Heraldry and the gun

Achievements of Arms in their entirety (shield, crest, motto, supporters) are rarely seen on firearms; shields of Arms and, particularly, crests of Arms are much more likely to be used. There is in this something of an historical progression, or more precisely a process of simplification.  In general terms, the Achievements are almost always the oldest; then came the shields, which are far less complex, and then there were the crests.

The arbiter was usually space.  There was plenty of room on a wheellock, even a pistol, because the guns were large and often had decorative panels on which entire Achievements could be engraved.  But as guns became smaller, and wooden butts and fore-ends became almost universal, the spaces that could be allotted to decoration shrank.  Eventually, especially in Britain where European-style stock carving is exceptionally rare, space for personal marks reduced to a small escutcheon let into woodwork.

Armorial bearings have been associated with firearms almost as far back as the emergence of the hand-cannon, their lengthy heyday ending only as the First World War began.  Crests of Arms can still be found on modern sporting guns, but it is far easier to apply the owner’s initials to a case-lid.  National attitudes to heraldry can also play their part.  Cyphers and monograms are more commonly encountered on European sporting guns than crests of Arms, though the reverse seems to be true of the British market.  This is difficult to explain, particularly as in Germany the crest is an individual’s identifier and family members all display the same Arms; in Britain the crest is commonly shared by the family, individual distinctions (‘differences’) being added to the shield of Arms in a way largely unseen in Europe.  But it is true that many high-status items — notably of Teutonic origin — are marked simply with a monogram surmounted by a crown or coronet of rank.

National Arms have proved to be a popular method of indicating ownership of military stores, ranging from belts and cartridge pouches to firearms, vehicles and aircraft. Analysing the Arms of Spain, for example, shows how knowledge of changes can help dating and identification. Though the subject of continual adaptation, the Spanish Arms remained remarkably constant from the accession of Felipe V in 1700 until 1931, when Alphonso XIII abolished the distinction that had been made between the ‘large’ Royal Arms (quarterly of six, with partitioning within several of the quarters, Flanders and Tyrol enty en point, and an escutcheon of Castile, León, Aragón, Navarra and Granada overall) and the ‘small’ National Arms, which were effectively the escutcheon of the larger version.

The ‘small Arms’ used from 1700 until the first Spanish republic was proclaimed in 1873, and then from the restoration of the monarchy at the end of 1874 until 1931, were ‘quarterly Castilla, León, Aragón and Navarra’ — gules, a triple-towered castle or, masoned sable and ajouty azure (for Castilla); argent, a lion rampant purpure crowned or, langued and armed gules (for León); or, four pallets gules (for Aragón); gules, a chain-wheel or, at its centre an emerald gemstone proper (for Navarra); in base, ‘enty en point’, a pomegranate leaved and slipped proper (for Granada); overall, ‘on an oval escutcheon, azure a bordure gules, three fleurs-de-lys or’ (Borbón, for the royal family). The illustrations, from Wikipedia, show how this heraldic language was interpreteted.

The shield was surmounted by a royal crown and sometimes flanked by the Pillars of Hercules ‘issuing from the sea, the dexter royally crowned and wrapped with an escrol inscribed PLUS, the sinister royally crowned and wrapped with an escrol inscribed ULTRA.  The yoke had been the badge of Isabel de Castilla, and the sheaf or ‘garb’ of five arrows was the original badge of Fernando II de Aragón.

The first Spanish Republic, which lasted a mere eighteen months in 1873–4, adopted a minor variation of the small Arms: the royal crown surmounting the shield was replaced by a distinctive mural crown with four visible towers, and crowns were removed from the Pillars of Hercules.  The second republic, which lasted from April 1931 until the end of the Civil War in April 1939, retained the Arms of the first republic, excepting that the rampant lion of León also lost its crown.

After the end of the Civil War, the Franco regime introduced a new version of the ‘large Arms’ adapted from the earlier Royal Arms.  These were grand quarterly: 1 and 4, quarterly Castilla and León; 2 and 3, parted per pale, Aragón and Navarra; enty en point Granada.  The shield of Arms was superposed on ‘the Eagle of St John sable, displayed, wings inverted, around its head a nimbus or and an escrol argent of three panels inscribed UNA GRANDE LIBRE, beneath the wings a yoke gules to dexter and a sheaf of arrows gules to sinister, from the centre of each a riband gules’.

In 1945, the royal crown of the dexter Pillar of Hercules gave way to a Habsburg crown, and the scrolls around the head of the eagle and the pillars changed from argent to gules.  This style remained in vogue until the death of Franco in 1975 and the ensuing restoration of the monarchy, when the Pillars of Hercules were moved inside the wings of the eagle, which also gained a more naturalistic appearance.  Finally, on 5th October 1981, a new version of the Arms was approved.  This was basically the simplified small type used by the pre-1939 Republics, with the Borbón escutcheon, but the eagle was abandoned and crowns above the shield and the Pillars of Hercules reverted to a closed-arch design.

