Whitney Smith – A Personal Reminiscence

by Ted Kaye

I first met Whitney over 35 years ago—in Madrid at the 11th International Congress of Vexillology.  On the first day, when the vexillologists visited the Spanish Naval Museum, I observed a mustachioed figure pointing out an error in a replica flag.  Someone identified him to me as Dr. Smith.

On my next trip to the Boston area I visited the Flag Research Center.  That journey, according to Jim Ferrigan, allowed me to append “vex” to my name, much like a Muslim uses “haj” after making the pilgrimage to Mecca.  After the full and engaging tour of the FRC, Whitney described its library as the largest collection of flag books in the world, asking me to guess where the second-largest was.  His answer?  “In the basement—all my duplicates!”

How did I become “advisory editor” of the Flag Bulletin?  While organizing Flag Congress/San Francisco in 1987, I negotiated the publication of the congress proceedings by the Flag Research Center as a special FB issue.  In the course of proofreading over 20 articles and 260 pages, I got to know the FB house style and Whitney’s approach to editing.  Afterwards, noticing that the Flag Bulletin had the occasional typographical error, I suggested to Whitney that he send me articles in advance—since I was going to read them anyway I might as well help him catch typos.  Unable to resist wielding the red pen, I soon found myself suggesting copy-editing improvements.  Whitney quickly put me on the masthead and began routinely sending me article drafts for copy-editing.  Since then I edited well over 200 articles, some more than once!  The only problem with that arrangement is that since I was already familiar with the content, the published FB came as a bit of an anti-climax.

I participated in over 25 NAVA meetings and ICVs with Whitney, and what impressed me most is his willingness to engage anyone interested in flags—from the novice to the expert—with equal enthusiasm and grace.  For example, my son Mason (who was interested in flags before he could talk) first met Whitney at age 2.  Later, Whitney provided encouragement and guidance as Mason researched and delivered three award-winning papers at successive ICVs.  After Mason (at age 13) presented his first paper—on “Tribar Flags” in Victoria in 1999—Whitney formally welcomed him into the ranks of vexillologists and presented him with a signed copy of Flags and Arms through the Ages and across the World (a book we had always called “Whitney’s Big Book of Flags”).  I told Mason afterwards that he’d just completed his “tri-bar mitzvah”.

The next year, before starting his work on “Mappy Flags” for presentation in York, Mason asked Whitney what scholarship had already occurred—Whitney was able to tell him “the coast was clear”, and predicted he would find perhaps three dozen examples.  Whitney may have been as surprised as anyone when Mason identified over 400 flags with maps on them.  In gratitude, Mason provided a full copy of his paper and research materials to the Flag Research Center.  Later, Whitney would write a stellar college recommendation for Mason for his successful early application to Occidental College.

When the Flag Bulletin completed 50 years of publishing, I saluted Whitney—through this reminiscence—on his dedication to sound scholarship (even at the expense of timely publication), his commitment to advancing the science of vexillology (even if he has to repeat himself to reporters constantly), and his enthusiasm for promoting connections among flag scholars (even as it takes significant time away from his paying business).

The flag world owes Whitney a tremendous debt.  Our flags are at half-staff.

Whitney Smith gives congratulations and his book to Mason Kaye, long-time PFA member, on the occasion of Mason’s Driver-Award-winning talk at NAVA 33/ICV 18 in Victoria, BC, in 1999 (with 6 PFA members attending).

Whitney Smith, founder of modern vexillology, died on 17 November at the age of 76. For more on the life of Whitney Smith, see the obituary in the New York Times.

Vexilloid Tabloid #61

Our December 2016 newsletter features:

  • Whitney Smith, 1940-2016
  • Flag Change in Columbia, South Carolina (Ted Kaye)
  • The Fleur-de-Lis: From Lys to Lis, or from Flower to Emblem (Patrice de La Condamine)
  • Vexiday: The First World Vexillology Day (Scott Mainwaring)
  • Michael Orelove’s Burgees Make Port (Michael Orelove)

And, as always, notes from our last meeting, a roundup of flag news, the flag quiz, and what the Portland flag has been  up to lately.


