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Since 1988 the Flag Heritage Foundation has held the Wanamaker Flag Collection, more than 1600 flags most of which were originally made for the former Wanamaker department store in Philadelphia to decorate their Great Hall and other places in the store.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 Wanamaker Deaccession Program was successfully completed in December 2017.
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