Many flags, standards, regimental colours and weapons have borne all or part of the Spanish Arms, the crowned simple-quartered shield being most commonly encountered.  However, post-1939 flags — and some firearms made in La Coruña in the 1940s and 1950s — included the eagle and the badges in the design, and the air-force ensign displayed the ‘large’ achievement of Arms in its entirety until 1981.

Among the many one-time Hispanic dominions in the Americas, several had conventional shield-based Arms while others used Arms within an oval cartouche.  The former included Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Peru and Venezuela; the latter included Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Uruguay.  The Chilean Arms were designed in 1834 by Charles Wood Taylor and are largely unchanged: ‘party per fess azure and gules, a five-point star argent’ — a silver star on a field split horizontally, blue above red.  The shield is surmounted by a crest, ‘on a wreath azure, argent and gules, three rhea feathers of the colours’.  A compartment supports to dexter the huemul or Andean Deer (Hippocamelus bisulcus), and to sinister a condor, each proper (naturally coloured) and navally crowned.  A scroll bears the motto POR LA RAZÓN O LA FUERZA (‘By right or might’).

Serbia and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (‘Yugoslavia’ from 3rd October 1929) had Arms which can be distinguished only by the design of the escutcheon.  The Serbian Arms adopted in 1882 (but based on mediaeval precedents) came in a large version, within a pavilion, and as a smaller free-standing shield surmounted by a crown.  The blazon was simple: ‘on a shield gules, a two-headed eagle displayed argent, beaked and armed or, two fleurs-de-lys or; overall, an escutcheon gules, a cross argent between four fire-steels argent’.  The fire-steels are widely regarded as an embodiment of CCCC samo sloga Srbina spasava, ‘Only unity saves the Serbs’.  The Arms regularly appeared on flags, standards and weaponry.

After the First World War, Serbia was united with the Croats and Slovenes in what subsequently became Yugoslavia.  The national Arms duplicated those of Serbia, though the crown took Byzantine form and the escutcheon was changed to reflect the tricorporate status of the new country.  The cross and fire-steel escutcheon of Serbia and the Arms of Croatia, ‘chequy gules and argent’, were placed above the Arms of Krain, ‘azure, above a crescent argent three mullets or’ for the Slovenians. The Royal Arms, said to have been adopted in 1918, showed the shield divided per fess, with the chief partitioned per pale for Serbia and Croatia.  However, the national Arms of 1919, formally adopted in 1921, had the horizontal line of partition formed in such a way that the chief took the form of conjoined escutcheons.  Separation is also sometimes accentuated by outlining each escutcheon with the azure of the field.  In small applications, such as the dies used to roll marks into the receivers of rifles, the distinction was rarely acknowledged: the fess line was simply drawn straight.

Problems encountered in reducing the complexity of Arms to small punches inevitably led to simplification, particularly if the original design was as complicated as the eagles associated with the Austria-Hungary, the German Empire and Russia.

The confederation of Germany during the Franco–Prussian War of 1870–1 was accompanied by the adoption of a variant of the Prussian Arms, but this had been superseded within a few months by a definitive form.  A displayed eagle on a shield surmounted by the Crown of Charlemagne, and encircled by the collar of the Order of the Black Eagle with a dependent Badge of the Order, bore an escutcheon of a displayed eagle, royally crowned (for Prussia), with an inescutcheon quarterly argent and sable (for Hohenzollern). This lasted only until December 1888, when a simpler form was adopted.  The original escutcheon became the shield of Arms, the inescutcheon became the escutcheon, and the displayed eagle, beaked, legged and armed gules, was placed behind the shield as a supporter.  The collar of the Order of the Black Eagle encircled the shield on the eagle’s breast.

The perfected Imperial Arms could be found on the navy ensign, where large size allowed detail to be maintained.  But it — or, more precisely, the Prussian eagle of the escutcheon, with sceptre and orb — also laid the basis for the extreme simplification of proof and property marks.  The national Arms of the Weimar Republic (1919–33) comprised a simpler version of the black eagle displayed, ‘beaked, legged and armed gules’, on a gold field. The eagle of the Third Reich national badge or Hoheitszeichen, adopted in November 1935, simply clasped a swastika enwreathed in laurel; the shield had been abandoned. The ultimate expression of the quest for simplicity can be found in the ‘eagles’ used by the military inspectorate during the Third Reich (1933–45), which could be drawn with merely five strokes to make seven straight lines.

Among the users of heraldry-like devices have been Brazil, whose crest, customarily accompanied prior to 1968 by ‘Estados Unidos do Brasil’ (or simply ‘E.U. do Brasil’), is a large five‑point prismatic star impaled on a sword with its point uppermost.  A constellation of five stars, the Southern Cross, lies within a circlet of small stars on the centre of the prismatic star.  The star, sword and circlet may be contained within a wreath of laurel and coffee leaves superimposed on a stylised sunburst.  The legend ESTADOS UNIDOS DO BRASIL and 15 DO NOVEMBRE DE 1889 (the date of the formation of the Brazilian republic) may be found on a scroll.


