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Heraldic Dictionary: 1.a Tinctures: Furs

Last modified: 2006-06-09 by phil nelson
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Heraldry IA: Tincture addendum - FURS

I didn't intend to go into subjects not normally encountered in flags in this series, and to keep it fairly simple, but since a couple of you have extended what I wrote about tincture furs, here is a bit more information about them. This series of articles, remember, is only intended as a simple primer on heraldry - for more detailed information there are a wide variety of books that can be consulted!


There are many forms of fur in Heraldry (click for an image [73KB]), of which I have only really dealt with Ermine, the one most frequently found on flags (in fact, the only one I can recall ever having seen on a flag!). The following is a list of the different varieties:

a) Varieties of Ermine:

ERMINE white fur with black ermine-tails, usually represented as vertical arrowheaded lines (similar to those used for trees on some maps) surmounted by three spots, thus:

[large ermine]

Different varieties of Ermine are found in different colours:

  • ERMINES (Black fur, white tails),
  • ERMINOIS (Gold fur, black tails),
  • PEAN (Black fur, gold tails),
  • ERMINITES (White fur, black tails with red spots) - this last is extremely rare.

b) Varieties of Vair:

VAIR is an arrangement of bell-like shapes, derived from the sewing of squirrel skins onto a shield. Because of the colour of squirrel fur, this is always represented as a blue and white pattern. There are numerous varieties of Vair, most of which are rarely seen. These include three sized,

  • BEFFROI (large),
  • VAIR and
  • MENU-VAIR (small).

The white and blue bell-shapes of vair usually form the equivalent of a chequerboard pattern, but occasionally the colours are alternated in adjacent rows so that upright and inverted "bells" of the same colour abut (COUNTER-VAIR),

or so vertical lines of bells of the same colour occur (VAIR IN PALE).
[vair in pale]
If this last effect has the colours of every second row reversed, zig-zag lines of white and blue occur - VAIR EN POINTE.
[large ermine]
Also, very rarely VAIRE OF FOUR occurs, with the pattern being not white and blue, but white, black yellow and red.
[vaire of four]

Other (very rare) variations (no pun intended) include PLUMETE (i.e., covered with feathers) and PAPELONNE (covered with fish-scales). There are also the slightly less rare

  • POTENT and
    [counter potent]

These follow the same rules as Vair and Counter-vair as to the displacement of the shapes and colours, but instead of being comprised of bell-shapes, it is composed of blocks shaped like a letter T.

Due to different uses of the terms counter and potent in mainland Europe, there is some confusion in the use of these various terms. Luckily, none of the varieties of Vair is particularly common.

Editor's Note: This page was originally the result of information sent to FOTW by James Dignan. Until November, 2003, it was hosted at Željko Heimer's Flags and Arms of the Modern Era webpage. The work is incomplete, but presented as a very basic primer for heraldry. Additional information and corrections by Geoff Kingman-Sugars are in italics, dated 31 December 2003.