Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lands of the Forgotten Flags

Now that Vexillophilia has been decommissioned, I'm afraid that occasional flag content is now back on the table here at the Life & Times.  Courage!

One of the coolest albums in my grandfather's stamp collection is this one, the Imperial Postage Stamp Album.  It has a cover that, at first glance, seems to combine a couple of recognizable real-world flags with some other plausible but not-quite-real flags that somebody just made up.

But no -- these aren't imaginary flags, they are flags of the past, even from the perspective of the Imperial Album, published in 1934.  Apparently assuming that stamp people are probably flag people as well -- which seems reasonable enough -- the publishers of the album devoted a number of pages to the flags of the world.  In addition to making awesome coloring-book pages for a dorky child of a certain stripe, the flags are an interesting look at the past.

We start with a 45-star U.S. flag, albeit with the stars not in the proper configuration of the 1896-1908 banner.  Then, after quickly noticing that Austria's flag used to be far busier then it is today, and waving hello to friendly, familiar, stable Brazil, we notice that the individual principalities that unified to form Germany are shown individually.  This is kind of trippy, for me at least.  It's a measure of the success of German unification, even despite the East/West thing from 1945 to 1990, that it's hard to imagine a world in which its constituent parts were taken seriously as independent countries.  They even issued their own stamps!  Isn't that adorable?

Presumably, actual Germans have a different take on this.

So we had the Argentine Republic in the first set, and now here's Buenos Aires.  Weird.  Then, we see what a poorer world it was before the Canadians invented the Maple Leaf, and instead used a private-school blazer as a flag.  China had a pennant, apparently?  The Confederacy must have printed postage stamps?  Korea was spelled with a C?  The Danish West Indies chose to represent itself with an image of tiny lemurs furtively humping somebody's wedding ring?  And then, the comfortable permanency of the Dannebrog, always the same since it fell from the sky at the Battle of Lyndanisse in 1219.

Finland, country of doctors!

Words can not express how much Iceland's flag seems to have improved.  And India's.  I believe the "Ionian Islands" are part of what we would generally call "Greece" today.

You have to love the bizarre status equality granted among wildly unequal entities on any list of "countries."  Here India, which today has about a fifth of the world's population, rubs elbows with Heligoland, a little German Island which has a population of about 1500 today, after having been evacuated and used as a bombing range in the 1940s and 50s.

Lombardy Venetia?!  Modena?  Lubeck?  Mecklenburg Schwerin?  Montenegro?  It's all so charmingly antique!!

...what, Montenegro is back on?  Cool!  Welcome back, guys!

Portugal, Poland, Iran/Persia, and Norway all get points for improving their flags from what's shown here.  I'm not sure what to say about New Zealand, though.

I'm firmly against pictorial flags, but staunchly pro-elephant.  Siam has me in a real quandry.

Of all the South Pacific islands, Tonga is the one that did the best job of preserving a semblance of self-government through the colonial era, and so its flag stands out surprisingly as one of the old reliables along with Uruguay, Turkey, and Switzerland.  Italian unification must have been the greatest moment in the lives of the oppressed flag-makers of Tuscany and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, I'll tell you what.

Incidentally, the Imperial Album is another biographical puzzle in the grandparents' stamp collection.  1934 is nearly 30 years before there is evidence in the rest of the collection that grandpa was collecting in earnest.  So, does this album indicate that he started a collection in the thirties and then dropped it?  Did he inherit it one way or another from someone else in the family?  Or did he maybe pick it up on the cheap at some garage sale in 1960, it becoming the spark that set off his four or five years of active interest in stamps?  It's unlikely I'll ever know, but for some reason I find it interesting, and somehow comforting, to wonder.


The Calico Cat said...

Now we need to know why they changed & when. Also for those German & Italian State flags, are they still in use as State flags or were they abandoned completely?

I have heard that Corea changed to Korea so that it would be alphabetically after Japan...

dhkendall said...

Calico Cat: All your questions can be answered at what is, imho, the best flag research site on the Internet: http://www.fotw.net.

Aviatrix said...

I love this blog entry. You should write many more like this and I will return to read them.

The comment I originally composed already sounded too much like a spambot, so I decided to go whole hog.