Flag during conservation

Flag during conservation

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Conservation of Victorian Hair Art

Hair wreaths are a symbol of the Victorian Era. While many have some unique features, they mainly follow a standard look. They are most often created in a horseshoe shape, mounted with the open side up to "hold good luck". A woman of this era would often make a hair wreath as a demonstration of her handiwork. The hair included in the wreath was often from family members, however if you were short on hair it could of course be ordered from a catalog. Also found in catalogs were various types of flowers, leaves, and methods of creating designs with the hair.

ABOVE: An example of a hair wreath done in a style that is quite
thin and wiry. It does however feature the typical horseshoe.
ABOVE: Another traditional hair wreath, but with an interesting feature. At the center sits a bird with
colored feathers, in its beak a piece of twisted hair. The hair in this wreath is densely placed, and
while many flowers are in similar colors, a few different shades can be found.  

I have seen very few examples like the hair work that came to the studio recently (see below). This type of work is in the French style, and has been referred to as "French Palette work" or "hair feather design" perhaps because it does bear resemblance to still-life works created with bird feathers.

ABOVE: Here is the French-style Victorian hair art after treatment.

What makes this French-based art work so different than the typical hair work from the United States in that it has absolutely no wires. Instead it is composed mainly of full, large, locks as the focal point, with smaller pieces cut and glued into a design, with a feature of leaves or flower petals, which are pieces of hair laid flat, glued to a paper surface, then cut into the shape desired. The entire work is then glued to glass.

ABOVE: Up-close of the French hair work when it arrived in our studio. You can see the loose pieces as
well as the loss from the cut leaves and flower petals.  Also obvious is the glue that has yellowed over time.

The swab shows the dirt that has built up. Also obvious is the faded initials "E. O."
which were obscured by a loose tendril of hair. 

After the paper board was removed from the back of the frame,
pages of a book, written in French were found.

Hair is still a way to express yourself artistically. Not only are some brave souls trying to figure out the way Victorian hair art was created, there are plenty of modern artists who use hair as their creative medium, like the example below.  

Amazingly these leaves are made of hair by artist Jenine Shereos.
See more of this and other amazing work at www.jenineshereos.com

To see some other ways hair is currently used in art, visit this fabulous blog: http://www.artisaway.com/blog/hair-as-a-fascinating-theme-in-art-fashion-and-design/ it shows several examples of some absolutely amazing modern hair art.

If you would like to know a little more about Victorian Hair Art, visit these sites:


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tape. Good intentions with bad results, and how to store artifacts that really should have been conserved.

In keeping with the theme of storage, today's blog deals with the difficulty of storing objects that have an adhesive of some type integrated with the material of the artifact or incorporated in the mounting of the object.

Too often an artifact is delivered to SAC studio with tape or glue applied to it in some way. Torn paper is often "repaired" with Scotch-style tape or masking tape, which over time becomes a hard, discolored, brittle mess, leaving behind a stain where it was applied. Prints, lithographs and watercolors sometimes arrive glued to poster boards or mats with rubber cement or some other glue. Samplers and framed textiles often receive the same treatment. And the most common "repair" work we see is the mending of  a torn flag, rug and wall textile with Duct Tape, which is sadly regarded by many as the cure-all of any rip or tear.

This silver Duct tape was applied to the reverse side of a silk rug. Luckily the Duct tape
 was only on the rug for a relatively short time. The removal could have been much worse.

We actually have a file of photographs labeled "good intentions". Here we keep a visual record of the repairs done with the best intentions, that sadly had negative repercussions as the artifact (along with the glue or tape) aged. Of course the applier of the adhesive had good intentions, and at the time, the fix must have seemed like the perfect thing. If only they knew that in the future, the "fix" would need its own fix.

We also have a file of articles and resources that discuss at length the removal of tape and glue. Immersion, poultice, rolling, scraping, scoring, suction table, they all have merits and drawbacks and that actually is not what we will cover here. Instead the focus is on storage and what to do with an artifact that has been taped or glued but cannot be treated for whatever reason.

