Whitney Smith (1940-2016)

The Trustees of the Flag Heritage Foundation note with sorrow the passing on November 17, 2016, of Dr. Whitney Smith, the Foundation’s founding spirit and first and only Director. It was his idea to form the Foundation. He brought it into being and arranged for its endowment, and he supported it with time, energy, ingenuity, expertise, and ideas for 36 years, from its formal establishment in 1971 until he retired as Director in 2007.

The Flag Heritage Foundation was not the only institution Whitney Smith brought into being. He invented the very word vexillology to describe a study that then had no formal coherence, or even a name until he created one. He was the co-convener of the first International Congress of Vexillology (ICV1) in 1965 and co-founder both of the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA) in 1967 and the International Federation of Vexillological Associations (FIAV) in 1969. He was the co-founder and first and only editor of Flag Bulletin, the principal scholarly journal of vexillology, and published 233 issues from 1962 through 2011 (a memorial issue No. 234 can be seen here). He published so many books and articles that there is no reliable count of them – 27 is the number usually given for his books, of which Flags Through the Ages and Around the World (1975) and The Flag Book of the United States (1976) are the best known.

The Flag Research Center he founded in 1962 was in every sense the world center for flag research, and to this end Whitney Smith created in his home in Winchester, Massachusetts, the greatest library in the world on flags and flag documentation. An account by an awed visitor gives a sense of this library, which has been preserved for free use by scholars everywhere at the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas in Austin. Just the finding aids for this still only partly catalogued collection take up 218 closely typed pages.

We remember Whitney Smith as a warm-hearted friend and a deeply committed, generous, thoughtful, careful and passionate scholar. He took a broad view not only of the details of his subject, but of the subject as a whole, and worked tirelessly to secure a place for it among the social sciences. Although he won every honor the world of vexillology could provide, some of which indeed were named after him, he never forgot that he began his lifelong study as an inquiring child, and was determined to make vexillology accessible and inviting to everyone at every level of learning. He was that rare scholar whose love of his subject led him to produce not only books, but institutions to develop and illuminate his chosen field. He will be missed, but never forgotten.

Wanamaker Collection Deaccession Program

Since 1988 the Flag Heritage Foundation has held the Wanamaker Flag Collection, more than 1600 flags most of which were originally made for the former Wanamaker department store in Philadelphia to decorate their Great Hall and other places in the store. The Foundation acquired the flags in 1988 when Wanamaker’s went out of business and needed to dispose of the flags quickly – we accepted them in order to preserve them from destruction.

However, the Foundation has not found it possible to display the flags or put them to meaningful use beyond mere preservation. Accordingly, in 2015 the Board of Trustees decided to give the flags to suitable non-profit institutions that could put them to uses consistent with the Foundation’s charter purposes. The Wanamaker Collection Deaccession Program began in 2016 with four donations.

  • The Foundation gave 366 flags to the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ in Philadelphia. This group took over the care and maintenance of the magnificent organ that was the centerpiece of the Wanamaker Department store, and has kept it in operation for the public benefit on its original site (now a branch of Macy’s). Included in the donation were 197 flags of French royal regiments, 32 flags of French revolutionary and post-revolutionary regiments, 118 British historical flags including royal standards, guild and university flags, and Garter banners (heraldic banners of the Knights of the Garter, intended for display in the knights’ stalls in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor). These flags were not originals, but were reproductions created for Rodman Wanamaker around 100 years ago; they are mostly of painted silk and worked to the highest contemporary standards in the workshops of Paris, London and Philadelphia. Also included were 19 original flags used by the Wanamaker Cadet Corps. The Friends will exhibit the flags on a rotating basis in the place for which they were originally commissioned and intended for use, as well as elsewhere within the store.
  • The Foundation repatriated to Austria 54 original 18th century Austrian military standards, along with some associated objects. They were given to the Military History Museum (Heeresgeschichtlichen Museums) in Vienna, where one such flag had already been donated in 2013. Although many of these flags were in somewhat damaged condition, the Museum intends to restore them, and then exhibit them either on site or in other museums within the former Austrian Empire.
  • Many of the Wanamaker flags were not in good enough condition to be exhibited and were not suitable for restoration. The Board decided that these flags could still advance the Foundation’s charter purposes in fabric conservation training programs, where student conservators could use them (as cadavers are used in medical schools) to learn and practice their techniques. Accordingly 227 damaged flags (and some not damaged but of limited visual and historic interest) were given to the International Preservation Studies Center (formerly the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies) in Mount Carroll, Illinois, for use in their current and future conservation training programs.
  • With the same idea in mind, the Foundation donated 20 of the flags in the worst condition the Conservation Department of the Natural History Museum of The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, for use in an ICCROM “First Aid for Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis” emergency response course it hosted in 2016. (ICCROM stands for the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property.) Conservators used our flags to learn how to rescue and preserve flags and other textiles in emergency situations such as floods and fires.
  • The Foundation is exploring other avenues for deaccessioning the remainder of the Wanamaker Collection in a responsible way that advances our charter purposes. Non-profit institutions interested in donations of Wanamaker flags are invited to contact Trustee David Phillips at dfp18@columbia.edu.