The absence of countries or states from this list indicates either that they applied no marks which could be classified as ‘national’, or, alternatively, that no reliable information has been obtained.   Arms have often been changed when crowns have changed hands, when republics have superseded monarchies, or with the addition (alternatively, loss) of provinces and colonies; consequently, the notes that follow are merely as guidelines.  In addition, restrictions of space have often forced the die-engravers to simplify or even omit details.

Argentina.  Found on stores ranging from Maxim machine-guns and Mauser rifles to Ballester-Molina pistols, bayonets and accoutrements, the national Arms consisted of an oval shield containing two hands clasping a Phrygian or Liberty Cap on a pole within a wreath of laurel, generally surmounted by a sunburst (Sol de Mayo).  Inscriptions will be in Spanish, and may be accompanied by E–A or EJERCITO ARGENTINO.

Australia.  No readily identifiable national marks have been used, other than D or DD (‘Department of Defence’) and the marks applied by individual states — e.g., W.A. for Western Australia or TAS. for Tasmania.  Many state-marks were applied before the 1900 confederation.

Austria.  Some post-1945 guns will bear a displayed eagle mark, often accompanied by BH (Bundesheer, ‘state army’).  The Austrian eagle has a single head topped by a mural (or ‘civic’) crown, and a breast shield charged with a single horizontal bar.  One talon holds a hammer, while the other clasps a sickle; broken shackles signify release from oppression.

Austria-Hungary.  No national marks were applied, though the double-headed Habsburg eagle was used as a military proof mark.

Bavaria.  National markings were rarely used on small-arms, though the shield of the state Arms — a distinctive lozengy pattern — is perpetuated in the mark applied by the München proof house. Royal cyphers were also used.

Belgium.  No specifically heraldic national marks have been identified.  However, ABL (a bilingual French and Flemish confection of ‘Belgian Army’, Armee Belge—Belge Leger), GB (Gouvernement Belge, ‘Belgian Government’) and specific cyphers will be encountered.

Bolivia.  The arms consist of a shield bearing a depiction of Potosi mountain in a landscape, with a breadfruit tree, a llama and a wheatsheaf, within a circlet containing the name of the country and nine stars.  The Arms are customarily surmounted by an enwreathed condor and backed by a trophy of two crossed cannon, four bayonetted rifles, and three pairs of national flags.  One cannon-mouth holds a Phyrgian Cap; the other contains an axe.  The marks may be found beneath EJERCITO DE BOLIVIA (‘Bolivian army’); inscriptions will be in Spanish.

Brazil.  Customarily accompanied prior to 1968 by Estados Unidos do Brasil (or simply ‘E.U. do Brasil’), the crest consists of a large five point prismatic star impaled on a sword, point uppermost.  A constellation of five stars, the Southern Cross, lies within a circlet of small stars on the centre of the prismatic star; the circlet originally contained twenty stars representing the original provinces, but the total was increased to 21 in 1960, to 22 in 1962, to 23 in 1977, to 24 in 1981 and finally to 27 in 1989.  Marks found on weapons ranging from Mauser rifles to Madsen submachine-guns and FN FAL rifles customarily have twenty-star circlets.  The device is generally contained within a wreath of laurel and coffee leaves, and may be placed on a stylised sunburst, particularly on post-1930 guns.  The legend ESTADOS UNIDOS DO BRASIL and 15 DO NOVEMBRE DE 1889 (the date of the formation of the Brazilian republic) may be found on a scroll.  Property marks may take the form of the letter B, for ‘Brasil’, usually within a circle or an encircled six-point star. Inscriptions will be in Portuguese, highlighted by a preference for ‘Berlim’ (Berlin); EXERCITO BRASILEIRO (‘Brazilian army’) has also been widely used.

Britain.  No specifically national marks have been used, though the BO of the Board of Ordnance (prior to 1855) and the WD of the War Department (post-1855) will be found with the Broad Arrow.  Royal cyphers have also been used.

Bulgaria.  The Arms comprised a lion rampant on a shield, sometimes, especially on older guns, superimposed on a pavilion and supported by two lance-bearing lions.  This was replaced early in the twentieth century by a rampant lion on a shield beneath a crown supported on two batons, found on Parabellum pistols and Maxim machine-guns supplied shortly before the First Balkan War began.  From 1947 onward, the lion appeared on a demi-cogwheel within a wreath of wheat ears separated at their tips by a five-point star.  A small version of the Bulgarian lion has been used as a military proof- or property mark.

Canada.  Small-arms used during the period of British domination, including Ross rifles, bore a Broad Arrow within C.  Modern military stores may instead bear a stylised maple leaf.

Chile.  Encountered above the chambers of 7mm Mauser rifles or on the slides of 9mm Steyr-Hahn pistols, the Chilean Arms consist of a five-point prismatic star on a shield halved horizontally, with a crest of three rhea feathers, supported by a crowned Huemal (Andean deer) and a crowned condor.  They will usually be found on a mound strewn with laurel, particularly when impressed into butts; stock-marks may be accompanied by M.F. in a rectangular cartouche, sometimes placed above the date of manufacture or reconstruction.  Some guns display a chamber mark consisting of crossed slung Mauser carbines, CHILE and ORDEN Y PATRIA; others have an unidentified stock roundel that seems to consist of ‘C’, ‘I’, ‘A’ and ‘E’, with the first and last letters dominant.  Inscriptions will be in Spanish.

