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07.02.08

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Phaedra

100 American Flags

A Unique Collection of Old Glory Memorabilia

By Michael S. Gant


In a nettlesome primary season full of irritating eruptions of inanity, none was more rash-inducing than the flap over the flag—i.e., the flag lapel pin that Barack Obama didn't always display prominently the better to pass Fox News' litmus test for patriotism. Just in time for the Fourth of July comes 100 American Flags, an intriguing volume displaying samples from the flag collection of graphic designer Kit Hinrichs. These flags range from an 1876 centennial banner to an anti–Vietnam War protest flag with red rifle shapes for the bars and bomber planes for the stars. There are folk-art flags and satirical flags—Ray Beldner made a flag from 157 artfully arranged almighty dollar bills. The flag often proved useful as a commercial tool, used to sell everything from cigars to shipping lines to Old Glory Brand canned fruit to flags themselves, as illustrated by a 1912 salesman's sample with 13 different 48-star flags overlapping in one display. A Mickey Mouse figurine in a doughboy's helmet carries the stars and stripes; a vintage boudoir doll comes dressed in red, white and blue. Printed-tin flags with permanent waves sit atop weathervanes; enameled flags adorns women's compacts. Sometimes the irony runs at high tide: several examples of Native American flag-motif beadwork and a "friendship kimono" from 1912 emblazoned with Old Glory on one sleeve and the rising sun of Japan on the other. For the holiday of holidays, there are Fourth of July party hats, noisemakers, clickers, tin trumpets and a parade parasol, all boasting stars and stripes in various clever permutations. Naturally, the flag has often been pressed into partisan political service: campaign handkerchiefs for Benjamin Harrison, stacks of election buttons (what was, one wonders, the National Peace Jubilee of 1899, and what was the button bearing only the word "bliss" promoting?). As for those pesky flag lapel pins, why not splurge a bit on one of the many gaudy rhinestone versions seen here. Kitsch, like patriotism, is the last refuge of scoundrels and fashion victims. (Kit Hinrichs, Dolphin Hiaasen and Terry Heffernan; Ten Speed Press; 112 pages; $19.95)


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