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Value of Flags

Last modified: 2013-12-23 by rob raeside
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How much is this worth?

- a response from a flag dealer (although not a dealer in old flags, nor an appraiser)

I get asked this question all the time and have promulgated some guide lines to help answer this questions.

I generally ask someone why you want to know:

  • It is for purpose of resale or resale?
  • It is for insurance purposes?
  • Curiosity?

If it is for sale or resale I would point out that the retail price will ultimately be determined by the buyer. You will get the highest price by selling it yourself to the end user. If you plan on selling it through a dealer, he will generally give you, as a maximum, one-half of what he thinks he can get for it. If it is for insurance purposes you must go to a bonded appraiser or auction house, preferably one with experience in historic textiles. They will provide an estimate in writing.

Keep in mind:

  • Flags have very little intrinsic value.
  • Flags are generally worth only their replacement cost. (This is always good place the start!) For example, a 5 foot x 9 foot 6 inch 48-star cotton US Flag from W.W.II is worth between $50.00 and $100.00 (US). The same flag used by the USMC on Iwo Jima cannot be had for any amount of money.
  • It is extrinsic value that makes flags more desirable. So it is incumbent on the owner of the flag to document the chain of possession, the flag's supposed use, and any photographic evidence, otherwise it is all oral and therefore of no additional value.
A garden variety Nazi flag is worth between $50.00 and $100.00 depending on size and condition. Every hamlet in the Third Reich had hundreds of these so they are not rare.

Size is a factor as the larger flags are worth less because they present a storage and display problem for most collectors.

Rarity is also a factor, for example after July 1944 Hitler ordered all the unit colors of the Wehrmacht to be turned in. Only those unit colors not turned in were taken by the allies, the others were all stored in Berlin. 99% of these flags are in Russia, so that those few in the West are disproportionately rare, and therefore fetch higher prices. On the other hand, 13-star USN boat flags are in fact common, and don't fetch particularly high prices.

In terms of actual dollar amounts the most expensive flag ever purchased was the Fort Niagara flag. This was a private purchase from the descendants of the British Colonel that captured the flag. The information I have is that this transaction approached +/-$205,000 (appox. $150,000 for the flag, 30,000 for a custom built shipping container and 20,000 for the freight.)

The highest amount ever paid at auction for a flag was $166,000 for a purported Custer Guidon, (thought to have been one of three Elizabeth made for the General). This was in 1988, at Butterfield & Butterfield Auction house in San Francisco.

As you can see what often happens is that someone may be selling cloth but what the buyer is getting is the story.

I hope this is of some help.

written by James J. Ferrigan III, 11 May 1999

For further information, contact James Ferrigan at