Zollinger Coat of Arms History

What does it mean?

The Zollinger family crest that I had been used to since I was a child was the ladder with the three rungs, of which a stained glass picture hung in our living room window. The same crest is prominent in my Uncle Gustav Emil's original book on the Zollinger Line VII from Oetwil. Over the years I have seen many variations, such as four rungs, without the crest, and in different colors, but always the ladder.

Since we originally created the Zollinger Web Site, one of the most frequently asked questions was the meaning of the "Männli", the farmer-like looking little man at the top of the crest. As familiar as I was with the crest, I had never been given an explanation as to its meaning. But now I realized that I really had to be able to answer these inquiries. So I put the question to my friend and genealogist Fredy Dobler in Switzerland. Instead of a simple answer that I had expected, he sent me a series of essays on the Zollinger family crest, written by (the now deceased ) Professor Hans Kläui of Winterthur, who is even today widely recognized as the foremost expert on Swiss Coats of Arms.

As the opinion of Dr. Hans Kläui expressed in the following text is not judged in a very positive light, it is important to distinguish him from his younger brother Paul Kläui. Paul also became a Doctor of History like his older brother, but he did not involve himself in genealogy and heraldry. He was professor of history at the University of Zürich for 15 years, as well as author of numerous historical documents. The city of Uster purchased his complete written works, and since 1973 these have been housed in a library in Uster that bears the name “Paul Kläui Bibliothek”.

The learned Professor's Opinion

Professor Kläui's coverage of the Zollinger family is foremost given in his key analysis, a treaty of some four pages written in November 1968, under the title:

"Gutachtenüber Familienwappen Zollinger von Maur, Kanton Zürich"

Here I will give just the key aspects of his analysis (I can provide the original German text). The first crest he covers is that of what many might consider the original ancestors of the name Zollinger, the aristocratic "von Zollikon". This crest is well documented, and one form of it is now the official crest of the town of Zollikon, where the family originated from. The Edlibach book on the Zürich coats of arms of 1488 illustrates this crest, and a slightly altered crest is shown in 1526 for the town crest of Zollikon. Heraldic specialist Fassbind proposed in 1952 that all Zollingers should be given the right of use to this original crest. According to Kläui however, such a solution can not be accepted, since there is no official proof that the name Zollinger originated from the earlier name "von Zollikon". (He may at the time not have been aware of the detailed research of both the family historians Gustav Zollinger, as well as the documentation by Werner Zollinger and Christoph Zollinger, all of which provide considerable proof of that linkage). Kläui outright rejects the adoption of that crest.

The second crest addressed by Prof. Hans Kläui was our well recognized Ladder crest. According to him the branch of the Zollinger family using this crest originated in Wädenswil about 1520. (Unfortunately that small branch can not be linked to the overall Zollinger family tree). The bearers of that original ladder crest later-on moved to the city of Zürich, and in 1551 several members received citizenship rights of the city in recognition of their services. The branch is then documented in Zürich well into the 1700s, but according to Kläui that branch then died around 1789. According to the strict rules of heraldry is it forbidden for other branches to take over the family crest of a branch that died out. According to Kläui the use of the ladder crest by other Zollinger branches is thus not permitted, at least not without some substantial changes in color and design (called "Brissure" (break) in heraldry).

In a different opinion paper dated 1965, Kläui also addressed the Wädenswil ladder crest, where he proposed what is known as "Brissure" in Heraldik, i.e. the design of a new crest, similar in design but with a clear break from the original ladder. Here he recommended the addition of stars and a change of colors, but continuing the ladder theme. In 1988, he proposed a similar re-design for the Zollinger branch of Regensdorf.

Prof. Hans Kläui then looks at two other documented Zollinger family crests, one that can be found on a stained glass window in the Louvre in Paris, belonging to a Zollinger from Schirmensee near Hombrechtikon. A second one originates from the mill Kämmoos near Bubikon. Kläui proposed that the latter of these two crest be allocated to all Zollingers originating from Bubikon, the former for those from Hombrechtikon. In later pronouncements he then goes further, allocating that "Louvre" crest also to the Zollingers from Gossau (1963), for those from Hinwi (1969), and again for those for Hombrechtikon in 1965. At that time Kläui could not have been aware of the fact that both those branches had also died out, and that the argument he applied to the ladder crest therefore also applied to these two designs. Using his own rules, neither of these two designs can therefore be used by any branches of Zollingers.

Finally Prof. Hans Kläui addressed the heraldic possibilities for Maur. He made a point of recognizing that a documented family crest exists, which can be found at the mill of Üssikon near Maur, showing a mill wheel and a "fleur de lys" This crest dates back to the construction of the mill around 1605, and was used for many generations by the branch of the Zollinger family descending from the original mill owner. Kläui puts much value into family crests which have been historically documented, and it is therefore this crest that he proposes for all Zollingers of Maur. But since the crest was carved in stone, the colors could not be recognized. In such cases, according to Kläui, it is customary to look to the colors of the municipality. But Maur's crest is black and white, and Kläui considered this too dull. Instead, and with no further justification, he finally proposed a crest with the millwheel and the "fleur de lys" in gold on a background of red.

This is the overview of the several opinion papers written by Professor Kläui in regard to the family crests for the name Zollinger.