Let's face it, not every artifact can go to the conservator's studio for treatment, yet it may not be best suited to go into indefinite storage because it contains dangerous or unwanted materials.

Q: So what is the best method to store an item that has conservation needs?

A: The quick answer is store it in a cold, dark environment, with low humidity.
       And remember that prevention is better than a cure. Check on the piece often (like every 6 months).

Adhesives are complex things. For instance, unless you have tested a particular tape, you probably cannot easily identify the plastic used to make the carrier, or the chemical composition of the adhesive applied to it.

Here an aged piece of duct tape has separated into several pieces, the silver
back of the carrier, the "fabric" of the  carrier, and the sticky adhesive.

In Franca Manganelli's 1982 article, Careless Use of Adhesive Tape she speaks frankly, "The damage caused is particularly serious as it cannot be undone. The yellowish brown stains left by adhesive tape can never be removed, and if they penetrate from the back of the paper (where the adhesive is generally applied) to the front side, they permanently spoil…in addition the paper becomes fragile and consequently more likely to tear." She goes on to state, "The obvious conclusion is that appropriate information campaigns need to be organized so that these regrettable accidents will no longer occur in the future."

Here is a compound tape repair. The masking tape has clearly dried and left behind a stain,
the duct tape in this treatment was still strongly adhered to the paper and was quite sticky.

So, if you must store an artifact with tape still applied to it, keep in mind the guidelines above and be sure that it is boxed properly with non-acidic materials. These items need to be conserved, but until that time, do your best to minimize any further damage and remember that the items cannot remain in storage indefinitely.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Museum Storage Success

by Gwen Spicer
Occasionally I have the opportunity to see a museum make real improvements in the storage of their collections. Recently, I had such an opportunity. I was asked to visit the Museum of Firefighting in Hudson, NY to examine an artifact. As part of the visit, I was invited to see their storage, and gladly accepted, as I am always interested in museum storage. So off we went.

I had in fact performed a CAP survey for this museum back in the summer of 2008, with the purpose of  thoroughly examining the collection storage as well as prioritizing items for conservation. Back then, the museum's storage was actually scattered in several locations, with a real need for consolidation of artifacts, and expansion of the actual space allowed for storage. Some rooms were better organized than others.

Therefore, when I saw all that was done since my last visit I was very impressed with the effort of the staff over the years. Collections were now completely off the floor, shelving was covered with soft Tyvek dust covers, and collections were grouped by type.

This might seem like a simple effort, but often there are conflicting pulls on staff time, perhaps even staff changes, where such projects do not get accomplished. Even this one did not happen overnight, but has taken several years. It should be noted that the Museum did also receive an NEH Preservation Assistance Grant in order to purchase supplies.

I thought that I would show some before and after photographs of their great work.

Above, items in the collection are placed on open shelves.  Below, everything is covered with Tyvek dust covers.

Before photo (left) shows many items in cardboard boxes, most of which were stacked on the floor.   The After photo (right) shows the switch to acid-free boxes and the ever-important dust-covers.

The gift shop storage (seen on the Left) was moved from artifact storage, allowing for painting storage racks (Right).

Awkward shelving was replaced with more standard metal shelving.

Perhaps my favorite part of the Museum of Firefighting's storage is their wonderful use of magnets!
A low-tech solution to hold the dust covers was done with large metal washers fastened with plastic rivets and 1" disc magnets. All sides of the metal shelves were covered with a layer of soft Tyvek. At the back and sides of the units, the Tyvek was secured around the perimeter with the washers and rivets. At the front of the units, the Tyvek was positioned as two overlapping parts. The sides were secured with the washer/rivets, but the top edge and center was secured with 1" ceramic disc magnets.

The metal washers were held in place with pushed-in, ribbed shank plastic rivets.

