Over the past two years Americans have witnessed events that have triggered surges in patriotism unlike any we have seen since the Bicentennial in 1976. A growing interest in antique American flags was already blossoming when 9-11 darkened our hearts, forcing us to re-think and re-group, rallying around a cause to protect the freedom our flag represents. This was followed by two landmark flag auctions at Sotheby's in New York, and then the war in Iraq. All of these events led people to dig to find the forgotten flags stored in their attics, to pull them out and try to sell them, and to call and inquire about the many flags I had for sale. It's been both good and bad. On one hand my sales increased by 20 or 30 percent. On the other I have been offered so much merchandise that I can't possibly buy it all. That's tough for a flag addict. Increased revenues did not equal money spent during these patriotic times, but life was generally good and definitely interesting.
When antiques long stored come out of the woodwork it is always exciting. The other day I opened a box of flags sent to me to evaluate for purchase and my blood raced. My heart stopped a couple of times. My jaw dropped more than once. Every hair on my body stood up. And I remembered why I work night and day to find, conserve, and place these great relics of our past in good homes.
Like every field of antiques, there are many sub-fields within it. Early American flags are no exception, and as any collector sees more and more of what he once thought was rare, his taste buds get numb and a more narrow focus is required to achieve desired collecting goals. Today my greatest interest lies within subspecialties of flags that contain items previously overlooked by some collectors. One of the most interesting of these categories is overprints.
What are overprints? An overprinted American flag is a parade flag or a paper flag that was printed first with its red and blue color, then over-printed with words and symbols for the purpose of advertising. This includes the promotion of commercial ventures, political races, fraternal organizations, historical events, military reunions and other gatherings.
To understand what these flags are it is first necessary to first define parade flags and paper flags. Parade flags are flags printed on cotton, silk, wool, or paper. They are intended to be tacked, glued, or tied to a stick, and used for a short duration (usually 1 day) at parades, political events, and other celebrations. They range in length from as little as 1 inch to as big as 9 feet, but are usually less than 3 feet in length. While some parade flags are made of paper, other similar paper flags served as inserts for newspapers, broadsides, mourning cards, fundraising giveaways and handouts. If a paper flag was printed but never used, sometimes it may never be known if the flag was intended to be tacked to a stick like a parade flag or simply made as an advertising flyer. But whatever the purpose, many of these flags were not saved by their recipients. This creates the great scarcity of material that serves as the lifeblood of all types of collecting.