The Zollinger Position

It is evident that this above analysis causes a considerable number of problems, and although Professor Kläui continues to be held in high esteem among heraldic specialists, and although he clearly is the recognized expert in the field, I have no choice but to take issue with several of his pronouncements. In the 1960ies and 1970ies computers were not known, and data storage was largely by hand. The possibility of creating the data base of a complete family tree of a given name was therefore a thing of the future. In the absence of such data, Kläui had little choice but to (somewhat naively) assume that all persons of a given name living in a given village had a common ancestor, and thus could lay claim to the same family crest. Our research on the Zollinger family however shows clearly that things were more complex, and that in almost every town where Zollingers live today, it can be shown that they originated from many distinctly different branches. Kläui's simplistic approach of allocating a family crest to all Zollingers living in a given village must therefore be rejected.

He was also not aware that other branches of Zollingers had also died out, and that we needed to treat the crests he proposed the same way as the ladder crest. The crests of Schirmensee and Kämmos are therefore of no more use than is the ladder crest. Equally unsatisfactory are his approaches to create new and acceptable variants of the original ladder crest, by adding stars, changing colors or redesigning the crest, all random decisions to create a "pleasant appearance", rather than to take the approach that he himself is a proponent of: to find a family crest which is based on historical proof and correctness.

The end result of Professor Kläui's analysis is that the only crest which all Zollingers have used for several hundred years is not permitted. He then also rejects some viable alternatives such as the "von Zollikon" crest, while the crests he proposes belong to branches that have died out. Aside from the Maur crest, all the alternatives he suggests have no historical merit. In other words, according to professor Kläui, we Zollingers do not have an officially acceptable family crest!

Where do we go from here?

Historical Zollinger Coat of Arms (Üssikon-Maur)

The one coat of arms which Kläui proposed in his document dated 12. October 1970 does have a historical base. It can be found in the living room of the Mill in Üssikon (see the Photo in Site Pictures), which shows the design that Prof. Kläui proposed. The mill was built in 1609, and the founder of the mill was a Johann Rytz Zollinger, born in1548 in Lautikon near Hombrechtikon. He moved to Maur in 1564, where he first owned the farm "Neugut". Today a considerable proportion of all Zollingers have Üssikon and Maur as their ancestral place of origin, and so the mill and its family crest are of great importance. It was for these reasons that I contacted a Rolf Kälin in Einsiedeln, Switzerland, who is a recognized specialist of heraldry. He painstakingly put together the evidence for the shape and the colors of this crest, all based on historical facts. In 2007 he then produced the artwork for this new family crest, and had it approved by Hans Ulrich Pfister, the director of the "Staatsarchiv des Kantons Zürich".

This coat of arms is now the first historically documented coat of arms, and belongs to all Zollingers who can prove that their ancestry goes back to this Johannes Rytz Zollinger, the first owner of the mill in Üssikon. Our Zollinger data base can easily furnish such proof, and we will be happy to provide a copy of this family crest to any Zollinger for whom we can show this line of descendancy.

Historical Zollinger Coat of Arms (Lautikon-Hombrechtikon)

Another and equally important coat of arms of the Zollinger family did not fare so well in the deliberations of Professor Kläui. Although he mentions it in a document dated 1964, he reserves it for the name Zolliker. He was apparently not aware that the name Zolliker was an intermediate form, which later evolved into the name Zollinger. The design of that crest can be found on the "Egli Haus" in Lautikon (formerly Zollinger House), the large half-timbered farmhouse now under historical monument protection just above the Lützelsee near Hombrechtikon (see the Photo in Site Pictures). The inscription on the main beam reads "Heinimann Zolliker, 1665", and the house was built by a Heinrich Zollinger who was born in 1594. With the text is a crude carving of a crest showing a stylized plow. A similar crest can then also be found in the livingroom, dated 1689, as well as on a beam in the barn dated 1678. There is also an earlier crest of the same design in the "Landesmuseum" in Zürich, with the date 1611, and the inscription "Hans Zollinger oo Dorothea Boller, 1577". All this historical documentation of yet another Zollinger crest became the starting point for a new contract with Rolf Kälin, who is now in the process of designing this second genuine family crest for the Zollinger name.

This crest will be the specific crest of all Zollingers who can trace their ancestry back to this Hans Zollinger, who was born in 1528 in Lautikon, but moved to the city of Zürich, where he became a citizen in 1611. Since the same family crest continued in Lautikon as well, it must be assumed that another branch remained on the farm, and would have been a brother of this Hans. This would then lead to the conclusion that his father, a Johann Zollikon, born in1484 was likely the original owner of that crest. Hopefully this family crest will be designed and delivered within some six months, and can then become available to all offspring of this Johann Zollinger.

The original Zollinger Family Crest

While there seems to be no use arguing with the rules of heraldry, nor with the fact that the ladder crest belongs to a branch that died out, there is no doubt that present custom also needs to be taken into account. The Swiss law (Wappengesetz) addresses the topic of family crests in a general fashion, but has little to say about such specific rules, and was never legally approved. This Swiss law is therefore largely based on common usage, and leaves the possibility open for adopting such a crest, even if that might be against heraldry rules. In the light of the above analysis of the opinions of Professor Kläui, combined with the state of knowledge today, as well as the legal situation and the precedence of common usage, we are taking now the following position in regards to the use of Zollinger Family Crests:

The majority of Zollingers will therefore be able to have two distinct crests, the generic one and the new specific one. All the original artwork is at this time kept by Marcel Zollinger in Ottawa, who will be pleased to provide color copies of these officially sanctioned Zollinger family crests.

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