The pushed-in, ribbed shank, plastic rivet (illustrated above) can be purchased from McMaster-Carr.
 On the Left, the soft Tyvek is closed, covering the front of the shelf units. On the Right, 
removing the ceramic magnets to view the artifacts behind.

Corroplast sheeting was secured with plastic tie wraps.

For their storage needs, the Museum selected ceramic or ferrite magnets over a stronger rare earth option. In this situation, it was found that the rare earths were just too strong for the job. And in fact, they were correct, had they selected the stronger rare earth magnet, the sharp attraction or shock from "jumping" onto the metal shelving would, over time, demagnetize the magnet. For this specific type of use, the less expensive ceramic magnet with the low to medium pull force is the best choice.

At SAC we discuss storage often with our clients simply because storage is incredibly important.  Over the next few posts we will be talking about some storage specifics and some storage generalizations to assist everyone involved in artifact storage to find the best solutions and avoid making costly mistakes.  Stay tuned!

I cannot overstate the success of this Museum's storage overhaul.  It was just wonderful to see that the artifacts in this museum are cared for in such a dedicated and thoughtful way.  Great work to all who worked on this project!

Do you have a storage success story?  Share it with us!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Historic Amazon cultural treasures and the need to protect them

by Gwen Spicer

The Amazon region is full of surprises and variety. The majority of us know about the rich diversity of plants and animals, and perhaps even the region's role in our understanding the origin of species in evolution. Henry Walter Bates and Alfred Russel Wallace made many scientific discoveries in the Amazon that rivaled and ultimately complemented Charles Darwin's great insight. In the last few decades researchers have realized how early this region was settled and the landscape altered.  Recent work on the "black soil of the Indians" has demonstrated how Native Americans manipulated their environment to make the soil more fertile. Large regions in the Amazon Basin were totally changed well before the arrival of the Europeans. Deforestation, which began and has continued since the arrival of the Europeans has not been an equally beneficial landscape alteration.

The black soil manipulated from the orange colored sands.

I recently had the amazing experience to visit one of these sites, that is believed to have been inhabited as long ago as 11,000 years. In the early 1990s, Dr. Anna Roosevelt of the Field Museum and the University of Illinois excavated area caves and carbon dated the materials.  Her work overturned the idea that the jungle was not a virgin forest that was simply inhospitable and therefore, uninhabitable by humans.

In the middle of an island of natural savanna along the north bank of the Amazon River near Monte Alegre, in Pará state Brazil are a number of striking sandstone formations. After staying for weeks in the vast and nearly level expanse of the lower Amazon Basin, coming upon such formations is quite a surprise. This unusual region with tall rock outcroppings is a place that offers long vistas of the Amazon channel. This area is the southern beginning of the Guiana plateau that continues north to the top of South America. Early on, the Portuguese established a town close by, Monte Alegre, 50 miles downriver from Santarém. This region was once ocean floor, part of an expanse of water that linked the Pacific with the Atlantic.

Cactus are actually a common sight in this region.

These same rock formations were used by these early cultures. Among the surviving evidence of their presence are the amazing paintings, among the earliest cave paintings in the Americas. They are called the Caverna da Pedra Pintada, or Cave of the Painted Rock.

The great Amazon River to the south.
Yes, that is the Amazon River in the background.

This is all intensely interesting, but what became clearly apparent, just like the Museu da Amazonia (See earlier post), this site too is in severely threatened. It is true that the roads are not good--a four-wheel drive vehicle is needed to reach the site--but for the Amazon, I have seen worse. There is no sign to direct you to the region or the park, though our guide, Roberto do Deus, said that one is in the works, as is a plan to make the Monte-Alegre State Park a more viable entity. Though well-worn paths lead you to the various locations, we were extremely fortunate to have a guide with 20 years experience at the site, what Roberto calls his '"University of the Painted Rocks". Some of the popular caves can be reached on an easy walking path; others required much more stamina. In such a hot and humid environment, consuming lots of water was essential.

Presently there is no security on site, so there is nothing but the good will of the visitors to prevent vandals from defacing these treasured and ancient paintings, truly a national cultural treasure.

