Are you interested in collecting vintage U.S. flags? I share some tips on traits and qualities to look for when buying an old flag.
Today, I am going to share information for one of my favorite vintage items to collect – old U.S. flags also known as the American National Flag which is also called Old Glory. As flea market and antique market season starts to take off – now is the IDEAL time to start looking for these summer collectibles.
Vintage U.S. Flags
American flags have such a sense of reverence. They are patriotic, romantic, inspiring and grounding all at the same time. I can think of no other “thing” that simultaneous represents hope and yet honors those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Throughout the many wars and battles our country has been involved in, the American flag has been there. It was in every classroom when I was going to elementary school. It is in every Federal building and many people display a flag on their front porch during the summer months.
I love collecting old flags, which includes antique American flags as well as vintage flags, for all the history and complexity they impart. They are part of the American landscape and are an integral part of our history. Some historical events we can be proud of and other events we simply have to learn from-in an effort not to repeat them. In my mind, the flag reminds us of this. With Memorial Day approaching, I am inspired to share some tips on finding and identifying vintage U.S. flags.
Vintage U.S. Flags from Sky Lark House
First, a shameful plug, I do sell vintage U.S. flags in my booth at Stone Soup Antiques. I have a wide variety of sizes and styles. My goal is to get my complete flag collection over to the shop before the end of the month. Of course, other dealers in Stone Soup also sell vintage flags. So, if I don’t have what you are looking for, another dealer may!
The photo above shows a banner flag that I had in 2020. It was about ten feet long and just beautiful. Alas, it has long since sold.
Identifying Vintage Flags
Clearly, not every flag is vintage. So, if you are new to collecting flags, what qualities and traits would you look for? How could you be sure that you are buying a vintage (or antique) flag? While there is no fail proof way of identifying old flags, here are some key things to look for:
- Specific makers such as Defiance, Valley Forge, Bull Dog or Storm King
- Do NOT buy a flag made out of nylon (old flags were not made out of nylon)
- Do look for flags made out of cotton, silk and/or wool. For example, Civil War flags were made out of wool.
- The star count in the upper left corner will help determine the age of a flag. The 48 star flag was produced between 1912-1959
- Look for white stars that are embroidered or stitched onto the flag (not printed)
- The red and white stripes should be stitched together (not printed)
- Look for flags that come in their original boxes
- Look for unique flag designs such as the “Bennington 76 Flag” (shown below)
The website invaluable.com has a great article that dives into the details of collecting antique and vintage flags. They also discuss various flag designs, the number of stars on flags and how to care for old flags. If you are inclined, check it out. It’s a great read with a lot of valuable information.
The flag shown above is 3 feet by 5 feet and is made of 100% cotton. If you look carefully, you can see that the stripes are individual pieces of cotton which were sewn together.
Hand Held Flags
This is another category of flags that I absolutely adore. These small flags are usually attached to a wooden pole. My favorite parade flags are thread bare and soft. You can practically see through them because they are so thin. I also love when a flag has some stains from use and age. I also don’t mind the occasional small hole. Those marks only add to a flag’s character and history.
You can see the soft drape and almost translucent nature of these vintage flags. In contrast, the fabric on newer hand held flags will be stiff.
The photo above also shows hand held flags and if you look closely, you can see that some of them have 48 stars. Here is a TIP to quickly identify if a flag has 48 stars – all the stars will line up in a row and column. When a flag design has 50 stars, the stars are offset and staggered.
Styles of U.S. Vintage Flags
The beautiful thing about U.S. vintage flags is that they are made in a variety of different styles! If a traditional 3 foot by 5 foot flag doesn’t work for you – no problem! There is bunting, banners and US flag pillows. U.S. vintage flags come in a whole variety of styles and uses. There are even some flags that have a single large star! For those of you who live in small dwellings, there are even patriotic pins with rhinestones that are in the shape of the flag.
In the photo above, you can see a banner flag which is about ten feet long. You will also notice that it has 48 stars and a small hole in one of the stars near the top. I don’t mind the occasional hole – it tells me the flag has been used and loved.
Vintage U.S. Flags on Etsy
I realize that many of you are not within driving distance of Ballston Spa, NY where Stone Soup Antiques is located. So, with that in mind, I did a round up of some vintage U.S. flags that I found on Etsy. If you are anything like me, you probably like these flags for the feeling they impart. Rather than finding the rarest and most expensive vintage or antique flags – I focused on those flags that I thought you would like and that were reasonably priced.
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The above photo shows some vintage hand held flags. I love these flags even if they are tattered or have small holes in them.
The large flag on the back wall is made out of cotton and the stars are embroidered into the upper left corner.
Every year I look forward to summer because its a great excuse to take out my collection of old flags and put them on display.
Honestly, I have mixed feelings about our U.S. flag. I would like to say that it represents summer and that with the arrival of Memorial Day we will have reasons and the ability to attend parades and celebrate the 4th of July. At the same time, the U.S. flag is used, and rightly so, to honor those soldiers who have served our country and lost their lives doing so. So, while I am celebrating the official start of summer, it is not without acknowledging and understanding the cost that has been paid for us to enjoy it.