China.  Marks in Chinese characters are usually distinctive, but can easily be confused with Japanese.  Guns made in the principal Chinese arsenal in Hanyang will be marked with a double interlocking diamond logo, which, particularly on guns made in the 1930s, may be combined into a flattened octagonal border enclosing the designation.  Others may have a stylised cogwheel enclosing a bow-and-arrow, the significance of which is still not known; and others may show a stylised disc-like sun with twelve short pointed rays, adopted in 1928 but customarily used merely as a property or proof mark on military stores.

Colombia.  Customarily surmounted by a condor with shackles in its beak and a scroll bearing LIBERTAD Y ORDEN, the Arms consist of a pomegranate and two cornucopiae above a Phrygian Cap on a spear-head, and a representation of the Isthmus of Panama separating a sailing ship on the Caribbean Sea from a similar ship on the Pacific Ocean.  The shield was customarily placed on two pairs of flags and backed by a sunburst within an oval border, though guns supplied by Českosolvenská Zbrojovka after c. 1930 lacked the sunburst and border and had REPÚBLICA DE COLOMBIA added beneath the Arms.  Others displayed EJERCITO DE COLOMBIA (‘Colombian army’), whereas Mauser rifles supplied in the 1950s by Fabrique Nationale used COLOMBIA and FUERZAS MILITARES (‘Military forces’).  Inscriptions will be in Spanish.

Costa Rica.  The Arms consist of a shield bearing seven stars above the three volcanoes (representing the Isthmus of Panama) separating sailing ships on the Pacific ocean and Caribbean Sea, the latter being accompanied by a sun rising over the horizon.  Marks will be in Spanish.

Croatia.  Marks applied during the German occupation during the Second World War featured the traditional chequered shield beneath the letter U within an eight-looped rope border.  This denoted the Uštaze, a right-wing Catholic militia raised by Ante Pavelic.

Cuba.  Found on firearms ranging from Remington-Lee rifles to the FN FAL, the Arms used from 1902 until 1958 consisted of a shield divided into three.  The top bears a key superimposed on land- and seascape representing the Gulf of Mexico; the lower portions contain five diagonal bars and a Royal Palm in a stylised pastoral scene.  A single supporter in the form of a fasces topped with a Phyrgian Cap lies behind the shield, which may be enreathed in oak and laurel.  Inscriptions will be in Spanish.

Czechoslovakia.  Guns will sometimes bear the crowned two-tailed Lion of Bohemia, charged prior to 1960 with a breast shield (for Slovakia) bearing a double-armed cross on a base of three mountains.  They may also be marked ČSK for Československa (‘Czechoslovakia’).  The confederation, something of an articial creation, split in 1997 into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Denmark.  National markings were rarely used on firearms.  However, royal cyphers will be found.

Dominican Republic.  The Arms consist of a plain cross on a shield, charged with six national flags, a Cross of Christ and an open Bible.  The shield may be enwreathed in palm- and laurel leaves.  Marks will be in Spanish.

Ecuador.  The Arms consisted of an oval shield or cartouche displaying a landscape (featuring the volcano Chimborazo) rising, beneath a shining sun set on a band bearing the March–June zodiacal signs.  A steamer rides off the mouth of the Rio Guyas.  Surmounted by a condor, the device is backed by two paired flags and a wreath of palm and laurel, and will usually also feature a fasces at its base.  Marks will be in Spanish.

Egypt.  A country with a troubled history, this has rarely applied distinctive marks to its guns.  However, the Eagle of Saladin was used in 1952–8 and from 1984 to date, and a stylised Hawk of Quraish during the Federation of Arab Republics (1972–7).  The Egyptian army marks customarily had breast shields divided vertically into three.  Marks will be in Arabic.

El Salvador.  Rifles will bear a triangular seascape with five volcanoes beneath a rainbow and a staff supporting an enrayed Phrygian Cap, which may be encircled by the date of independence 15 DE SET. DE 1821.  This is usually backed by five national flags and may be enwreathed in laurel.

Estonia.  The Arms comprised three lions passant guardant on a plain shield.  It is not known to have been used on small-arms.

Ethiopia.  Guns used in Ethiopia may bear the Lion of Judah, apparently a property mark, and a mark consisting of the imperial crown above an Amharic inscription and a stylised lion’s-head mask within a wreath of laurel (?).  Others are said to bear the cypher of Haile Selassie within a wreath of a grapevine and a wheat-ear.

Finland.  Small-arms used in Finland rarely bear national markings, though S.A. and Sk.Y marks are common.  A few guns have been reported bearing a fylfot, or swastika, with its arms pointing to the left (cf., the marks used in Germany during the Third Reich pointed to the right), but so have some modern Chinese firearms and the attribution can be unclear.

France.  National insignia has rarely, if ever appeared on modern military small-arms.  However, R.F. for République Française (‘French Republic’) has been reported on the grips of Unique and other handguns.