The path leading up to one of the caves with the paintings

Monte Alegre is a small town and is not growing as fast as a major city like the Brazilian city of Manaus, but it is none the less in the grip of change. It is now a small community, where people still sit out on the sidewalk and talk across the street to their neighbors and the plaza is filled with people at night amid small stands selling home made foods. Walking the streets, walls around houses were low and one had less of a sense of insecurity one feels in the larger cities. Kite flying is a popular past-time for children and adults alike. An improved electrical service is coming soon to replace the local generator, and the Federal University over Western Pará based in Santarem is opening up a satellite university. These are all great improvement for the community, but locals fear that with these will bring changes and additional people unfamiliar with local customs and respect for the archeological sites.

An increase in tourism will follow, and the need for it to be regulated will become necessary, simply because more protection is needed of these historically important sites.

Nothing is present to prevent touching or marking these pre-historic cave paintings. How to do this would require research preferably without creating additional issues. A extreme solutions was performed at Grotte Chauvet in Southern France. For this site, becoming a Federally owned park is probably the first step where more funding and resources could be available. Such was the case for another Brazilian cave painting site that then became a World Heritage Site. Whether such level of protection is possible here, is yet to be known.

Our guide, Roberto do Deus and others seek to find this balance, allowing more visitors to learn, but also for the community to have respect of these unique and special sites. We only hope that they are successful!

A proposal for the Monte Alegre Park facility is in the works that would have integrated areas, where visitors can meet, complete with rest areas with benches. A building would have exhibition space, work areas for education workers, and bathrooms. Read more about it on Roberto's blog www.montealegrehoje.blogspot.com.br

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Challenge of Protecting the Culture, Artifacts and Natural Resources of the Amazon

Museums are charged with the protection of culture, including artifacts and natural resources. Such is the case of the Museu da Amazonia (MUSA). A giant land reserve, 10,000 square kilometers, in the center of the Amazon region. The reserve was established in 1963 and called Reserva Florestal Adolpho Ducke, in honor of the botanist, Adolpho Ducke (1876-1959) who saw the need to preserve the forest. It is part of the National Institute of Amazonian Research (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, INPA), whose mission is to further scientific research of the Amazon region. INPA is a vital institution, where new discoveries continue to be made at a rapid rate. Then the Ducke Reserve evolved into a public botanical garden, with trails and pathways created for the public to see the diverse rain forest ecosystem, now combined with exhibits that make the MUSA a 'living museum'.

With the enthusiastic leadership of Director Dr. Ennio Candotti, the MUSA has developed quickly into a place where urban dwellers can experience, and learn to appreciate, the ecological diversity of the rain forest that surrounds the exploding urban area of the city of Manaus. Exhibit spaces dedicated to indigenous survival skills are interspersed with orchid and butterfly areas. Recently a collection of hand-woven fish traps has been on display. Continuously running videos show how they were made on site by Amerindians who came to visit.  Dr. Candotti explains that the MUSA actively recruits young people from the urban neighborhoods bordering the museum to be guides, part of the mission to make the local population better appreciate their special environment. From the top of the newly constructed observation tower (more on that below), the visitor can see urban sprawl to the south, and relatively undisturbed rain forest to the north. The visitor standing on the tower is confronted with the immediacy of development in the Amazon. The MUSA offers a place in which a vision of responsible growth in this region might be incubated.

Termite ants across the path, neatly staying within their trail, slowly building a tunnel over their path.

In the meantime, the nearby city of Manaus has rapidly grown, in a chaotic and uncontrolled way. It is among the fastest growing cities in Brazil. The outline of the protected land at the Ducke Reserve can now easily be seen as in the images below where the city stops at its edge.

The two photos above show the growth of the City of Manaus over the last 19 years.

Another ~20year comparison. The shift from small waterside
community to hugely populated waterside resort town,
complete with hotels, restaurants and boardwalks.

