Caldwell Family Manuscript Heraldic Achievement with Calligraphy Decoration

This unusual artifact came to us from an old Philadelphia estate a good number of years ago where a number of 18th and 19th century American books and manuscripts were dispersed.

We have never been able to identify its creator “Binning.” It is possible he or she was a teacher in penmanship although this example presents no notable quality.

The illumination of the heraldic arms of the Caldwell family with their family motto Virtus Victrix—Virtue is the Victor—seems to be, likewise, of competent but not notable quality. The heraldic achievement includes the family coat of arms with motto, acanthus leaves as supports, and a crest surmounting a knight’s helmet.


The name “Caldwell” appears below, written in a calligraphic hand. Afterwards follows a lengthy manuscript description, didactic in tone, of the various heraldic decorations, colors and symbols such as dolphins, a red chevron, and the silver swan with a golden chain used as the crest.

The significance of these symbolic elements, the reader is informed, betoken such accomplishments as “Vigilancy in his S[ov]eraignes Service” and the “Atchieving some business…or memorable work and represent Protecti[on] and Constancy.” The three pairs of golden dolphins—“proposed unto us an example of charity”—signify “Joy, Honor & Greatness of Spirit.”

An interesting 18th century manuscript artifact, presumably from a Philadelphia or regional Mid-Atlantic line of the Caldwell Family; perhaps created by an enthusiastic family member of the Caldwell clan, a display of family pride. Signed at its conclusion by its painter or illuminator: “Binning, Pinx[i]t.”

We point out this is the first example we have ever seen of an illustrated manuscript with a family’s motto, heraldic crest, and explicatory text presented in such an unusual manner, and in such a large format. It’s not fine art by a country mile plus ten, but it is a curious survival, and expression, of one family’s lineage.


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