A History Of The Digital O&A From LoAR Cover Letters

I recently spent some time searching the archive of Laurel letters for early mentions of the Society’s digitized ordinary and armorial, and will share my notes here in case they are of interest to anyone else.

The first efforts to organize a coordinated armorial seem to have begun in 1971.

On 20 September A.S. VI (1971 C.E.) the Lord Laurel Principal King of Arms and the Lord Clarion King of Arms approved the following Devices and Arms for registration in the Archive of the Imperial College of Arms of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc.

These entries are made in two columns so that they may be removed and mounted on individual 3×5 index cards if the recipient desires to construct, easily, his own Armorial and Ordinary in the form of a card file. All further lists of Arms and Devices approved, emanating from the Office of the Lord Clarion, will be established in this form. Wish we had thought of it sooner!
[Prologue, Sep 1971 LoAR]

By 1975, efforts had begun to convert these records into an electronic format. (Vesper Herald, mentioned below, is the title of the West’s Principal Herald.)

The Computer Ordinary is programmed and we have begun the input. This will take longer than we had hoped because we have access to the computer for only a few hours a week. However, we have now completed the card-file Ordinary (courtesy of Vesper, to whom it belongs). To the best of our knowledge this covers everything listed by Lord Locksley in his armorial of 31 January 1973 or accepted by him later. If you know of any earlier arms please notify me, with whatever documentation you can find.
[Epilogue, Dec 1975 LoAR]

Updates to the O&A were made incrementally, as time allowed, rather than on a consistent monthly basis.

The acceptances since the last Armorial and Ordinary are in the computer now, and we should be able to bring out a new edition soon.
[Cover Letter, Aug 1977 LoAR]

This initial version of the digital O&A was stored on electronic tape reels. (Golem Herald, mentioned below, is a title in the West’s heraldic staff.)

By the bye: recently one the Principality Heralds inquired of me as follows: “If my Pursuivant gives you a 9-track, 1600 bpi tape, can you print the Ordinary on it for us? He will then be able to feed the tape to his Xerox printer. (He says that any tapes he uses must be unlabeled, or use OS standard labels.” Well, Lord Golem’s answer was “Yes.” And as soon as we get the tape he will deal with it and then the Pursuivant can print out some extra copies for his region. Does anyone else have computer access? Let us know the kind of equipment you have, and maybe Lord Golem will be able to send you a tape too.
[Epilogue, Mar 1978 LoAR]

The work that had been started in 1975 was led by Hal Ravn, later named the first Morsulus Herald, as noted by Karina Laurel as she stepped down.

As my last official act I appoint Hal Raven to the office of Morsulus Herald*, retroactive to 1 May X (1976), when he first began compiling the Computerized Ordinary. He and my Privy Clerk, Dorothea of Caer Myrddin, have been my left and right hands and three-quarters of my memory. I could not have done my work without them.

*Latin, Morsulus, a small byte.
[Cover Letter, Jun 1979]

A version of the computer-printed O&A on pin-feed paper from around 1976 is shown starting at 3:15 in this video from the Society’s archives.

SCA archive tour!

Posted by Natalie Degerstrom on Sunday, January 20, 2019


Within a few years, the LoARs themselves were being word-processed.

Enclosed with this letter is a massive computer generated Letter of Acceptances and Rejections from the June Conclave.
[Cover Letter, Aug 1979]

Following the massive wave of decisions made at the “Heraldicon” conclave in June 1979, it was thought it might take a month or so to update the O&A.

The enormous letter of acceptances and rejections from the College of Arms conference is being computer generated by Master Hal Ravn and Mistress Dorthea of Caer Myrddin. It should hopefully be mailed by the end of the week, after it is proofread by Mistress Karina of the Far West, who is sending it out as her last act as Laurel Queen of Arms… After the large letter of acceptances and rejections goes out we will begin working on putting out a new edition of the SCA Ordinary and Armorial incorporating it all. This should hopefully be out in about a month, depending on how much work is needed at the computer terminal to get it ready.
[Cover Letter, July 1979 LoAR]

However, in practice, the O&A updates stretched out for more than six months.

I have processed another batch of submissions and so I enclose a Letter of Acceptances and Rejections. I had planned to wait for the Morsulus Herald to finish updating the Ordinary, but its taking longer than I expected, so I decided not to wait. Hopefully the updating and corrections will be finished and copies available by the end of November.
[Cover Letter, Oct 1979 LoAR]

Around the beginning of 1980, Renfield Wanderscribe, took over management of the O&A.

