An hour south of Washington, in rural Stafford County, supervisors wondered recently whether their growing metropolitan area jurisdiction needed "some class."
Supervisor Ralph Marceron, a management analyst with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in the District, thought a coat of arms might do it.
"We really have a county emblem now that shows a picture of the courthouse and the words, 'Progress Since 1664,' " argued Supervisor John Porter. "Hardly seems to me that we need a coat of arms. Coats of arms are for royalty, the haughty, the uppity.
"You don't walk into the home of everyday working folk and find a coat of arms hanging on the wall," he added. "You find them on the walls of the affluent, who can afford to waste money on such frivolous things."
Porter would not budge. "I have a suspicion that we want a coat of arms to keep up with the Fairfaxes and Arlingtons," he told his colleagues during a mid-January meeting.
"And, the Prince George's and the Fredericksburgs," chimed in Board Chairwoman Rebecca Reed. "The Spotsylvanias."
"That's right," said Porter, "and I say, 'Let's accept our stations in life and not squander the taxpayers' money on such frivolous matters.' "
The board nevertheless voted 4 to 3 to spend $6,000 to design what the local newspaper, The Free Lance-Star, called "a medieval-style emblem to carry the county into the 21st century."
One newspaper reader, John R. Harris of Hartwood, sent in his version of what a Stafford coat of arms should look like: a picture of a taxpayer with empty pockets and patched knees, with a motto: "Progressive Taxes."
Another, J. Mason Grove, chided the populace for its "distressing, abysmal ignorance of heraldry, including coats of arms, that leads the uninitiated into paths of obfuscation."
David Pittman Johnson, president of the nonprofit American College of Heraldry, said he was relieved to learn from The Washington Post that Stafford had decided to seek an expert's help.
"Sometimes people try to put together a coat of arms and it turns out just awful," he said. A baton design, for example, can indicate bastard birth. "A torch is almost always seen in bad heraldry."
Stafford's designer was Werner Schultz, a local resident and proprietor of Canterbury Tales, a shop that specializes in medieval-type items.
Schultz drew a pickax to symbolize the county's rock quarrying heritage.
"What is it?" asked one supervisor. "What's anybody going to think?"
"A modified hammer and sickle," said another.
A design of a rope knot also was deemed unsuitable.
Said supervisor Marceron: "We figured everyone would say, 'Well, that's them -- all tied up in knots.' "
Schultz tried a Virginia cardinal, but some of the supervisors thought that his bird was too fat, and too red.
By the end of January, the cardinal, too, had been rejected -- as had the coat of arms project.
County officials said they were not sure whether Schultz will be compensated for his research over two years, including interviews with local historians.
"What's disappointing is the attitude of some of the people, saying, 'No, we don't need it,' " Schultz said yesterday.
"It's a really minor issue," Board Chairwoman Reed said of the coat of arms. She originally voted for it.
"Most of the surrounding counties have coats of arms," Marceron continued to lament. "We're one of the few in Virginia who don't."