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Founded in 1717, the Society of Antiquaries of London received its Royal Charter from King George II in 1751, making it the second oldest of the Royal Societies. Heraldic studies have always been among the Society's interests, and many members of the College of Arms have been and are numbered among the fellowship.
By 1816, the Society already owned several important heraldic books and rolls, including the 15th century copy of Charles' Roll (now MS.517), the miscellany MS.136, and several others, including the Illyrian armorial c.1600, a finely painted major source for early Balkan heraldry.
The holdings of continental heraldry were greatly increased when Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks bequeathed his library to the Society at the end of the 19th century. Further important acquisitions, mainly English rolls and books, were made in the 20th century, the most important being the greater part of the collection of heraldic material made by Dugdale and others in 1641.
The collection contains a special selection of volumes and rolls totaling 36 items with many thousands of coats of arms covering a 500-year period. Among them are the arms of Austrian, Bosnian, Croatian, Dalmatian, English, German, Serbian, and Spanish families, including arms attributed to classical heroes and saints. Also included are selected examples of Dictionaries of Arms, family genealogies, a rare volume of South Slav heraldry, and the Hatton-Dugdale facsimilies.
One dissertation can lead to the discovery of more sources, as well as other works that have been cited in additional dissertations.