What’s that Halloweenish Flag? (From VexTab #7)


The Vexilloid Tabloid is the newsletter of the Portland Flag Association.

Celebrate Vexiday With Us At 2:00pm Saturday

We’ll be celebrating the first World Vexillology Day (Saturday October 1) with a public show and tell at 2:00pm at Salmon Street Springs at Waterfront Park here in Portland, Oregon. Everyone is invited to bring a favorite flag (or two, or three…) to show, and to tell why they find it meaningful. Come have Fun with Flags!

Salmon Street Springs is located in downtown Portland at the intersection of Naito Parkway and SW Salmon St.

1 October Is World Vexillology Day

By Scott Mainwaring
Vexilloid Tabloid #60

FIAV, the International Federation of Vexillological Associations, has called 1 October 1961 the “birth-day of modern vexillology” as it marks the debut of the world’s first journal of flag studies: Gerhard Grahl and Whitney Smith’s Flag Bulletin. This birthday, I think, calls for an annual celebration of all things vexillological: World Vexillology Day; Vexiday for short.

Heraldists have International  Heraldry Day (June 10th), pirates have International Talk Like A  Pirate Day (September 19th)—is it not time that flag enthusiasts got their day in the sun? This April I pitched this idea to my colleagues in the Portland Flag Association, who thought it had potential for expanding public awareness of vexillology, especially among young people—and generally having fun with flags. With a unanimous vote, the PFA became the first member of FIAV to support the idea and to agree to celebrate the inaugural Vexiday this Saturday, 1 October.

Since then, 14 FIAV member associations around the world, including just last month the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA), have followed suit.

The PFA will be marking Vexiday with a flag show-and-tell event in a public space here in Portland. Scholars in Eastern Europe will observe it at the First Georgian National Conference of Vexillology and Heraldry. Italian vexillologists are organizing a public event at Sforza Castle in Milan. How will you be celebrating? You might consider joining a flag association, displaying your favorite flag at your home, submitting a design to a flag contest, praising vexillology online (use hashtag #vexiday), or just raising a toast to Whitney Smith or another flag luminary. Let us know at info@vexiday.org.

For more information on Vexiday, visit www.vexiday.org. On social media, follow Vexiday on Facebook at facebook.com/vexillologyday, on Twitter at twitter.com/vexiday, on Instagram at instagram.com/vexiday, and on Tumblr at vexiday.tumblr.com.

Let’s take one day a year to celebrate flags, flag studies, and flag design, every October 1st!


El Quince de Septiembre

Today marks the 195th year of independence for the Central American nations of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. An excellent day to learn to distinguish this close-knit family of flags. To make this a bit more challenging, here are the versions of the flags for civilian use (“civil flags”), and in random order.


Vexilloid Tabloid #60

The October 2016 edition of the PFA club newsletter, The Vexilloid Tabloid #60, is here, featuring:

  • 1 October Is World Vexillology Day (Scott Mainwaring)
  • How Albany, Oregon, Got a Flag (Cole Pouliot)
  • The Flag of Null Island (Ted Kaye)
  • 1993 Proposals for Macau’s Flag (Patrick Genna)
  • Powell Boulevard’s Flag Parade (Ted Kaye)

Editor’s note:

In this issue, Scott Mainwaring tells us about his idea for an annual celebration of flags, flag studies, and flag design every 1 October:  World Vexillology Day (or Vexiday for short).  So far, he has gotten buy-in from 15 flag associations around the world, including the PFA and NAVA.  Other sponsoring associations include: Vexillology Ireland, the Croatian Heraldic and Vexillological Association, Bandiere Storiche (Italy), the  New England Vexillological Association, the New Zealand Flag Association, the Southern African Vexillological Association, the Burgee Data Archives (Canada), the Greater Unified Albany Vexillological Association (Oregon), the Heraldry Society of Slovenia, the Catalan Association of Vexillology, the Flag Data Center (Czech Republic), the Italian Center of Vexillological Studies, and the Breton Vexillological Society.  All of these will be celebrating in some manner on Saturday, 1 October (see www.vexiday.org for details).  If you are part of another association, please join in and let Scott know at info@vexiday.orgHow will you be celebrating?