Germany.  Though imperial cyphers and displayed-eagle military proof marks were used prior to 1918, no national marks were applied with the exception of DEUTSCHES REICH (‘German Empire’) on captured guns or Beutegewehre.  Guns made during the Third Reich may bear an assortment of marks based on the displayed-eagle state emblem, but these were customarily used simply as proof and inspectors’ marks.  The swastika or Hakenkreuz was rarely used, excepting in marks applied by some of the paramilitary formations.

Greece.  These firearms may bear the National Arms, comprising a cross on a horizontally-barred shield enwreathed in laurel.  Marks will be in Greek.

Guatemala.  Guns often bore a quetzal bird perched on a scroll reading LIBERTAD DE 15 DE SET. DE 1821 (Liberation day, 15th September 1821), with two bayonetted rifles crossed above two crossed sabres within a wreath of laurel tied with a riband recording the national motto (?).  Marks will be in Spanish.

Haiti.  The National Arms consisted of a trophy of anchors, swords, flags, drums, rifles, cannon and cannon balls in front of an Emperor Palm, superimposed (or topped by) on a Phrygian Cap on a vertical staff.  Marks will be in Spanish.

Honduras.  Last revised in 1935, the national Arms consists of a triangle with five flames (now a sun?), flanked by two towers, in front of a Mayan pyramid rising from the sea.  Topped by a quiver of arrows and two cornucopiae, this was set inside a border bearing the date of independence (15th September 1821).  Marks will be in Spanish.

Hungary.  Part of Austria-Hungary (q.v.) until 1918.  Hungarian firearms made in 1918–43 will occasionally bear a shield, halved vertically.  One half contains seven bars; the other has a double-armed cross, encircled by a coronet, on a triple-step base or (particularly in later examples) a grassed mound.  The mark is customarily surmounted by St Stephen’s Crown, which is topped by a distinctive bent cross.  Hungarian small-arms produced since the Communists came to power in 1948 (e.g., Tokarev 48M pistols) may display a crest of a crossed hammer and sword within a circlet of wheat-ears.

India.  Part of the British Empire until 1947, the Indian authorities applied marks in the form of ‘I’ beneath a Broad Arrow to their military stores.  Post-independence weapons will display the cap of the Pillar of Sarnath, created by the Buddhist emperor Asoka (by whose name it is often known).  Only three of the pillar-cap lions are visible.

Indonesia.  The national emblem, the Garuda, a mythical half-human bird, may be found on Beretta-made Garand rifles and a range of machine-guns.  Other firearms will bear a large five-point star, from the Presidential flag.  A TNI property mark (Tentara National Indonesia) will also be encountered.

Iran.  Some guns will bear the mark of the imperial dynasty, which consisted of a scimitar-wielding lion backed by a rising sun.  This customarily appears beneath a Pahlavi crown within a wreath of oak and laurel leaves.  See also ‘Persia’.

Iraq.  Some guns — Lee-Enfield rifles, for example — will bear a mark comprising an Arabic character (appearing as a reversed angular ‘S’) within a triangle.  More modern weapons may display what appears to be a monogram comprising ‘A’ and an inverted ‘2’, which is said to be an Arabic abbreviation used by the Republican Guard.

Ireland (Eire).  No national markings.

Israel.  The six-point Magen David (‘Star of David’) appears in the Defence Force badge, accompanied by a sword, an olive branch and a scroll bearing the national motto.  Marks will be in Hebrew.

Italy.  The Arms of Savoy were used by the Kingdom of Italy until 1946, but rarely if ever appeared on weapons. They consisted of a shield bearing a St George’s Cross within a plain border. A bundled Fasces, however, may be found on firearms made during the supremacy of Benito Mussolini (1922–43).

Japan.  An imperial Mon in the form of a stylised chrysanthemum was used on small-arms.

Korea.  The emblem of a circular yin-yang and four Kwae trigrams representing the four seasons (or the elements of creation) may have been used.

Laos.  Guns may be marked with an emblem depicting three elephants beneath a parasol.

Latvia.  The Arms consisted of a shield charged with a rising half-sun above a lion and a griffin in separate quarters.

Liberia.  A shield bearing a star above eleven vertical bars may have been used.  Marks will be in English.

Lithuania.  The Shield of Arms consisted of a sword-wielding knight mounted on a rearing horse, his own shield being charged with a Patriarchal Cross.  However, a highly stylised crown may be found on small-arms.

Luxembourg.  The Arms consisted of a crowned lion rampant on a horizontally-barred shield, originally with an inescutcheon in the form of a small shield bearing the Netherlands lion (q.v.) on a billeted ground.  The dialect name Letzebourg may be used instead of ‘Luxembourg’.

Manchuria (Manchukuo).  This short-lived republic, formed in the 1930s under Japanese control, does not seem to have used any identifiable national marks other than the cross-and-concentric-circle attributed to Mukden arsenal.

