The display of a “family crest” to signal family identity is prevalent in the contemporary United States. However, during the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century, many American commentators perceived the widespread use of heraldry by the high bourgeoisie as at best a mark of social pretension and at worst a symptom of an un-American predilection for aristocracy. Over the course of a century, heraldic entrepreneurs sought to broaden the market for family crests, and in doing so Americanized heraldic practice. The early projects of Albert Welles, Frank Allaben and Frances M. Smith linked heraldry with new approaches to genealogical research and encouraged its use by a broad cross section of American society. In the late twentieth century, entrepreneur Gary Halbert sold millions of heraldic mementos that epitomized the modern commodification of history and identity. The result of a century of marketing is an American heraldry that is both more accessible than its European antecedents and less closely tied to verifiable genealogical relationships.
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