Master Renfield Wanderscribe has taken over management of the computerized SCA Armorial and Ordinary and promises to have the first run done by the end of January. Then we will do a massive reblazoning and corrections run, and then send out copies. Later on we will be changing over to the Papworth format, but on a multiple entry basis. If any kingdom has access to computers and wants a copy of the tape so they can generate their own copies send a magnetic tape to me and I will have Renfield copy the file onto the tape. It had better be a good sized tape, as we have outgrown the smaller version.
[Cover Letter, Jan 1980 LoAR]

After completing the O&A update, Renfield was appointed Clarion King of Arms.

The first draft of the updated computerized SCA Armorial and Ordinary is done and sitting on my desk. As soon as all of the known corrections are entered into it and the last tunings on the conversion to a Papworth-style format are finished copies of the second draft will be sent out as soon as I can get them. First priority will go to the Principal Heralds, then the rest of the College. Anyone who sends me a magnetic tape (as Atlantia has done) will get it back with a copy of the output file so they can print up their own copies on their own computers. I do not as yet have access to anyplace where I can get copies made in large numbers.

In recognition of his achievement in putting out the first ordinary in three years and because he will continue to do so and to perform other activities as my deputy, I am appointing Master Renfield Wanderscribe to the position of Clarion King of Arms. He also assumes the duties of Morsulus Herald, and that title is now in abeyance until needed again at some other time.
[Cover Letter, Mar 1980 LoAR]

By that point printed copies were being distributed by mail, and electronic copies were available on tape.

The computerized ordinary and armorial is now operational again. I am sending copies to the principal heralds and to the more active associate members as Master Renfield finds the time to run them off for me. This version is complete through my February letter, ie it includes all accepted submissions listed in the letters of intent through November, 1979. The massive reblazoning has not been done yet, and there are a lot of known mistakes. This ordinary is now in the Papworth format to facilitate its use as a reference work. This means that you can now look in the same category in both works. Please search through your copy carefully and compare it to your records and let us know if there are any errors. Hopefully after receiving all of the reports of errors after the reblazoning and final resorting to Papworth format we can have a proper version of the ordinary which will be a correct reference and which we can then print for sale. We can also furnish copies of the print file to anyone who sends us a magnetic tape. Be warned that it takes about a megabyte of storage. The program itself is in Magnum, a special language developed by Tymshare.
[Prologue, Apr 1980 LoAR]

The system in use at the time had a limit to the length of an individual blazon, although it’s unclear how many characters it supported. (One source has reported names were limited to fifty characters.)

If you register a badge for use as a seal, do not include the annulet with the name of the office, as that does not need to be registered to be used and just clutters up the blazon. There is a limit to the size of blazons the computerized ordinary can handle.
[Cover Letter, Mar 1981 LoAR]

The O&A database was used to produce an index of name elements.

Master Renfield Wanderscribe, Clarion King of Arms, is now working on a program to produce a list of SCA names cross-referenced by all of the words appearing in the name other than prepositions, patronymics, and the like. This would have such things as a listing for the name Mary, under which are listed the full SCA names which contain the word Mary in them somewhere.
[Cover Letter, Mar 1981 LoAR]

During the course of 1981, the College overhauled the rules for submissions, and reblazoned many earlier-registered arms in an attempt at consistency.

Master Renfield, Clarion King of Arms, will be putting out a large Letter of Corrections soon listing all of the changes made to the Armorial that have not gone out in the Letters of Acceptances. In the future, he will list minor corrections and reblazons and I will list new acceptances and major changes.
[Cover Letter, Apr 1981 LoAR]

The College struggled with the correct way to index varying terms in the Ordinary while maintaining preferred blazons in the Armorial.

… Star has convinced me that we cannot switch wholly over to the -y ending for heraldic terms, as many are either not in period or do not exist at all in that form. She has sent out a great set of data which I would like you all to look at. For the purposes of the Ordinary, we want to choose one form for each term to decrease the storage requirement, which is pushing the computer to the limit. However, we also want the Armorial to be authentic and correct in its usage. I want the terms used to be recognized by the people reading the Ordinary, and so I do not want to use unusual spellings of common heraldic terms (for example, I prefer “embattled” to “crenellé”). We have agreed to use some out-of-period names for in-period charges and usages, but where possible we want to use period terms. Therefore, I ask you to look at the terms Star lists and decide which the Ordinary should use. You are all free to use other terms or variant spellings within your kingdoms, but I need to choose one form and one spelling for a word in the Ordinary.
[Cover Letter, Apr 1981 LoAR]

Paper formats of the armorial were heavily dependent on the type of printer available.

