A flag is a piece of cloth or material used to symbolically represent a country, state or other organisation.
Flags can also be used as a signalling and identification device in various manners, such as semaphore. They are considered strong symbols which can inspire patriotism, and the development of many national flags is heavily linked to that particular country’s history.
The flags of several nations have varied over the years due to changes such as political revolutions and declarations of independence.
The study and collection of flags is known as vexillology, and focuses on the use of flags throughout history.
The hobby of flag collecting can often be linked with socio-political and historical study, and many valuable flags are antiques from historically significant places, periods or events.
Those with a connection to an important moment in history are the most valuable of all.
Some collectors will focus on the flags of a single country, whereas others may choose to collect military or naval flags.
The history of military flags has included a large number of varying sizes ranging from medieval pennons, banners, standards, guidons and gonfalons, which all have different uses and meanings, to the modern flags of today’s military. These flags are also considered items of militaria, and are often featured as part of wider collections including medals and weapons.
One of the more popular areas for collectors is the American flag, known as the Stars and Stripes or ‘Old Glory’. This flag has changed over the years, as the number of stars has increased with the number of states, and there are several different versions to collect.
Materials and production techniques are studied down to the last thread to prove provenance on historical antique flags, as there are many forged examples on the market. Other collectors look for modern reproductions, as antique flags can often be extremely valuable and highly sought-after.
Many significant flags are held by museums and institutions and rarely appear on the market.
Flags have their roots in the field signs and standards used in battle to identify legions and regiments within the armies of the ancient Persian and Roman empires.
Many national flags have grown from military symbols using during medieval battles to identify forces on shields, uniforms and suits of armour. These symbols were used by city-states and opposing feudal armies as field signs, and many designs were later adopted during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Until the 17th century flags were used almost exclusively in a military context. The birth of the age of sail in the early 1600s led to both war and trade ships flying flags to identify their nationalities.
It was not until the 18th century that many flags began to be displayed in a civilian manner to represent a patriotic sentiment, when both American and French revolutionaries used their flags as symbols of their newly-liberated nations.
The American flag was first flown in 1777 (featuring 13 stars), the French tricolour appeared in 1794 and the British Union Jack was adopted in 1801 following the Act of Union in 1800 which merged Great Britain and Ireland.
Over the course of the 19th century the majority of countries developed their own national flags, and today each of the 195 countries worldwide has their own flag. Many older nations have designs based on medieval flags and heraldic designs from their history, whilst other newly-developed countries have created flags which represent aspects of their country’s history, society and principles.
The world’s most expensive flag
The most expensive flag ever sold at auction is an American flag flown by General George Custer's Battalion at the Battle of Little Bighorn known as the Culbertson Cavalry Guidon. The flag, featuring 34 stars, was the only one to survive the battle in 1876, and was discovered beneath the body of a fallen American soldier by a recovery party. It was sold in a Sotheby’s auction in December 2010 for a world record price of $2.2m.
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