The unprotected borders of the Ducke Reserve could easily suffer human occupation, a small bit here and there. This issue can be found around the world, from Ukrain's Folklore museum, Pyrohiv, to the most remarkable list of the 46 properties which the World Heritage Committee includes on the "List of World Heritage in Danger" found on the UNESCO website. My colleague, Linda Norris has written extensively in her blogs about these various threats and the solutions the museums are attempting to find (see Uncataloged Museum and Museum, Politics and Power.)

Part of the Museu da Amazonia's solution is education, enabling the public to understand fully the importance of the forest, not just seeing it simply as the "wild jungle" or "selva" in Portuguese. By hiring the local neighborhood guides, it is hoped that the people bordering the reserve will take "ownership" of the reserve, embrace it as part of their neighborhood, and will perhaps want to protect it as a means of national pride. From their photos on their Facebook page, family programs are also a large part of their activities.

Newly built observation tower with viewing platforms.

A major project to build a special observation tower was just completed. As mentioned above, the tower extends above the forest canopy allowing for unencumbered views in each direction. The guided tour goes through the forest canopy, with platforms for long viewing at various levels. This tower will bring the undeniable changes and challenges facing the reserve immediately to the observer.

The Reserve is not on the list of world heritage sites in danger.  But without the dedication and advocacy it currently enjoys, that could quickly change.

What do you think?  Can this site survive?  Do you know of similar sites that could be in danger?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Surprises that can be found when treating an artifact

A wonderful printed cotton Palampore "quilt" from the collection of Doris Duke is at her home Rough Point in Newport, Rhode Island.  The late 18th century palampore, was treated here at SAC studio. Palampore is a textile that is, according to wikipedia:

 "a type of hand-painted and mordant-dyed bed cover that was made in India for the export market during the eighteenth century and very early nineteenth century. Only the wealthiest classes could afford to buy palampore; therefore, the few examples that have survived are often quite valuable today. Palampore were primarily exported to Europe and to Dutch colonists in Indonesia and what was then called Ceylon. A palampore was made using the kalamkari technique, whereby an artist drew designs on cotton or linen fabric with a kalam pen containing mordant and then dipped the textile in dye. The dye adhered to the cloth only where the mordant had been applied. This lengthy process had to be repeated for each color in the design. Small details were then painted by hand on the cloth after the dying process was completed. Palampore patterns were usually very complex and elaborate, depicting a wide variety of plants, flowers, and animals, including peacocks, elephants, and horses. Because a palampore was hand-created, each design is unique."

Image of a traditional Palampore. This 18th
century Palampore is at the Cornell University
 Johnson Museum of Art

Palampore is probably derived from a hybrid Hindu-Persian word "palangposh" meaning bedcover.

This particular Palampore is unique in that it is not in the one-cloth tradition like the example above. Instead, the bedspread from Doris Duke's collection is made from many printed fabrics that have been pieced together. It is edged with a striped woven tape and lined with a buff colored twill-woven cotton textile.

The Palampore bedspread before treatment. The presence of fading on the right side, illustrates where a window was located.

The obverse is made up of four different printed cottons; a central square and three concentric borders. The central printed fabric is square with a central oval design of two nesting birds in a rose bush, there are also two deer and two water birds and a broken column. The oval is flanked by floral and foliate motifs forming a square. This central motif is then bordered with three repeating printed motifs. The piece is printed in shades of brown, pink and blue-green.

The border is made up of twelve pieces of three different patterned textiles. The pieces are hand stitched together to form concentric squares. The pieces are mitered at the corners. All are stylized foliate designs of red, pink, blue/green and undyed cotton.

The bedspread is padded with a layer of woven napped cotton between the obverse and lining, this has been pieced vertically with machine stitch. Large herringbone type stitches have been worked in a white synthetic floss thread to the obverse, tape and reverse to hold the layers in position. This is padding and construction is not contemporary with the original construction of this bedspread.

The lining has been pieced together with three vertical seams, which have been machine stitched together. The lining has been slip stitched by hand to the reverse of the tape binding. It is likely that this lining is a later addition.

