What is it? Chances are you and most of your neighbors have a vexillum in your home….
…better yet, if you studied its history that alone might qualify you as a ‘Vexillologist.’
You are correct if you guessed a vexillum is the Latin word meaning “flag”, but you may be surprised to learn how many vexillologists there are around the world. As one scholar commented, if you want to build your own collection, it can be easy and cheap and it’s the type of collectible item most people comfortably identify with.
A trip to a local hardware store affirmed at least part of his point; the ‘cheap’ part. The store sign says, “$3.99 including the pole and hardware.” A bargain to be sure but hardly the cornerstone from which to build a collection; then I remembered Chaucer’s “mighty oaks from little acorns grow.”
What about the ‘feel good’ aspect of collecting American flags as a hobby? One wonders if people in this day and age of rampant skepticism and cynicism still hold dear the patriotic symbolism associated with the red, white and blue Stars and Stripes or Old Glory. Does the sight of a rectangular-shaped piece of fabric, casually waving in the breeze high atop a flag pole or proudly affixed to the front of a home or business, still give most Americans reflective pause of just how good it is to be an American? Well the answer to that question is in the numbers: the over-100 million flags produced each year is solid testimony that this most powerful symbol of Americanism, one that millions of people would fight for, and many thousands die for, has never lost its patriotic importance.
What about the rest of the world, or are Americans alone in their inspirational zeal for nationalist sentiment? The answer lies in the history of the use and purpose of flags around the world, and ‘vexillology’, or the study of flags, tells us that we Americans are chronological neophytes in the business of flag design, uses, influence, and even serious collecting.
Due to the long cultured history of India and China, it stands to reason that one or both could give claim to being the birthplace for flags, and then in one form or another, the flags over time gained an audience in neighboring Burma, Siam and southeastern Asia. Tracing the true history of the myriad of flags around the world would turn this brief exposition into a lengthy treatise, so let’s keep it short and simple: flags of the past were used in warfare; used as heraldic devices in battle so everyone knew who the knight was; used as field signs; used for ship identification of nationality; and then by the end of the 18th century, with the rise of nationalist sentiment, it became common for every country to have a national flag.
From the reporting of history, we learn much about flag-trivia: that the flag of Denmark dating from the 13th century is the oldest state flag still in use; the tallest flagpoles are in Azerbaijan (532 ft); Turkmenistan, Jordan, and Amman, all over 400 ft.; and the largest flag is in Brasilia, Brazil at about 8740 square feet and weighs about 1300 pounds. Not to be outdone, however, the world’s heaviest flag is inside of the Harley-Davidson Café in Las Vegas – over 14,000 pounds – the catch is that it is made of 201 lengths of chain made from 44,000 individual chain links. Not fair claim to a Guinness record say the Brazilians.
All this to-do about flags leads me to the how-to of buying, selling and collecting. Think of antique flags as pieces of history as well as powerful symbols of pride of accomplishment. Consider this, what was one of the first things Armstrong and Aldrin did upon landing on the Moon, plant the good old Stars and Stripes. Since time began, conquerors and explorers marked their achievements with a flag.
As with most things of value, antiques are usually old, and collectibles are things of high (but maybe yes, maybe no old) interest – flags can be both. So how do you go about the collecting aspect, which obviously involves some buying (or bartering), and possibly some selling. A good starting place for information, as suggested by the Nugent Appraisal experts, is the USA-Flag-Site.org and their forum, Flag Identification and Collecting. There are many more such websites on the internet.
Old-flag market pricing is as varied as the number and variation of flags. Of course, age and condition remain a constant factor in value.
Recently, a Union Jack—Britain’s flag—was sold for a record-breaking price at auction. The flag was owned by the descendants of Second Lieutenant James Clephan and is the only surviving flag from the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, when Britain prevailed against the combined forces of the French and Spanish fleets without losing a single ship.
The 11 ft by 7 ft flag has a fair number of holes, but considering it survived gunfire and chain-shot —ammunition made specially to take down masts and other rigging—its condition is remarkable. While it was only expected to sell for £10,000, its final sale price on Trafalgar Day (October 21st) in 2009 was £384,000—over US $600,000. That price makes it the most expensive flag ever sold.
The flag appraisal experts at Nugentappraisal.com will provide internet suggestions to help you build your collection, as well as flag appraisals for insurance, donation, or purchasing.