I have a few coats of arms issued by the South African Government, I’ve generally referred to the actual physical document as Letters Patent and not a Grant of Arms. A grant is seen as having been issued with some form of Royal Warrant attached to it as opposed to being issued officially by a government. Recently I had some criticism from another South African armiger stating that the arms issued by South Africa were not Letters Patent but merely Certificates of Registration. This gave me pause to think and when I asked the person who stated the above, they decided to reply with a flippant remark if that I couldn’t see the difference then clearly, they couldn’t explain it. So, what are Letters Patent? A quick glance online gives several definitions but for the sake of brevity I will refer to the online dictionary.com which says ‘an open document issued by a monarch or government conferring a patent or other right.’ (sic).
So the coats of arms issued by the Bureau of Heraldry, are they an open public document? Yes. Are they issued officially by their Government? Yes. Do they confer the right of ownership for a coat of arms? Yes! So why do they refer to their coats of arms as Certificate of Registration? In order to clarify this, I had to ask the Deputy Director of the Bureau of Heraldry directly. What follows is an extract exactly as stated by Mr Marcel van Rossum OMBB-
The College of Arms issues “letters patent” the Bureau of Heraldry issues “certificates of registration”. For all intents and purposes it’s the same thing. The College of Arms “grants” in the name of the monarch and in South Africa under the Heraldry Act (1962) the certificate is “issued”. In both cases the heraldic representation so issued and recorded affords the applicant sole ownership of the unique design.
Marcel van Rossum OMBB
Bureau Of Heraldry
So, there we have it, to all intents and purpose they are the same thing but different only in the language of usage. To illustrate in England law enforcement officers are referred to as Constables and in Ireland as Gardas. Here in the explanation of language we discover that indeed it is reasonable to see arms issued by the South African Government known locally as 'Certificates of Registration' to be referred more commonly in other parts of the world as 'Letters Patent'.