We will begin with the definition given in the glossary to the rules for submission:
The definition gives two types of proper:
Proper as the natural colors of a charge must be unambiguous. For example, a robin proper, or a brown bear proper, or a tree proper. If the charge comes in different colors, do not call it proper. Consider a horse. How many different colors and color patterns do horses come in? The words must describe the picture so that a competent artist can recreate the picture without having to do extensive research.
If it is necessary to name the species to define what is proper, then you cannot use proper. If described as "an American Kestrel proper", most people would have to go scrambling for a bird book to check the colors, even if they recognized that the Kestrel is a falcon. Being more precise and including the species (Falco sparverius ) doesn’t help.
One of the examples was "a brown bear proper". Anyone can visualize that. However, consider "a snowshoe hare in summer phase". "A brown rabbit proper" says the same thing in words that anyone can visualize. The fine distinction between a generic "rabbit" and a "snowshoe hare " is insignificant in the heraldic sense.
As heraldic shorthand, proper has limited application. There are only a few objects, which have a "proper " coloration. They include:
Note that each can be blazoned without resorting to proper. If you have any doubts whether "proper " is applicable, don’t use it.
Rules for Submission VIII.4.c – Natural Depiction says "Excessively naturalistic use of otherwise acceptable charges may not be registered." It further notes: "Excessively natural designs include those that overuse proper, depict animate objects in unheraldic postures, or use several charges in their natural forms, especially when heraldic equivalents exist." You cannot have a rabbit proper between three robins proper and on a chief azure two rattlesnakes proper. That is excessive use of proper. Armory should contain no more than one charge blazoned as proper, in the natural sense. Heraldic flora and fauna are normally stylized to some degree.
Perhaps the commonest reason to use proper is to get a brown something. For example, a tree proper has a brown trunk. Since we do not recognize brown as a heraldic tincture by name, the only way to get a brown object is to blazon it proper, if brown is the proper color.
We are heralds, not botanists!
You cannot use proper to cheat on the rule of tincture. Charges blazoned as proper are still either light or dark, and must be placed on an appropriate tincture. A tree blasted proper is still a dark color (brown) and cannot be placed on a color.
So, having carried on at some length, I present a quiz.
Part I: Is it ok to blazon the charge as proper, and if so, what tincture(s) are used?
1. A sword
2. An oak tree
3. A Bengal tiger
4. A Dyson’s Metalmark butterfly
5. A horse
6. A badger
7. A skunk
8. An iris
9. A stoat in winter phase
10. An ermine
Part two: does the blazon use proper appropriately?
1. Vert, a raven proper.
2. Argent, a raven proper.
3. Gules, a sword proper between three plates.
4. Purpure, two Bengal tigers passant in pale proper.
5. Or, three martlets proper.
6. Argent, semy of robins proper, a saltire gules.
7. Or, a brown bear proper between three snowy owls proper.
8. Per bend nebuly purpure and argent, a tree proper.
9. Vert, a mountain lion crouched as to pounce proper.
10. Gules, a Moluccan cockatoo proper between three roses proper.
A sword proper... (argent, hilted and pommelled Or)
A rose proper... (gules, barbed vert, seeded Or)
A thistle proper (purpure, slipped and leaved vert)
A popinjay proper (vert, beaked gules)
Argent, a ford proper (a base barry wavy azure and argent)
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