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July 2006


FEATURE

Patriotic Passion
by Ann Sample

A PRIVATE COLLECTION OF HISTORIC AMERICAN FLAGS FLIES HIGH IN WILTON

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We all have passions. For J. Richard Pierce, a former bank executive living in Hunterdon County, N.J., it's American flags—not your standard variety, but the quirky, sometimes homemade versions sewn or printed before an early-20th-century executive order regulated the design. Eighty of Pierce's 240 flags are on view at the Wilton Historical Society through the middle of August. The exhibit is a patriotic (and at times seemingly irreverent) journey through our nation's many takes on the Stars and Stripes.

The first official American flag was introduced in 1777. Its design consisted of 13 stars and 13 stripes, symbolizing the number of colonies. (Although traditionally the colors were symbolic, too—red for valor, white for purity and blue for loyalty, perseverance and justice—there's no evidence that this was officially decreed by the government.) As it does today, that first flag stood for our national unity and individual freedoms. Although the government sanctioned it, the American flag's design wasn't standardized until more than 130 years later. In the mean time, the flag evolved as states were added, and they were often imprinted, which is now generally considered defacement. During the lengthy time of creative license, the iconic image was enlisted to inspire as often as it was to sell.

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