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The Forster Flag: Endowing a Legacy

Forster Flag
The Forster Flag

February 5, 2014

The Forster Flag is one of 30 Revolutionary-era flags known to have survived and the only one not in a museum or institution. On Wednesday, April 9, 2014 it will be auctioned in New York City. Owned by the Flag Heritage Foundation, the proceeds of the auction will be donated to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History in order to endow the Whitney Smith Flag Research Center Collection at the University of Texas at Austin.

It is hoped, although all parties are aware it may not happen, that the purchaser of the flag will donate it to the Briscoe Center, where it would serve as the centerpiece of the Flag Research Center Collection and reside alongside other historical treasures such as a 1769 George Washington letter, the Texas Declaration of Independence printed in San Felipe de Austin, 1836, the papers of Walter Cronkite, and the largest single collection of photographs related to the U.S. presidency outside of Washington, D.C.

The Forster Flag is the earliest extant flag incorporating 13 white stripes to represent the 13 United Colonies. It was created at a time when American flag designs largely incorporated regional symbols rather than national ones. Furthermore, it predates 1777, when the fledgling United States government adopted the thirteen-star design with the resolution, "that the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation."

According to family lore, the flag was carried in the Lexington and Concord Alarm on April 19, 1775, by the Minutemen of the Essex County Militia, who bravely responded to the call. It was inspired by liberty flags flown in Boston in the years following the hugely unpopular Stamp Act of 1765 and the Boston Tea Party of 1773. The flag remained in the Forster family's possession for 200 years until it was sold to the Flag Heritage Foundation in 1975. It was subsequently loaned to the Flag Research Center, created by Dr. Whitney Smith, where it was expertly cared for and researched. (Dr. Smith, considered the father of modern flag scholarship, served both organizations for decades.)

Considered the most important collection of its kind, the Flag Research Center was acquired by the Briscoe Center in October 2013. The newly created Whitney Smith Flag Research Center Collection, funded by proceeds from the auction, will make those collections accessible to a broad range of researchers, students and enthusiasts.

It is hoped that the auction will raise sufficient funds to establish an endowment that will support a full-time archivist as well as continued growth of the collection, conservation as needed, and programs and publications based on the collection.

The Forster Flag is an important relic of the American Revolution, the spirit of which lives on in Texas. It is likely to be the final one of its kind ever offered for sale. The Briscoe Center hopes that this banner of freedom can be brought to the University of Texas on a permanent basis.

For more information please contact Lisa Avra, our associate director and chief development officer, at 512-495-4696 or l.avra@austin.utexas.edu.

For a private viewing of the Forster Flag, please call Peter Costanzo of Doyles, News York at 212-427-4141, ext. 248, or email peter.costanzo@DoyleNewYork.com

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