The poor Redcoats didn't know from one day to the next what the Americans would be waving, but a partial collection of flags used during the War of Independence (64 flags in all colors but black and lavender) was widely admired here by visiting vexillologists.
Vexillology is the study of flags.It can branch off into sociological questions - why do people feel this way and that way about flags, why are different flag behaviors peculiar to various peoples, etc. - or it can settle happliy into the collection of old flags, the study and preservation of flag lore, etc.
For some, it is a study somewhat related to heraldry, while for others "flags are the border of roses in the garden of history," as Whitney Smith likes to point out. He would really prefer history to be the border of thegarden of flags.
In any case he is the prime mover of an International Congress of Vexillology, holding forth at George Washington University through today, which is Flag Day, and the 200th anniversary of the adoption of the national banner.
"I am the only full-time vexillologist in the world," he said during a pause in the tour of flags at Anderson House Museum. "I was a professor of political science at Boston University until 1969, but now I am a consultant to Franklin Mint (which likes to sell silver ingots engraved with flag designs and I have done work for all kinds of organizations like the Olympic Games, the island of Guam and local Boy Scouts."
He met his wife while the new state of Guyana was holding hearings on its flags in Surinom. She was ill in Boston during the flag congress, a thing made Smith more harried than usual.
"There are about 100 of us here," he said gazing about Anderson House at the flags.
"Thirty-five or 40 from abroad, if you count Canada.
"I helped the American Civil Liberties Union in the case about the young man who sewed the flag on his pants:
"We are not flag wavers here, you know. You might think we were, having this flag congress on the 200th anniversary of the flag, but mostly we are scholars or collectors. I do not like the flag-waving image, since it does not fit my own style.
"I felt at the time of the flag on the young man's pants that a flag that would send a young man to jail for sewing it on his pants was not the flag of the free. Fortunately he won the case.
"There is such a thing as the equal protection of the laws. I knew perfectly well of cases in which the American flag was used as the design for a footstool. Surely you can imagine that on a hot day a person might sit down bare on such a stool.
"And yet the footstool people were not being brought into court. This young man was not flaunting the flag on his pants - the cop had to lift his jacket up to see it.
"And yet the footstool people were not being brought into court. This on his pants - the cop had to lift his.
"But besides, all that, the thing the flag stands for - liberty, and so on - is more important than the flag object itself."
He paused to chat with Arthur Stewart of Chevy Chase, who is interested in French flags associated with the Huguenots, those Christian Protestants persecuted in the 16th century.
"The galley flag - the flag on the galleys where a lot of Huguenots wound up as forced mariners - had a red field with the royal arms, a blue shield with three fleurs-de-lys. There were fleurs-de-lys sprinkledover the red field too. Since it flew over their galley ships I don't suppose they admired it, but it is quite beautiful."
Smith explained the ground rules of the congress to Stewart, who had dropped in to ask about attending a few sessions, but was not keen to pay $160 registration.
It was explained that as a resident of Washington he could get $60 off, since he would not need a room or breakfasts, but on the other hand there was a $60 penalty for late registration so he wouldn't save anything Stewart seemed to have trouble figuring it all out. Smith said he sympathized but for gosh sake you can't make up 100 sets of rules and 100 schedules for everybody attending.
Smith cannot remember if his parents gave him a book with illustrations of flags at the age of 6 because he was nuts for flags, or whether he became nuts for flags because his parents gave him the book.
"Anyway, I have always loved flags since I was a small boy. I have 4,000 books about flags, and a personal collection of 1,000 flags at home (Winchester, Mass.)."
There he runs the Flag Research Center, a private company that consults on flag problems, and puts out a magazine, "The Flag Bulletin" every other month. This is not to be confused with the North American Vexillological Assn., a non-profit group of scholars an flag nuts.
The days are filled with technical talks on flag matters, lightened with ceremonies today at the National Sculpture Garden, the Washington Monument, the House of Representatives and the Iwo Jima Memorial.
Opening today are a permanent display of state, territorial and historial flags in the Pentagon's Hall of Flags and a museum of History and Technology exhibit on how to date 13-star flags.
On Wednesday an exhibit of 27 contemporary flags from a design competition sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art will open in the Sculpture Garden (the Mall at 7th Street).
Smith has copyrighted a design for a 51-star flag, in case another state is added to the Union, not that he is sure his copyright would stand up, since it's the only possible arrangement of 51 stars if we follow the traditional orderly way of putting them in symmetrical rows.
He was wearing a silk tie with stars and stripes at intersting digonals.
"I just bought it in San Francisco," he said. "It's not actually the flag, but want to be careful not to wear it in Texas," he went on, "because they can put you in jail for 25 years.
"In Texas it doesn't make any difference that it's not an actual flag. If the ordinary person think it looks like a flag, then it's against the Texas law. No, I'm not kidding about the 25 years. I have no intention of going to Texas."