The dark brown printed areas are quite deteriorated and had been actively deteriorating. Evidence of several previous attempts to fill the losses were found. In the image below, the use of a black pen or marker can be seen at the neck of the deer. It now is edged in white, as more of the original fabric is lost. In other areas, stitching with black thread was used.

The bedspread was in fragile condition. The printed colors were faded and the cotton was brittle. The dark brown printed areas were especially brittle resulting in the powdering of the cotton fabric in these areas, it is likely that the mordant or dye stuff used to produce this color was acidic, therefore causing breakdown of the cotton. This type of damage is accelerated by exposure to light. The bedspread is creased and is cockled and distorted, due to its pieced construction, tape edging, and its former day-to-day use.

The central fabric was quite faded, reducing the impact of the design. This fabric has the dark brown printed areas, many of which are showing areas of loss. There has been an attempt to fill in some of the larger areas of brown, the deer, in the oval. There is a repaired area of loss along the top edge in an unprinted area. There are numerous waterborne, tide-line stains across the surface of the textile.  

There are a series of round, brown stains on the proper right bottom corner on the two innermost border fabrics. Where the stains are located is where the cotton is breaking down or has been lost. Two large splits in the second concentric border were present, one on the proper left side and one along the bottom edge. This fabric was also faded and yellowed, as a result of exposure to light.

The outermost border best illustrates fading as it has a red ground and appears to have been protected from light at the corners, top edge and proper right side possibly indicative of its use on a bed.

The tape binding is in good condition, it appears to be strong with no areas of loss or damage.
In order to better stabilize the losses and weak areas of the Palampur, the layers were released. And here is where the surprise was found. Behind the top layer was a printed fabric that was used as a fill material. It was the reverse side of the printed fabric that was used to fill in the losses. The printed fabric is clearly later, possibly early 20th century.

Why was it used? The color apparently was not correct, as that a dark pen was used in the losses.

Could this fabric have been a scrap from a previous decorating scheme of Doris'? The curator had not recognized it, but something could still turn up.

The reverse side of the Palampore after the backing fabric was
removed, revealing the fill fabric used.

Detail of the attached patch and its stitching used.

The patch with the added black filling stitching.

Detail of the center motif, after treatment.

After wet cleaning, the losses were color compensated with a sheer fabric positioned behind the printed Palampore in a color that blended with the overall appearance. The weak areas were all stabilized with stitching. The entire artifact was fully backed. It can now hang straight, as the site requested.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Flags of the United States Colored Troops

While flag day probably conjures up images of our National Flag, perhaps it is also a day to shed some light on the rich history of flags created for military regiments, namely the United States Colored Troops (USCT).

A few years ago SAC treated an unusual National Flag from the 4th United States Colored Troops (USCT) belonging to the Maryland Historical Society. The treatment was the topic of a presentation and paper given at the August 1-5, 2011 Washington Flag Congress. [The concurrence of the 45th annual meeting of North American Vexillological Association & the 24 International Congress of the Fédération Internationale des Associations Vexillologiques ]. The 4th USCT is a spectacular flag with a double sided canton. The flag, composed of silk and hand painted on both sides, had many areas of tearing and shattering. Following treatment the flag was to be mounted with a window on the reverse side to view the obverse of the canton.

The 4th USCT of Maryland before treatment

Treatment of the 4th USCT flag sparked interest in knowing the whereabouts of other surviving flags of colored troops. African American men fought in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Spanish American War; however, these men were not limited to segregated units. The USCT only refers to the troops serving in the Civil War conflict and the Regular Army’s segregated troops that were created in the wake of the success of the USCT. It is not until 1954 when the formal desegregation of the armed forces was completed with the abolishment of the last segregated unit in the wake of President Truman’s 1948 Executive Order 9981.