Clarion has produced an updated Armorial and Ordinary, and I will get copies out to the College as soon as I can. Unfortunately, the computer he now has access to is unable to print the dense type on 8 1/2 X 11 paper that his previous machine could, so the current edition is on full-sized print-out paper and over 1000 pages long, which is an impractical size for mass printing.

He is still trying to get the Ordinary running on his Apple at home, but has not yet succeeded. Once this is accomplished, he will be able to generate printable copy, so I am going to wait until then to reprint the Armorial. I will send copies of this update to the Principal Heralds and then work my way through the College as soon as Master Renfield can generate more print-outs. I ask all of you who get copies to check them for errors. We will have incorporated most of the changes people have sent in to us, but we might have missed some. The corrections you send me will be entered in for the print-out from the Apple, which will then be printed for general, sale, hopefully this fall.
[Cover Letter, Aug 1981 LoAR]

Efforts continued to port the initial O&A to Apple computers.

Each Principal Herald should be receiving a copy of the new bulky Armorial and Ordinary. Master Renfield hopes to have his Apple Computer able to handle the Ordinary by December, at which time we will be able to print up a new Armorial in quantity to sell. I will be going through and correcting all of the errors and bad blazons that I can find before then, so that from then on the Armorial will be a correct, official reference to everyone’s arms, devices, and badges. If you find any errors in the Ordinary, please let Master Renfield and me know. I have already found over 500, from years of accumulated errors.
[Cover Letter, Sep 1981]

New computer hardware was required to enable additional forms of indexing.

Master Renfield has received his hard disk and is now at work on the new Ordinary. It will have the capacity to have cross-references for all of the household names and alternate persona names, so these will be properly protected. Because of this, all household names, aliases, and alternate persona names will have to conform to the name rules.
[Cover Letter, Apr 1982 LoAR]

Some database tasks were stymied by limitations of the software in use, FMS-80, a CP/M application that ran on Apple II computers with the Z-80 coprocessor:

The Clarion King of Arms has found a task which some computer programmer may be able to perform: FMS-80, the CP/M database system being used for the Armorial & Ordinary, sorts on ASCII code, so {A… Z) all come before {a… z}. DJR, the parents of FMS-80, will not release high-level source code for their sorting program. Clarion will supply a “hex dump” (a listing of the program in hexadecimal notation) to anyone who feels sufficiently familiar with the 8080 instruction set to disassemble it, so we can generate a compatible program to sort in {A, a, B, b, … Z, z) order. At the same time, perhaps we can generate another compatible program to ignore “the,” “ap,” “of,” etc., when sorting names. Send inquiries directly to the Clarion King of Arms, Master Edmund Renfield Wanderscribe…
[Cover Letter, Aug 1983 LoAR]

The use of an electronic armorial allowed for some types of conflict checking which had not previously been viewed as practical.

Protection of the household names was sporadic, to say the least, for some years due largely to technological limitations apparently. In the course of the thorough recasting of the Rules for Submission that occurred in the summer of 1981, it was decided that, since the advent of a computerized Armorial had removed the technical difficulties, household names should be protected fully and that this should be reflected in the Rules. (Those who were present at the Caerthan Symposium in August of that year may recall the Elmet Herald of the East, one Alisoun MacCoul of Elphane, doing some significant table-thumping in support of the concept that “what we register we must protect”!)
[Cover Letter, Sep 1987]

There was some discussion of providing a dial-in modem service to allow remote checking of the electronic O&A, although I don’t believe this ever came to fruition.

Clarion informs me that an on-line query system for the SCA Ordinary & Armorial is now possible with his home computer system. it would have to be on a paid-subscription basis, as such systems are done in the mundane world. How many heralds with home computers would be willing to be subscribers at $5 a month or at $10 a month? There would be no connection-time charges) but neither would there be any local or 800 telephone number to call. (You would have long distance charges to deal with.) Please let Clarion know if you and/or others would be interested.
[Cover Letter, Apr 1984 LoAR]

In 1985, Alban St. Albans took over as Morsulus. I haven’t been able to learn very much about his tenure.

I would also like to announce the appointment of Lord Alban St. Albans… of the Kingdom of Calontir, to the post of Morsulus Herald. Lord Alban will be responsible for the maintenance and production of the SCA Armorial and Ordinary.
[Cover Letter, Jul 1985 LoAR]

Somewhere around the start of 1989, Iathus of Scara took over as Morsulus. I haven’t been able to learn very much about his tenure.

In 1992, Iulstan Sigwealding took over as Morsulus.

