Editor’s Note: While we all stand proud in the presence of the American flag, few of us, have an idea of the terminology that accompanies it. Today we share information from Jeff Bridgman of Jeff R. Bridgman American Antiques, LLC.
Bleed — As a rule, parade flags are printed on one side and, because the fabric is thin and/or absorbent, the color bleeds through to the other side. This unprinted side is called the bleed and is usually lighter.
Camp Colors — A flag used to mark a military encampment.
Canton / Union— With regard to an American national flag, this is the blue quadrant where the stars are located, sometimes referred to as the “Union”. The term is taken from heraldry. On a traditional coat-of-arms, the shield is divided into four sections; each of these quadrants is called a “canton”. Some flags have four cantons like many heraldic shields. The American national flag has one canton.
Double-Appliquéd Stars — A type of star application where a separate star is sewn on either side of the canton. This is the more common of the two methods of stitching stars to a flag.
Field — The background of a flag; the color behind the devices or canton(s). In regard to the American national flag, the field is comprised of alternating red and white stripes.
Fly — The edge of a flag farthest away from the staff or flagpole. This term also sometimes refers to the horizontal length of a flag.
Great Star Configuration — Small stars arranged in such a manner that they form a single large star.
Grommets — Metal or whip-stitched reinforcements through which rope could be tied for flying a flag. Common thinking among military historians used to be that metal grommets did not exist during the Civil War and were therefore not used on Civil War era flags. This is a myth, however. Many Civil War-period flags have metal grommets. There are at least two patents prior to the Civil War.
Guidon — A military flag used as a flank-marker so that an officer could determine the position of his unit(s), especially important when multiple units were assembled or attacking together. Units on foot typically carried a rectangular format, while cavalry used guidons were typically swallow tail format.
Gussets — Square or rectangular reinforcements sewn onto in the corners of flags, to increase the amount of fabric and stitching in the places where they receive the most stress during use.
Jugate Portrait — A term used to describe a political campaign textile, especially a flag, that includes portrait images of both the presidential and vice-presidential candidate(s).
Hand-Waver — another, perhaps more accurate term for a Parade Flag.
Hoist — The edge of a flag nearest to the staff or flagpole. This term also sometimes refers to the vertical width of a flag.
Lineal Star Configuration: Any type of star configuration comprised of lineal rows or columns.
Medallion or Wreath Star Configuration — Technically speaking, a medallion configuration of stars can be any geometric pattern that works outward from either an open center, or a center that is comprised of a single star or a cluster of stars. Most collectors, however, reserve the term for stars that are arranged in a combination of concentric circles or circles and squares. Medallion patterns often have a center star and “outliers” in each corner.
Notched Star Configuration — A lineal star pattern where there are obvious open gaps were left so that more stars could be easily added at a later date.
Obverse — What one might think of today as the “front” side of the flag. In modern Western tradition, this is the side of the flag that is depicted when the hoist is to the observer’s left. In 18th and 19th C. America there was no “front” or “back”. The devices, such as text and images, usually appear on only one of the two sides.
Outliers — Stars outside the main pattern, such as those in the outlying corners of a medallion or wreath pattern canton, or an oddly placed star next to a wreath or “Great Star” design.
Parade Flag — A term used by collectors for most of the types of smaller scale flags that were made by the printing of pigment or dye onto fabric or paper. Such flags were intended for relatively short-term use, to be waved at parades, political events, military reunions and other rallies. These were typically tacked or glued to a wooden staff. Also known as “hand-wavers.” As a rule, most parade flags measure between 3 inches and 3 feet on the fly, though some are larger.
Portrait Flag — Political campaign flags that contain portrait images of the candidate(s).
Reverse — What one might think of today as the “back” side of the flag. In modern Western tradition, this is the side of the flag that is depicted when the hoist is to the observer’s right. In 18th and 19th century America there was no “front” or “back”. The devices, such as text and images, usually appear on only one of the two sides.
Reverse-Appliquéd Stars — A type of star application where the shapes of stars are clipped from within a length of fabric, then that fabric is laid over a background so that it shows through the star-shaped holes. In the case of a Stars & Stripes, star-shaped forms are cut from within a rectangular length of blue fabric, which is then laid over a white ground. The white shows through to become the stars. The seamstress would then sew around the stars to join the two lengths of fabric. This is a very uncommon method of construction.
Printed Wool / Press-Dyed Flags —Flags manufactured by press-dying on wool bunting. This was a resist-dye process, first patented in the U.S. for the manufacture of flags in 1848. It never became a popular method of flag production in America, where it seems to have been abandoned after 1876, but was pursued with greater intensity and for a longer period of time in Great Britain. Some parade flags were printed or press-dyed on wool. Others were printed on wool and cotton blended fabric. Some larger varieties of press-dyed and printed wool flags needed to be pieced in several sections. Some flags have printed or press-dyed wool cantons, but have stripe fields that are pieced-and-sewn from individual lengths of fabric.
Random Star Configuration — A configuration of stars without rows, columns, or any apparent pattern.
Rectilinear Star Configuration — Lineal rows of stars arranged so that they line up both horizontally and vertically.
Reverse-Appliquéd Stars — A construction method seldom seen in American national flags. Here the canton is made by taking a length of blue fabric and cutting out star shapes. This is appliquéd over a white background to create the stars.
Scattered Star Positioning — Stars on a flag that may be arranged in any pattern, but which are individually aligned in a various directions on their vertical axis.
Sewn Flag —A flag made by the piecing, stitching, appliqué and/or embroidery of any combination of fabrics.
Single-appliquéd Stars —A type of star application where only one piece of fabric is used to make a star that is visible on both sides of the flag. On a stars and stripes, this is accomplished by making star-shaped cutouts in the blue material. A white star is then appliquéd over top of the star shaped hole. On the reverse side, the rough cut fabric is rolled over and hemmed so that the white star shows neatly through the hole. Single appliquéd stars are genera double-appliquéd stars and reverse-appliquéd stars.
Word Flag — A term traditionally used by the collectors of political campaign flags for flags that have text, such as names and slogans, but no portrait images of the candidate(s).
Wreath or Medallion Configuration — stars arranged in concentric circles, often with a center star and “outlier” stars in each corner.
For more on flags, please visit Jeff Bridgman Antique American Flags & Paint-Decorated American Folk Art.
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