Memories from a Flag Store on the Morning of 9/11

By Michael Hale
Owner Emeritus, Elmer’s Flag & Banner

The line began forming even before our store opened on the morning of 11 September 2001.

We were still stunned by what  we’d seen on TV—the twin towers collapsing, the thousands of people who died. But we had to proceed.

We had begun sending massive orders for U.S. flags to our multiple flag manufacturers/suppliers early that fateful morning. Our experience during Operation Desert Storm told us we had better order big and hope we would get a ration of the total available.

We ordered a year’s supply of flags that morning. It would not be nearly enough…

When we opened our doors, 75 people or more poured inside—we could not move through the store.  All ten phone lines were ringing.  Every available sales clerk, two outside salesmen, the shipping clerk, the two bookkeepers, and the three sewers all came to help.  Soon the line went down the block.

There was a quiet solemnity, and every customer was patient and polite. There were some who said it was the first U.S. flag they had ever owned. Others spoke of loved ones or friends whom they could communicate with who were in the towers. My own daughter was visiting in New York and planned to visit the World Trade Center that day. I saw tears as people held their flag.

Now the line wrapped around the block. My wife tried to call the store; not getting through she left work and came to help. She stood at the door and metered the flow of people, letting in only 20 or so at a time. Who would have imagined a flag store with a bouncer, and a pretty one at that? We set  up an express line leading directly from the front door to the counter and the three cash registers. But some people didn’t want that. Some said they had waited two hours—they wanted the full experience of shopping in a flag store.

I walked the line outside several times and talked to people as the day wore on. They were making friends, some exchanging phone numbers, others leaving and buying lunch and water for those near them in line. Others, who had to leave the line to pick up kids from preschool or other errands, left money—even credit cards—so that total strangers might buy them a flag.

We limited people to one 3×5-foot flag per family, rationing the flags in the hope they would last the week. As one of the largest flag stores in America, we had a large supply. But it was dwindling quickly.

Elmer’s Flag & Banner, Portland’s iconic flag store—founded by Mike Hale’s stepfather Elmer Reider in 1963, and now owned by Dave Anchel.

On Day Two we again had a line down the block. As expected, our U.S. flag manufacturers responded that they would only ship us a  fraction of our orders.  We found a local fabric outlet with a stock of roll goods of printed U.S. flags needing to be cut, sewn, and grommeted. We set our sewers to work. But they could only make 200 a day. We needed double that number.

Then someone checked our on-line orders, forgotten in the previous day’s mêlée. Thousands of orders were still pouring in from all over the country.

Across the U.S., most flag stores had closed after that first day. Still other stores’ Internet sites crashed. We sent the roll goods to the sewing staff at Jansen Knitting Mills, who were seeing all their swimsuit orders cancelled. They could sew thousands a day! We bought broom handles for poles and air freighted in heavy metal wall brackets.

The line continued each day and would for over a week. This was patriotism, but not the kind where you wave a flag on a pole at a soccer game. It was a kind of quiet determination, a kind of solidarity, a badge of courage—that we were Americans, united, and we wanted to show our pride.

We stopped everything in the store to observe the moment of silence decreed by the president. You could have heard a pin drop if it were not for the weeping. Tears fell again. Our emotions were raw.

So it would continue for weeks on end. We sold every U.S. flag, every sticker, flag pin, flag patch, car flag, and flagpole in the store. We sold two and a half years’ supply of U.S. flags in two months.

More flags arrived in time to fill the thousands of on-line orders. Everything had been shipped in overnight air. We paid tens of thousands of dollars in overtime pay and temporary help. Our phone bill was staggering.

