American Parade Flags with Overprinted Advertising
by Jeff Bridgman
Like every field of antiques, there are many sub-fields within it. Early American flags are no exception, and as any collector sees more and more of what he once thought was rare, his taste buds
get numb and a more narrow focus is required to achieve desired collecting goals. Today my greatest interest lies within subspecialties of flags that contain items previously overlooked by some
collectors. One of the most interesting of these categories is overprints.
What are overprints? An overprinted American flag is a parade flag or a paper flag that was printed first with its red and blue color, then over-printed with words and symbols for the purpose of
advertising. These encompass everything from the promotion of commercial ventures to political races, fraternal organizations, historical events, military reunions and other gatherings.
To understand what these flags are, it is first necessary to first define parade flags and paper flags. Parade flags are flags printed on cotton, silk, wool, or paper. They are intended to be tacked,
glued, or tied to a stick, and used for a short duration (usually one day) at parades, political events, and other celebrations. The range in length from as little as 1 inch to as big as 9 feet,
but are usually less than 3 feet in length. While some parade flags are made of paper, other similar paper flags served as inserts for newspapers, broadsides, mourning cards, fundraising giveaways
and handouts. If a paper flag was printed but never used, sometimes it may never be known if the flag was intended to be tacked to a stick like a parade flag or simply made as an advertising
flyer. But whatever the purpose, many of these flags were not saved by their recipients. This creates the great scarcity of material that serves as the lifeblood of all types of collecting.