Mexico.  A distinctive mark of an eagle with a snake in its beak, perched on a cactus on an island in a lake, has been used on military firearms for many years.  The device is usually enwreathed in oak and laurel.  Marks on guns imported into Mexico generally take the form of an heraldic displayed eagle, and often also bear REPÚBLICA MEXICANA; indigenous products use a less formal mark, more traditionally Aztec, accompanied by FÁBRICA NACIONAL DE ARMAS – MEXICO D.F.  Weapons used by Mexican insurgents may bear a Phyrgian Cap on a sunburst, accompanied by R and M or, alternatively, R de M.  Inscriptions will be in Spanish.

Netherlands.  Rarely encountered on firearms, the National Arms bear a rampant lion (clutching a sword and a sheaf of arrows) on a plain ground strewn with gold billets. Royal cyphers have also been used.

New Zealand.  Part of the British Empire and Commonwealth, the New Zealand authorities often marked their service weapons with N and Z, separated by a Broad Arrow.

Nicaragua.  The National Arms comprised five volcanoes and an enrayed Phrygian Cap, on a staff rising out of a seascape beneath a rainbow. Marks will be in Spanish.

Norway.  A mark of a crowned lion bearing the Axe of St Olav has been widely used.  Royal cyphers have also been used.

Orange Free State.  This short-lived republic simply used O.V.S. on its small-arms.

Paraguay.  The principal mark found on Mauser rifles and FN-Browning pistols consisted of a five-point prismatic star (Estrella de Mayo) on a stylised sunburst, generally within a wreath of palm- and olive leaves—though laurel alone seems to have been used on most guns.  An oval border and also sometimes REPÚBLICA DEL PARAGUAY will also often appear.  Inscriptions will be in Spanish.

Persia.  See ‘Iran’.

Peru.  The National Arms consisted of a shield divided into three, with a llama and a chichona tree (each in an upper compartment) above a cornucopia.  The shield was usually placed on two pairs of national flags, surmounted by a sunburst and (alternatively, or) wreath of laurel, surrounded by a wreath of palm- and olive leaves.  Guns may also be marked REPÚBLICA PERUANA or REPÚBLICA DEL PERU. Language: Spanish.

Philippines.  Guns may be marked R.O.P. (‘Republic of the Philippines’).

Poland.  Part of Russia until the Revolution of 1917.  Guns may bear a crowned single-headed displayed eagle, often accompanied by R and P for Reszpublika Polska (‘Polish Republic’) or F.B., RADOM, and the date; FB within a triangle may also be found.

Portugal.  Small-arms may bear a version of the National Arms, which comprised a shield within a shield, containing five small shields each charged with five discs; seven castles (the ‘Bordure of Castile’) lay around the outer edge of the large shield, the whole being placed on an Armillary Sphere and surrounded by an unusually naturalistic ‘spray-wreath’ of laurel leaves.  Royal cyphers have also been used.

Prussia.   The displayed-eagle national mark was customarily confined to proof marks.  Imperial cyphers will also be found.

Romania.  A large crown was used on many pre-1918 small-arms, customarily above the designation (e.g., ARMA MD. 1892).  Royal cyphers have also been used.

Russia (Tsarist, pre-1917).  The double-headed imperial eagle was widely used in proof and property marks.  It can be distinguished by its double crowned heads, beneath a single large crown symbolising the unity of the many provinces.  It should bear a breast shield showing St George slaying the Dragon (taken from the Arms of Moscow), an encircling collar of the Order of St Andrew, and four small shields on each wing bearing the Arms of major cities and provices of the Empire.  However, most small-arms marks are too small to show these in detail.  Inscriptions will be in Cyrillic (shared only by Bulgaria, Serbia and Yugoslavia prior to 1948).

Saudi Arabia.  The National Arms consists of crossed scimitars beneath a palm tree, though the current flag bears only a single Sword of Abd al-Aziz (straight-bladed since 1981) beneath the shahada — an expression of the creed of Islam in Kufic script.

Saxony.  No national markings, though royal cyphers were used.

Serbia.  Found on Mauser rifles, amongst other guns, the pre-1918 Arms consisted of a pavilion containing a double-headed eagle on a shield, with an inescutcheon or ‘breast shield’ bearing a cross with a decorative striking-steel in each quarter.

Siam.  The Chakra mark was widely used on Siamese military stores.  Originally used in Indian to describe a spinning wheel, ‘Chakra’ came to signify a war-quoit with a series of flame-like blades issuing from a circle.  The largest examples, particularly those used prior to the 1920s, sometimes contained lines radiating from the top centre of the inner ring; later examples usually have concentric-circle interiors.

Slovakian Republic.  Formed by the German authorities during the Second World War, the armed forces of this short-lived territory marked small-arms with a Patriarchal Cross atop three mounds.

South Africa.  Part of the British Empire and Commonwealth until 1960, South African weapons of this period were marked U (for ‘Union of South Africa’), often containing a Broad Arrow.

