The Observer’s Book of Flags

A moth-eaten rag on a worm-eaten pole –

It does not seem likely to stir a man’s soul.

‘Tis the deeds that were done ‘neath that moth-eaten rag

When the pole was a staff and the rag was a flag.

This quote from Sir Edward Hamley’s the Old Colours of the Forty-third begins the introduction of “The Observer’s Book of Flags”.¬† Published by Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd, London, England, 1959, this gem is chocked full of curiosities.

What vexillologist could resist (that almost rhymes) such a quaint oddity? As could be expected, as it was published over half a century ago, some of the information is dated. For example, regarding the US (they dedicated pp 72-99 out of 204 pages to the US), the author, one “I. O. Evans, F.R.G.S.” (Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society – I Googled it), quotes the “Pledge to the Flags” without the words “under God”.

The Observer's Book of FlagsAlso regarding the flag of the United States, it reads, “… at the time of going to press it has been announced that the arrangement [of the stars] will be altered to seven rows of seven, following the admission of Alaska as the forty-ninth state.” Gee, if they’d only waited another year for Hawaii, …

Of course there are lots of outdated flags, but the symbolism of even those old flags remains inspiring. and of course the rules of “Heraldry – or, more properly, Armory” (hmm, wonder why they don’t spell it “Armoury” – those Brits!), anyway, the rules of Heraldry haven’t changed. These paragraphs particularly tickled me:

The hues employed in an heraldic device are called tinctures. They include two heraldic metals, or and argent (gold and silver); several furs or conventional mottled patterns of which one, white with black mottlings, is called ermine ; and colours British heraldry recognises five colours only: gules (red, perhaps from the Arabic word for ” rose “), azure (from the Arabic name of an ornamental stone), vert (green, from the French), sable (black), and purpure (purple); Continental heraldry also recognises tenn√© (orange or ” tawny “). An emblem depicted in its natural colours is said to be proper.

It is a strict rule of heraldry that colours and metals must alternate: colour must not touch colour; nor metal, metal. If necessary they must be separated by a fimbriation (from the Latin fimbria, a fringe) a narrow border of metal or colour, as in the British Union Flag.

Whew! That’s a lot of italics! We’ll make no guarantees about some of that etymology or the punctuation (shown above as written – honest!), but the information does seem solid for an introduction to the subject. (I did have to slap the old spell checker around a bit blogging this: but what the heck.) And, speaking of fimbriation, didn’t we cover that in our Newsletter Volume 8 Number 2? Of course we did.

And just how ever did we get a copy of this little [5 3/4 x 3 3/4″ (14.5×9.5cm)] book, Dear Reader? Our good friends Bob (not the Robert mentioned in our post of April 2nd) and his wife Pat found it and thought we’d enjoy it. Of course! We’re flag lovers! Thanks, Bob and Pat!

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