with the high points carrying ink, or the paper remaining undisturbed and the effect of embossing being achieved by the thickness of the ink alone. They are generally easily distinguished from lithographic printing by their tactile nature and reflective surface. Illustrated here is a die of a garter crest for a masonic lodge (Wellington No. 548).



Crested stationery made its appearance in England after the introduction of uniform penny postage in 1840. Prior to that date letters usually took the form of a sheet of paper which was folded to letter size for posting and sealed with sealing wax, often impressed with the writer's arms or crest. The crests embossed and printed on the flap of envelopes after this date were a continuation of the earlier procedure though lacking any practical use. So the new postal arrangements provided two collectibles: postage stamps and crests.

It appears to have been about 1862 that albums commenced to be produced for crests and offered to collectors; almost at the same time sets of crests were being produced for the collector. It is possible that these commercial ventures were catering for an existing hobby. I have a plain notebook watermarked 1861 which contains a contemporary collection.

Most of the earliest crest albums were very plain with each page printed in a single colour to create 12, 16 or 20 squares for the reception of crests. However, at least one of the early publishers produced an album incorporating designs. By 1867 Marcus Ward & Co., of Belfast were producing superbly designed and printed albums of a quality not to be surpassed.

The four major album producers were Marcus Ward & Co.; Stafford Smith & Co. (in conjunction with Marlborough & Co. and D Appleton & Co. of New York); William Lincoln (subsequently William Simpson Lincoln); and Stanley Gibbons & Co. All produced a series of albums over a number of years. Other publishers were Acton Griffith; Johnson & Rowe; William Johnson & Sons; A Lenègre (Paris); De La Rue & Co.; W Mack; Gale & Polden; and Ernest Nister.

Crested stationery was widely available: probably any competent printer would have been capable of producing this line of the trade, having the dies engraved by specialist die-cutters. However, the production of sets for collectors was largely in the hands of just a few firms for the trade was only worthwhile if a certain volume of sales could be generated. Known producers/vendors of sets include: T Culleton; Stafford Smith & Co.; William (and William Simpson) Lincoln; Gale & Polden and Stanley Gibbons & Co. See also Heraldic on the Topics page for further information on some of the above firms and on others involved in the trade.

Large numbers of sets were produced, including crests of the army regiments and of the ships of the royal navy, arms and crests of peers and bishops, arms of schools, universities and city companies. Whilst the pastime was very firmly centred on the United Kingdom it was pursued elsewhere, notably by the British population in India, but also in France, Australia and America.

Apart from crests issued in sets, and those gracing private stationery, they were also to be found on the letterheads and envelopes of gentlemen's clubs, hotels, masonic lodges, civic authorities and a multitude of trading and commercial houses.

The hobby continued into the twentieth century but appears to have more or less ceased with the First World War, when a generation of youth had other matters to occupy their time.



I shall always be pleased to have details of any albums, particularly publishers' details and any manuscript dates, as I try to establish publication dates of the various albums and editions. I am also interested in identifying the sets which were produced in vast numbers. I have several of these in the original undivided sheets, others are often obvious when mounted together on an album page.

I shall be happy to pass on such information as I have on particular albums, publishers and others involved in the commercial promotion of the pastime, and would welcome correspondence on the topic.


An exhibition of material from the collection was hosted by Kilkenny Archaeological Society, Kilkenny, Ireland during the summer of 2003.

A book Collecting arms, crests and monograms: a forgotten pastime was published in connection with the above exhibition. The contribution of the book to the study of ephemera was recognised with the grant to the author of the Ephemera Society Award in 2004. Further details at

I purchase albums, collections of loose crests, printers' samples and any related material. Fullest details of albums, condition, completeness, etc., will enable me to consider offers.

An American stationer's & engraver's sample album, Massachusetts, c1870.


Follow the links on my TOPICS PAGE


About Edward Law, including interests, bibliography, and the Victorian prize medals of Huddersfield College.

The history of Huddersfield and district, essays and research material.

Two important research articles on the silver industry in Sheffield and Sheffield silversmiths.

A brief outline of Anastatic printing with reference to crest and photograph albums.

The history of Kilkenny city and county, essays and research material.

Notes and queries on Free Franks of the United Kingdom.


LINKS to other relevant sites:
The Ephemera Society. For collectors of, and dealers in, ephemera.

Page updated 29 June 2011