Customers wore out the carpet, and some staffers developed foot problems from so much time on their feet. But not one staff member called in sick for two months. At year’s end we gave them bonuses and matched their 401K contributions to the maximum.

We had sold everything at normal, everyday prices. No one in Portland could have missed the news broadcasts of the lines, the groovy close-ups of the flags being made by our sewers, the interviews with customers. For a brief while, the U.S. flag was at the top of the charts, the star attraction.

One of the results of the millions of U.S. flags sold by all the flag stores across the nation was an increased awareness of the meaning and power of the flag.

Also, the next spring we saw an interesting by-product of the millions of people mounting flag brackets on their homes: many would buy and place decorative house flags on these poles.

That week a new star was born.

Mike Hale retired from Elmer’s in 2011 and remains an active member of the Portland Flag Association.

PFA Meets This Thursday

Dave Anchel (owner of Elmer’s Flag and Banner) will host the next meeting of the Portland Flag Association at 7 PM, Thursday, 8 September 2016 in his home in SW Portland.  For details, see our Next Meeting page.

We look forward to seeing those of you who have missed recent meetings, and hear some new stories, see some different flags, and engage in provocative flag-related discussion. Newcomers welcome!


Ice Cream Flags

by David Koski, Vexilloid Tabloid #59

When I was young I would often see half-gallon cartons of ice cream packed with vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavors.  It was called “Neapolitan”, a good item for a big family like ours, because we needed our choices.

Neapolitan Ice Cream

margheritaThat came to mind recently when  reading an article about the history of pizza, recounting the legendary origin of the Margherita pizza around 1889.  A baker made three different pizzas for a visit by King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy.  The queen favored a one evoking the Italian flag’s colors—green (basil leaves), white (mozzarella), and red (tomatoes).

The story reminded me that the carton of Neapolitan ice cream revealed a tricolor pattern when opened.  I wondered, does Neapolitan ice cream have any connection to the city of Naples?  What does the flag of Naples look like?

Flag of Naples

Hmm, that can’t be right—mustard and  catsup?

Well, there is still a presumed connection to Naples, or at least to late-19th-century Neapolitan immigrants to the U.S., so I see no reason why there can’t be a Neapolitan Ice Cream Flag, something to which ice cream eaters can pledge summertime allegiance.  Done!  The colors are Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry—unfortunately not standard flag fabric colors.

Neapolitan Ice Cream Flag

I soon recalled the other multi-colored Italian ice cream (which I always sample when I eat at The Spaghetti Factory): spumoni (singular: spumone), which typically combines three flavors with a fruit/nut layer in between.

Spumoni Ice Cream

Where did it come from?  The story is that it was created in a Sicilian pasticceria run by the Lo Monaco family.  What does the flag of Sicily look like?  More mustard and catsup?

Flag of Sicily

No, there needs to be a Spumoni Ice Cream Flag.  Done!  The colors are Cherry, Chocolate, and Pistachio.  Again, not standard flag fabric colors, but very tasty!  I tried a version with bits of cherry and pistachio on their respective fields, but that was too much.

Spumoni Ice Cream Flag

So here they are:  two ice cream flags for your summertime enjoyment.  I’m stopping here, but there are almost unlimited opportunities for other ice cream flags, as well as pizza flags, cookie flags, and so on.  The day may come when all of us will be able to express pride in our favorite foods by flying their flags.

Editor’s Note:  It turns out that there is prior art regarding the Neapolitan Ice Cream flag. (The internet is indeed vast.) The blogger Benjamin Weber aka Lairor posted “The Unveiling of the Ice Cream Flag” in July 2009.  He was inspired by the Newfoundland Tricolor.

Bruce Weber’s Neapolitan Ice Cream flag, 2009.
The Newfoundland Tricolor.


The image at the top of this post, of a US flag with scoops of ice cream in the canton, is from a sewing project at craftsy.com/project/view/ice-cream-flag/12834