Spain.  The National Arms have been revised many times, but, owing to the need for compact marks, those used on small-arms have almost always taken a standardised simplified form.  The marks found on stores ranging from Mauser rifles to Astra pistols comprise a crowned shield quartered with a castle (for Castile), a lion (Leon), vertical bars (Aragon) and a ‘wheel of chains’ (Navarra).  An inescutcheon bore three fleurs-de-lis for the House of Borbon on a plain ground, but a small compartment at the shield-tip, which should have contained the pomegranate of Granada, was customarily voided owing to lack of space.  Spanish-made Mausers often omitted the Arms, instead bearing a crown over FÁBRICA DE ARMAS, OVIEDO and the date.  The so-called Falangist guns, made during the Spanish Civil War of 1936–9, often by Industrias de Guerra de Cataluña, were marked with a crossed fasces and a sword.  Modern small-arms may bear revised Arms, lacking the inescutcheon, placed on the displayed Black Eagle of the Holy Roman Empire with a Nimbus and a scroll charged with UNA GRANDE LIBRE around its head.  Distinctive badges of a ribanded yoke and a sheaf of arrows are placed to the right and left of the eagle’s tail respectively.  Some guns may be marked LA CORUÑA; others will bear the modern Spanish air force mark, an encircled displayed eagle beneath a crown, superimposed on stylised wings.

Sweden.  Many older small-arms — Mauser rifles, for example — bear a crowned black-letter C, the mark of Carl Gustavs Stads Gevärsfaktori, the state-owned gunmaking plant.  Modern weapons may display property marks in the form of three ultra-simple stylised crowns.

Switzerland.  Swiss Schmidt-Rubin rifles, Schmidt revolvers and Parabellum pistols may display a cross (Schweizerkreuz or Croix Helvetique) on a sunburst or, usually post-1909, on a vertically-barred shield.  Small crosses may serve as proof- or inspectors’ marks, the latter customarily including an identifying letter.

Syria.  Small-arms issued since the 1960s may bear the Hawk of Quraish with a breast shield divided vertically into three.  Virtually identical with the marks used by Egypt (see above) in the days of the Federaton of Arab States (1972–7), Syrian examples could be distinguished by two small five-point stars on the centre bar of the shield.  Inscriptions will be in Arabic.

Thailand.  See ‘Siam’.

Transvaal.  This short-lived republic marked its military stores with Z.A.R. (Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek, ‘South African Republic’).

Turkey.  Some Turkish guns will bear a Toughra, customarily placed above the chamber of Mauser rifles, which is basically a calligraphic version of the sultan’s cypher and a specific prayer. Others may be marked with a star-and-crescent, with a ‘TC’ monogram (Türkiye Cümhuriyeti, ‘Republic of Turkey’), or with an As.Fa mark representing the military factory or Askeri Fabrika in Ankara. Marks will be in Arabic prior to 1926, and then customarily in Roman lettering.

Uruguay, also known as República Oriental del Uruguay (‘R.O.U.’) or simply ‘República Oriental’ (‘R.O.’). The Arms consist of a laurel-enwreathed quartered oval beneath a rising sun, bearing the Scales of Justice, the ‘Cerro’ citadel of Montevideo, a horse and a bull.  The marks are customarily accompanied by a date, and, on later examples, by R.O.U. EJERCITO NACIONAL (‘National army of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay’).  Inscriptions will be in Spanish.

United States of America. Military stores are simply marked U.S., or U.S. PROPERTY. A few guns — the ‘American Luger’, for example — may bear marks in the form of a displayed Bald Eagle with arrows and thunderbolts in its talons.

USSR.  Small-arms made prior to the fragmentation of the Soviet Union in 1991 will bear a hammer-and-sickle mark, and sometimes also C.C.C.P.

Venezuela.  The Arms consist of a shield divided into three, with a wheatsheaf and a trophy of flags and sabres above a white horse.  The mark is surmounted by two cornucopiae and may be surrounded by a wreath of coffee and palm leaves (sugar cane?).  A riband bearing the dates of independence and federation of the Estados Unidos de Venezuela (‘EE.UU. Venezuela’), 19th April 1816 and 20th February 1889 respectively, binds the limbs of the wreath.  Some modern firearms will also be marked FUERZAS ARMADAS DE VENEZUELA (‘Venezuelan armes forces’).

Yugoslavia.  The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, formed after the First World War, initially used marks based on those of Serbia (q.v.).  The shield bore a crowned double-headed eagle with an inescutcheon or ‘breast shield’ divided with two compartments above a third.  Used on ZB machine-guns, Mauser rifles and FN-Browning pistols, these honoured the Arms of the three principal consitituents of the federation.  Post-1948 guns may bear the State Emblem of six torches forming a single flame within a circlet of wheat-ears; some may also be marked S.F.R.J. — ‘Socialist Federal Republic of Jugoslavia’.  Pre-revolutionary marks will often be in Cyrillic; later examples are in Roman lettering.  The abbreviation BTZ signifies Voino Tekhniki Zavod, the state ordnance factory in Kraguyevac; other guns may display PREDUZEČE in Cyrillic or Roman.


Although the small­arms of many armies bear national markings, others are easier to identify by the markings applied by their kings, queens and emperors.  Some of these were elaborate monograms; others were simply small crowned Roman letters.

