We have given a respectful salute this week to the oldest flag in the Lucas County Historical Society collection and retired it to safe storage, the only option when its long-term survival is the primary consideration.
The flag was hand-sewn during 1860 by five Liberty Township women, Eliza (Dillman) Sydebotham, Sarah Hollingsworth, Elvira Bidlake, Mary Ferguson and Mary Curtis. It won first prize for the largest flag carried by a township delegation at a Republican party rally in Chariton that summer.
Keep in mind that this was 1860, the year Abraham Lincoln secured the Republican nomination for president, and you’ll see why it is both an interesting and an historically significant artifact.
Kept for many years by Lucas County Republican Woman, its care was transferred to the historical society during 1967.
The red and white stripes of the flag, which measures 100 by 42 inches, are in a high state of preservation. Its 34 hand-cut stars, arranged in two circles with one at each corner and a larger star in the center, were sewn onto a blue silk background, however --- and have not fared so well. The silk has deteriorated to threads and the stars are barely hanging on, in some cases pinned to a newer cotton (but still very old) backing. Those pins, now rusty, are a concern, but we have left them in place for the time being.
Ideally, an heirloom flag of this sort should be stored flat, but we have neither the facilities nor the space to do that. So we’ve done the next best thing --- folded the flag loosely within and around archival tissue paper and placed it in an archival box. It will be kept in a safe, dark, climate-controlled place with other vintage flags that will be given a similar treatment.
There are a few lessons here for anyone dealing with an heirloom flag. At some point, motivated by good intentions, this and other flags in our collection were folded into the “official” crisp triangle we’re familiar with from military funerals and other flag-folding events, then placed in glass-fronted triangular boxes.
That crisp official fold is fine for flags in regular use, but potentially disastrous for heirloom flags and problematic even for other flags if long-term survival is an issue.
The folding process can damage fragile heirloom fabric and even newer flags, if left folded for too long, will become permanently creased.
Without the ability to store a large flag flat, the best solution remains to fold it loosely around and within archival tissue (or a laundered cotton sheet) and place it in an archival box. Flag fabric should not touch wood, or standard cardboard. Nor should flags be stored in attics, basements, garages, or other locations where temperature and humidity fluctuate broadly.
We hope our grand old flag will be around for another 100 years and are doing our best, using the means we have, to ensure that.