Civil War Manuscript and Rare Signal Books Donated to University of Texas Library

university of texas at austinFHF

The Flag Heritage Foundation has donated a Civil War manuscript with unique flag documentation, and three rare and valuable early signal books, to the Whitney Smith Flag Research Collection at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

The most important of these items is the 1864 Memorandum Book of Matthew M. Yorston, gunnery officer of the Union warship U.S.S. Kenwood.

Kenwood was a sternwheel steamer launched in April 1863. She joined the Mississippi Squadron in June and operated on the Arkansas River in the vicinity of Fort Pillow, participating in the capture of Yazoo City that July. She was then sent to the Port Hudson Division and served as a patrol gunboat at Baton Rouge until 1865. After the war she was sold into the merchant service as the Cumberland; she exploded and sank in 1869.

The Memorandum Book records watch, quarter and station bills, fire bills, signal calls, division rosters, daily routine, weekly and daily rations, and internal regulations of U.S.S. Kenwood. There is also a daily log or journal of about 50 pages, now legible only under black light. Most important for flag research purposes are 14 pages of hand-drawn signal flags and pennants, in color, including general signal flags and their meanings, individual pennants of each of 94 individual vessels, and Coston signals (flare and light signals for use at night).

The manuscript is about 100 pages long and measures about 5 x 7 ½ inches, bound in full calf with a paper label on the front board. It is valued at $8700.

Also included in this gift are Kendall’s General Signal Book (value $11,000), a British Orders and Signals (value $2700), and a copy of Robert Liddel’s Seaman’s New Vade-Mecum (London, 1794) (value $1000)

The Whitney Smith Flag Research Collection has as its nucleus the matchless library of Dr. Whitney Smith’s legendary Flag Research Center in Winchester, Massachusetts, which with the Foundation’s help was transferred to the University on Dr. Smith’s retirement and is now publicly available to scholars. It is developing into a world center for research into flags, symbolic expression, and state and political symbolism.

Whitney Smith Flag Research Collection Donation

university of texas at austinFHF

July 14, 2014

The Flag Heritage Foundation has given $250,000 to establish the Whitney Smith Flag Research Collection at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. This Collection has as its nucleus the matchless library of Dr. Whitney Smith’s legendary Flag Research Center in Winchester, Massachusetts, which with the Foundation’s help was transferred to the University on Dr. Smith’s retirement and is now publicly available to scholars for the first time. It is hoped and expected that the Collection, in its new home at Austin, will develop into a world center for research into flags, symbolic expression, and state and political symbolism, and will attract further donations of research material by scholars and collectors in the years to come.

Forster Flag sold

The Flag Heritage Foundation sold the Forster Flag in April 2014, and is applying the proceeds of the sale to fund the Flag Heritage Fund at the University of Texas. This gift will allow the Flag Research Center’s vast collection of books, pamphlets, files, papers and documentation about flags, their history and meaning to find a permanent home at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University’s flagship campus in Austin. This collection, assembled over many decades by Dr. Whitney Smith, the foremost scholar in the field, is the greatest of its kind in the world, and we hope and expect that it will form the nucleus of a great public center for study and scholarship.

Information about the development of the Whitney Smith Flag Research Center Library at the University of Texas, and about the Flag Heritage Fund, will be posted here as circumstances warrant.

Austrian Flag donation

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June 12, 2013

The Flag Heritage Foundation and the Military History Museum in Vienna, Austria are pleased to announce that the donation by the Foundation to the Museum of an original Austrian cavalry standard 1769 patterned from the time of Maria Theresa (1740-1780) has been completed successfully.

hgmThe Flag Heritage Foundation, founded in 1971 and now located in Danvers, Massachusetts, USA, is a non-profit organization dedicated to flags and flag study. Its main purpose is to preserve flags and flag-related objects, to collect, organize and disseminate information about flags and related symbols, to promote public knowledge about the history of flags, and to cooperate with individuals and institutions sharing these interests. The Flag Heritage Foundation is a constituent member of FIAV, the International Association of Vexillological Associations.
Further information can be found on the Foundation’s website www.flagheritagefoundation.org.

The Military History Museum (Heeresgeschichtlichen Museums) in Vienna belongs to the Ministry of Defense. It is one of the most important military history museums in the world, situated right in the center of the Arsenal. The Museum was built from 1850 to 1856 and was thus the city’s first museum. In five major sections the museum shows the history of the Habsburg Empire from the end of the 16th century until 1918 and Austria’s fate after the dissolution of the monarchy up to the year 1945. The museum contains one of the largest flag and standard collections world-wide.
The Museum’s website is found at http://www.hgm.or.at.

The Foundation acquired the Austrian cavalry standard in 1988, when Wanamaker’s Department Store in Philadelphia liquidated its important display collection. Its value, based on an earlier appraisal, is about $8.000 (€6.200). In 2012 the Foundation’s Board of Trustees voted to repatriate the flag to Austria and donate it to the Military History Museum in Vienna. hgmBoth institutions are pleased to have been able to cooperate in bringing a piece of Austria’s cultural and military heritage home to a place where it can be properly conserved, studied and enjoyed by people from all over the world. The Museum intends to use advanced modern conservation methods to restore the standard which has been damaged over the centuries, and hopes to be able to put it on permanent display after the completion of this project.

  • HR Mag. Dr. M. Christian ORTNER
    Direktor des
    Heeresgeschichtlichen Museums/MHI
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  • David F. PHILLIPS
    Trustee
    Flag Heritage Foundation
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