The Morsulus Herald, Iathus of Scara, is retiring after many years of dedicated service. Please add to your rosters the new Morsulus Herald, Iulstan Sigwealding… please send him any corrections to the Armorial and Ordinary, or any suggestions for revision.
[Cover Letter, Oct 1992 LoAR]

Iulstan developed the current web-based O&A system, using Perl to create a set of CGI scripts that interface with a flat-file database server.

Around the same time, Iulstan began using the so-called “Da’ud encoding” to represent accented characters.

Some time ago Laurel proposed a simple scheme for representing non-ASCII characters by combinations of two ASCII characters enclosed in curly braces. For example, for ó and ò he proposed the representations {o’}and {‘o}, respectively. Others subsequently proposed other schemes that are already in wide use, among them HTML and TEX, and Harpy noted that we might at some point need representations for letters not mentioned by Laurel. Nevertheless, its quasi- pictorial nature makes Laurel’s scheme easy to learn, and the basic idea appears to be capable of considerable extension if necessary. Moreover, Morsulus has very recently begun to make use of it in his database, and several members of the College are already using it or a slight variant in their e-mail. (Rather than {o:} for ö some are using {o”}, and similarly for other instances of the diaeresis or umlaut. [Laurel himself has been convinced that {o”} is the more widely used convention.) This being the case, we see no reason not to go ahead and make Laurel’s original scheme a CoA standard for ASCII representation of non-ASCII characters, with extensions to be defined as needed.
[Cover Letter, Feb 1996 LoAR]

This is also the period in which blanket permission-to-conflict notices began being collected in the database.

… information about this blanket CD will be placed in the armorial and ordinary by Morselus. [sic]
[Cover Letter, Jun 1997 LoAR]

Iulstan also wrote a new generation of the code that converted the O&A database to a printable form, and began abbreviating common terms in the blazons to reduce the number of pages the document required.

Another change proposed for the 8th edition would be to abbreviate common blazon terms in the SCA Ordinary. (The Armorial would be unaffected.) This should help reduce the cost and bulk of the Ordinary.
[Cover Letter, Aug 1998 LoAR]

At the end of 1999, Iulstan announced he was stepping down.

Iulstan Sigewealding, after long and excellent service, has announced his intention to step down as Morsulus Herald. Therefore, I am accepting applications to be the next Morsulus Herald. The duties of Morsulus Herald include the following:

  • Maintain the SCA’s heraldic database
  • Maintain the software used to generate Ordinaries and Armorials
  • Generate masters for the SCA Ordinary, SCA Armorial, and their updates

Ideally, Morsulus Herald would take over the maintenance of the online search engine, although that is not an official part of the duties.
[Cover Letter, Oct 1999 LoAR]

At the start of 2000, Master Herveus d’Ormonde took the Morsulus position.

The deadline for applying for Morsulus has passed, and I am pleased to announce that the next Morsulus herald will be Master Herveus d’Ormonde. He will be starting in April.
[Cover Letter, Feb 2000 LoAR]


4 thoughts on “A History Of The Digital O&A From LoAR Cover Letters”

  1. From the East Kingdom Herald’s Handbook: “The On-line Armorial is not a book, but is a valuable item for the computerized herald. It is a flat text file containing every name, device, badge, title, etc. registered in the SCA. There are several programs available to extract useful information from this file. Locating it may be difficult; ask other heralds. If you have the disk space (over 4MB in 1994) the flat text can be used on almost any platform.”

  2. The practice of printing acceptances in two columns in the LoAR to facilitate their being cut up and pasted onto index cards, begun by Harold of Breakstone in 1971, was discontinued by his successor Ioseph of Locksley when he took over at the end of the following year.

  3. The digital A&O is mentioned in another LoAR which isn’t yet available on the public web page:

    “Below you will find the rest of the acceptances and rejections for this month… (I am now only about six months behind, instead of a year, which has got to be some kind of improvement.) I will not be issuing any more acceptances or rejections until my staff has done the input for the next edition of the Armorial and Ordinary, which will be done ([insert your favorite deity or phenomenon] willing) this Sunday.”
    — [Prologue, Oct 1976 LoAR]

    The staff mentioned here is likely a reference to Dorothea of Caer Myrddin (Privy Clerk) and her husband Hal Raven (later retroactively named Morsulus Herald).

  4. The earliest record I can find of an armorial being distributed as a combined work is in 1973, in the run-up to the preparation of a Pursuivant’s Handbook for the growing Society:

    “Attached you will find an alphabetical listing of all arms, devices and badges registered with the Imperial College of Arms to date. If there are any that have been registered with the College that do no appear in this listing, please notify this Office ASAP, that we can get things straight as soon as is practicable.”
    — [Letter, Jan 1973 LoAR]

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