Steeped in Tradition




The tea-stained Betsy Ross flag is a favorite for the Fourth.

A few years back, action star and conservative activist Chuck Norris called on tea partiers to stop using the modern American flag as a way to protest big government. Norris advocated the use of the Gadsden ("Don't tread on me") flag, the Navy Jack or the 13-star Betsy Ross flag. He added that, if someone insisted on using the current 50-star flag, they could tea-stain it to make it less "modernist."

Flag shops like Flag-Works Over America in Concord are happy to accommodate people like Norris who want not-the-usual American flags - the shop even sells already-tea-stained ones - but the owner, Patrick Page, says most of his business comes from non-political people who simply like flags that look old but aren't. Many of them like the Betsy Ross flag and, yes, they'll take it tea-stained.

"The Betsy Ross flag is our second-biggest seller," says Page. "They're very big with people in New England, especially people with Colonial homes. They want a flag that looks authentic."

Tea-staining is relatively new, available for just a few years at flag shops (you were always able to brew up some Darjeeling and dunk Old Glory yourself).

Tea-staining reportedly doesn't have anything to do with the rise of the Tea Party; it was simply a way to satisfy the demand for old-looking flags.

The tea-staining process has a disadvantage or two - 100-percent cotton flags are used, and they tend to shrink a bit and be a tad wrinkled when they dry. They still fly proudly, though a little less crisply.

A bit of flag trivia - did you know that there's some dispute about whether Betsy Ross, at the request of a committee that included George Washington, did indeed sew the original 13-star flag that today bears her name?

Flag historians say there's no way to prove it for sure one way or the other. The patriotic Page says he chooses to believe Ross did do the sewing.

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