And while each Civil War unit had their own flags, it is the USCT flags are special because of the individual and unique sentiments often expressed on them, often stylized to represent the unit and what it was fighting for. Many of these flags were hand made and painted by the community from which the unit came. Many of the flags featured a different image on each side.

Their are few flags of the USCT that remain. The New York Military Museum has two from the 26th NY regiment, others are in historic societies or belong to the state from which the regiment originated. But mysteriously, there are several other flags that are mentioned as existing, yet these flags are lost to us in that their current whereabouts is unknown.

26th USCT – New York Military Museum -

Research shows us that the Civil War USCT regiments consisted of: 7 cavalry, 13 artillery (light and heavy), one battery, 144 infantry, and 2 brigade bands. While it is unclear if each of these units had a locally made flag, we know that per regulations, each unit should have received a Regimental and National color or standard and with guidons and flank markers where appropriate. What we do not know is how many of these flags have survived; where are they located and what was their design?

This is not a history, but rather an attempt to locate and create an inventory the surviving USCT flags. Any assistance with providing missing information, particularly of the flags that are thought to be lost or lack any information, would be of great help. It is apparent that these flags are of great interest in flag collections, but appear to be focused on separate groups, often isolated and difficult to locate. Here we hope to be able to have a place to gather images and locations of all the surviving flags. We welcome your help in this project.

The first documented flag created specifically for black troops was the “Bucks of America” company color, which was presented to a militia of free black men in honor of their valiant service in the Revolutionary War. This particular flag is not the flag these men carried in battle; instead it was a presentation color, given to the unit in recognition for their service. It appears in the book Standards and Colors of American Revolution by Edward Richardson (1982).

"Bucks of America" flag, from the Massachusetts Historical Society.  See the
link above to go to MHS site to read more about the flag and the Bucks.

During the War of 1812 there does not seem to be any record of an African American unit. Instead they served in the regular army, in mixed regiments, but primarily in the 26th Infantry which boasted 247 black enlistees. There were not any specifically segregated units. Conversely, there is abundant evidence that the fledgling U.S. Navy was desperate for sailors and many of the African Americans who served were simply incorporated onto the ships they were needed on, regardless of color. Visit PBS to read more on the story of the black sailors and soldiers of the War of 1812 and watch the video link there. Link: http://www.pbs.org/wned/war-of-1812/essays/black-soldier-and-sailors-war/

It is during the Civil War when most of the exclusively black units were created. In 1863 The United States Department of War created the Bureau of Colored Troops. Most well known of these units is perhaps the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry whose story was the basis for the award winning 1989 movie “Glory”. But the 54th is just one of 175 regiments that were organized in 1863. So how many flags from these units still exist? Some sources say less than 25. 

Prior to the USCT there were State Volunteers and the Corp D’Afrique, many of which were federalized into USCT units. An example is the 12th Corps that became the 84th USCT; a flag survives from each period. All of this makes identifying flags more confusing.

12th Corps with reinactor. The flag is owned
by the US Army.
Image of the 84th from the collection of NMAH

A sad discovery is the apparent loss of the flags from regiments from Pennsylvania, which had 11 USCT Regiments. Their beauty is known by the surviving black and white photographs, copies of which are located at the Library of Congress. David B. Bowser, an African American artist, painted several of these.

3rd United States Colored Infantry regiment:
Front of 3rd USCT flag

Back of 3rd USCT flag

6th United States Colored Infantry Regiment  – both sides 
Front side of the 6th. Only these black and white
images exist and they are located at the LOC.
For more information about the 6th go here: http://www.usgennet.org/usa/mo/county/stlouis/ct.htm 

22nd U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment
Front and back of the 22nd, this is the black and white image that had
 been colorized.  Its accuracy of course is unknown because all that
exists are the photographs from the LOC.
24th U.S. Colored Troops – both sides
Front of 24th USCT flag, image from the LOC.  It reads,
"Let Soldiers in war be citizens in peace"
25th U.S. Colored Troops
Front of the 25th.  Image from the LOC.
45th U.S. Colored Troops. Only an image of the front exists.
Front of the 45th.  Image from the LOC.
127th United States Colored Infantry Regiment. Only an image of the front exists.
Color reproduction of the 127th.  It reads: "We will prove
ourselves men"
The lost Pennsylvania flags are the 8th, 32nd, 41st, and 43rd U.S. C.T.
for more about Pennsylvania's commemoration of the Civil War.