Bavaria.  The kings Leopold II (1864–86), Otto (1886–1913) and Ludwig III (1913–18) used a crowned cursive ‘L’ or a crowned ‘O’.

Belgium. Kings Leopold II (1865–1909), Albert (1909–34), Leopold III (1934–50) and Baudoin (1950 to date) used the letters ‘L’, ‘A’, ‘L’ and ‘B’ respectively. The ‘L’ and ‘A’ marks are customarily cursive, whereas the ‘B’ is usually a Roman letter — often hatched horizontally in its largest sizes.

Britain. Prior to the acces­sion of Queen Elizabeth II (‘E. II R.’) in 1952, only three cyphers had been used since the 1830s: ‘V.R.’ (Victoria Regina) by Queen Victoria between 1837 and 1901; ‘E.R.’ (Edwardius Rex) by Edward VII, 1901–10, and Edward VIII (1936 only); and ‘G.R.’ by George V (1910–36) and George VI (1936–52). Date determines which is appropriate. The marks on small-arms consisted simply of crowns above Roman letters, although each monarch also had a cursive cypher that could take a very different form from the simple version. While cursive forms often graced the hilts of swords, uniforms and accoutrements, they have never been reported on firearms.

Bulgaria. Prince Ferdinand I (Tsar from 1913) used a crowned ‘F’ from 1887 until superseded by Boris III (1918–43). Simeon II reigned from 1943 until 1946, but was deposed by pro-Communist forces before attaining his majority.

Germany. The cyphers of Kaisers Wilhelm I (1871–88) and Wilhelm II (1888–1918) took the form of an imperial or squared-top crown above ‘W’; it is thought that the ‘F’ of Kaiser Friedrich III, who reigned for a few months in 1888, may never have been applied to small-arms. Imperial cyphers were used only on the weapons of the navy and colonial­ protection forces; the armies of Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony and Württemberg continued to apply their own royal cyphers.

Netherlands. King Willem III (reigned 1849–1890) was succeeded by three queens—Wilhelmina (1890–1948), Juliana (1948–80) and Beatrix (1980 to date). Cyphers customarily take the form of a crowned ‘W’, ‘J’ or ‘B’. In their larger applications. over the chambers of Mannlicher rifles or on the slides of FN-Browning pistols, for example. the letters were customarily outlined and hatched horizontally. Smaller versions, on the Parabellum pistols or edged weapons. were often simply small cursive letters beneath crowns.

Norway.  The cyphers of King Haakon VII (1905–57) and King Olaf V (1957 to date) may be found on Krag- Jørgensen rifles and other military stores. They take the form of ‘H’ with ‘7’ on the crossbar or ‘V’ within ‘O’ respectively.

Portugal. King Luis I (1861–89) used a crowned ‘L Io’; Carlos I (1889–1908) preferred an elaborate crowned ‘CI’ monogram, often found above the chambers of Mauser-Vergueiro rifles; and Manuel II, deposed in the revolution of 1910, adopted a large crowned ‘M’ with a small ‘2’ looped around the point. ‘M2’ marks will be found on 7.65mm army-type Parabellum pistols.

Prussia. King Friedrich Wilhelm IV used a crowned ‘FW’ mark. This was superseded by a simple ‘W’ when Wilhelm I gained the throne. The King of Prussia became Kaiser of Germany in 1871, reigning as ‘Wilhelm I’ until 1888. He and his grandson, Wilhelm II (1888–1918) used crowned ‘W’ cyphers. There is no evidence that the mark of Friedrich III (1888) — presumably a crowned ‘F’ — was ever applied to smallarms.

Romania. Carol I (1881–1914) used an addorsed ‘CC’ monogram on behalf of himself and his consort, Charlotte of Luxembourg. Customarily encircled beneath a crown within a wreath of laurel, it will be found on machine-guns. Ferdinand (1914–27) is believed to have used a crowned ‘F’; Míhaí I (1927–30 and 1940–7) adopted an elaborate monogram consisting of four crowned letters ‘M’ joining at their bases in the form of a cross. Carol II (1931–40) perpetuated the ‘CC’ monogram of his nineteenth-century predecessor.

Saxony. The cyphers of Kings Albert (reigned 1873–1902), Georg (1902–4) and Friedrich August III (1904–18) took the form of cursive ‘AR’, ‘GR’ and ‘FA’ beneath crowns.

Sweden. A black-letter ‘C’ beneath a crown appeared on many firearms made by the state ordnance factory is Eskilstuna, Carl Gustafs Stads Gevärsfaktori. This, however, should not be classed as a monogram, even though many Swedish kings have been named appropriately—e.g. Gustav V (1907–50) and Carl XVI Gustaf (1950–73). Oskar II reigned from 1872–1907, during the period in which many Mauser rilles were made.

Württemberg. Small-arms were marked simply with a crown over a Roman ‘W’, as King Wilhelm (1891–1918) shared his name with the Kaiser. However, a fraktur ‘W’ is commonly encountered on swords, uniforms and accoutrements , and may yet be reported on firearms.



The article has benefited greatly from material published in 2016 in my book The Heraldry of War.