Collecting the 'Stars and Stripes'
Columnist Sandy Erdman says Old Glory has been an inspiration for years, and collectors often look for items with its patriotic feel.
The "Stars and Stripes" — that star-spangled style — has inspired the crafty, from artisans to advertisers, for years. In the introduction to the book, “Long May She Wave: A Graphic History of the American Flag” by Kit Hinrichs and Delphine Hirasuna states, “The American flag is but a piece of cloth decorated with stars and stripes, yet people have loved it, hated it, sworn allegiance to it, fought for it and died for it.”
The American flag has been burned in protests, and has waived high in times of wartime triumph and in celebrations. The flag has been sewn onto quilts, caps, pillows and bags. While flags have been printed on cards, ceramic jugs or paper fans, they have also been painted onto wood in the design of a flag or onto a wooded box. Flag rugs along with designer clothing and more can be found, but the true flag is what collectors like. So in one form or another, our flag is faithfully being honored every Fourth of July to celebrate America's independence.
Tips to know
As a first-time collector, and buying for the first time, do buy from a dealer who knows a lot about flags, start small and be cautious. Most people, including almost all antiques dealers, know little about early American flags. Be extremely suspicious of internet auctions as a flag in hand is better than none.
Be able to look at your flag for moth holes, rips and worn spots. Always ask a lot of questions before you purchase.
A nonmilitary flag has moderate to high value depending on size, condition and star pattern. For example a rare 13-star flag can bring big dollars. Military flags usually have a very high value to collectors. Most other patterns that are rare can have even a higher value.
Check online by entering: “Rare Antique Flags” and go from that point and read before you purchase and spend big dollars, as I can't state this enough. Also, a great guide to help us out is “The Official Price Guide to American Patriotic Memorabilia” by Michael Pola.
Today collectors love vintage flag items, and if for some unknown reason you can search for them at flea markets, auctions and antique shops, again I am waiving a caution flag as to age and pricing. Prices will vary, with many quality pieces ranging from $20 on up to $2,000 for a more intricate design or a signed and dated piece. The more rare and well-documented can get even more.
With any vintage item we look at age, condition and originality of design that can affect the price. Although, many flag items such as memorial quilts, cross-stitching, needlepoint and framed work hold strong emotional attachments, they don't always go on the market but generally stay within the family.
Then we have flags that have been lost, shredded into rags or just got moldy in the basement. Those still can be cleaned depending on the fabric and the fabric's condition. Most military flags from a deceased family member usually stay within the family.
Sarah Kieffer of Sarah's Uniques & Jim's “Man”tiques in St. Charles says, “People love to collect patriotic items. I have lots of old flags, since this is the perfect time of year to put your flags out on display. I have a lot of other patriotic items ranging in price from $5 on up. Red white and blue is used and sold year-round.”
Brenda Jannsen, owner of Treasures Under Sugar Loaf, adds, “We have red and blue benches perfect for the porch along with a variety of flag signs and a large tin red star for the collector, that are cute on the porch or in the yard. And for summer picnics we have the glassware in red and blue at $3 each.”
Local history centers also have flags on display from local military and other patriotic items. These places offer a great history lesson for kids.
Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser concentrating on vintage, antique and collectible items. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at email@example.com .