Richard Sauers wrote in his book, Advance the Colors! Pennsylvania Civil War Battle Flags that many of the USCT flags made their way from the State Mustering office in Philadelphia (where a flag was held for safe keeping) to the War Department for storage. In 1906 they were transferred to the Museum at West Point. Documented in this transfer are the flags of the  22nd, 25th, 32nd, 43rd and 127th USCT.  By the start of WWII storage had become an issue, and the condition of some flags had become so poor that they were discarded. Sauers mentions that only one flag identified as a Pennsylvania USCT remained in the museum in 1940, but he does not state which one.

Besides the USCT flags of the State of Pennsylvania, not many flags are as well known or documented. The following list is what is known to have survived (listed in order of Regt. Number) and its location. Where possible, a photo is included.

2nd USCT, Owned by the Pennsylvania State Museum
4th – Headquarter Bridgade Flag – Private collection
4th HQ Brigade Flag, image from Zaricor Flag Collection.
Visit the site for more information:
Note: the 4th Regiment National flag is the first flag we discussed,
which belongs to the Maryland Historical Society.
5th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops – (3) Ohio Historical Society - 
Flank Marker of the 5th United States Colored Troops. (Flank Marker of
 the 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.), Ohio Department of the Adjutant General. 
27th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops, owned by Ohio Historical Society
The above two images are guidons from the 27th USCT.  They
belong to the Ohio Historical Society.
Regimental Colors of the 27th USCT. This flag also belongs
to the Ohio Historical Society.
28th Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops, War Memorial Museum
National colors of the 28th Regiment, USCT. Two images of the same flag.
29th Regiment Connecticut Volunteer

Regimental with the Connecticut seal.

The Kansas Historical Society has six flags from the First and Second Kansas Colored infantries. This is one of the largest collections of surviving African American Civil War flags in the nation.

1st Kansas Colored Infantry Regiment (79th United Stated Colored Infantry Regiment) has three flags, a Regimental, National and a National from Company F

2nd Kansas Colored Infantry Regiment also have three flags.
Two Regimentals for the 2nd Kansas.

The Confederacy did have units that included or were composed of blacks, working in a range of capacities but none are known to have had distinctive flags, and the only 1865 period press description describes the Confederate national flag. We would be interested in knowing about these.

After the Civil War, specifically black infantry and cavalry units were raised. These units served with distinction during both the Indian Wars & the Spanish American War, and the Philippine Insurrection. They were often referred to as “Buffalo Soldiers”, an appellation originated by the Native American Indians as a tribute to their fighting prowess. One surviving flag is the 10th Cavalry, located at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Twentieth century flags are more standardized with less variation in design and construction than those of earlier centuries. Examples of the surviving colors include: 

157th Red Hand Division (American Regiments under French command)

366th US Infantry

369th US Infantry (15th regiment NY National Guard)

761st Tank Battalion (guidon)  - photo 

92nd Division 

WWII – Are there any flags from the Tuskegee Airmen?

Further research about individual USCT soldiers can be found here
http://www.archives.gov/press/press-releases/2013/nr13-98.html - This is the National Archives press release and info about the 100% complete records of every USCT soldier. An impressive undertaking and an unparalleled resource for listing each individual from the units who served. If only it came with images of the flags for each unit. The link provided on this page is to the site: http://www.fold3.com/browse.php#268|. This is a fee based subscription site owned by ancestry.com if you wish to research the individual soldiers who were part of any USCT unit.

UPDATE September 2014:
This beautiful flag is currently on display (but sadly only until 9/7/14) at the National Museum of American History.
Image from the National Museum of American History