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Flag Types

Analsysis of the FOTW Library

Last modified: 2011-12-23 by rob raeside
Keywords: fotw statistics | flag type statistics |
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Editor's Note: In November, Jorge Candeias began reviewing certain items regarding flag types on FOTW. This series is still on-going as the November material was being edited.


Back in September (2003), I downloaded all the image zipfiles from FOTW and the result was a snapshot of the image files at that stage of development of the website.

These image zipfiles also include a lot of obsolete images, no longer linked from the pages but still part of the zips due to errors and omissions in deletes.

However, there are so many of them that they can be used to collect a few data about how common the various types of flags really are around the world. With a few caveats:

Caveat # 1 - Due to differentiated country representation in FOTW, not only because the editors work at different paces, but also because the contributors have widely different degrees of information from different countries of the world, some flags more common in those countries better represented in the site will have their abundance overestimated, and vice-versa.

Caveat # 2 - FOTW GIFfers are a lot faster in the GIFfing of simple flags than when the flag is complex. This leads to under-representation of the more complex types of flags and, consequently, to the underestimation of their abundance.

Caveat # 3 - The types of flags I selected are debatable, and so are the choices about the placement of some flags. I will try to make my choices clear, but sometimes some subjectivity and deciding simply on the basis of what "feels right" is inevitable. This happens mostly in subtypes of the more generic types (we won't deal with them for a while, though), but will come up here and there from the top. Despite being debatable, and althogh that debate will be welcome, I won't change anything in methodology from your input - I just don't have the time to do it all over again. That input will seve solely to clarify some choices and how valid they are (or aren't). Some help in terminology will be welcome, though.

Caveat # 4 - For all the reasons above, these figures should never be looked at as anything other than estimates and preliminary numbers. The are *not* definitive in any way.

Excluding icons and somesuch, we have basically 38 713 files divided amongst 5 types of images in FOTW: flags, construction sheets, roundels, symbols (COAS, seals and other related symbols) and maps. In September the respective numbers were:

Flags 31 354 80,99%
Symbols 5 885 15,20%
Construction sheets 1 094 2,83%
Maps 216 0,56%
Roundels 164 0,42%

That number includes also those images to colour that are to be found at the mist folder.

The basic division of flags is, of course, in their shapes. Here, I've grouped together square and rectangular flags in the largest cathegory and will always deal with them together. A special type of rectangular flags, though, will be treated separately: vertical flags.

Rectangular	26 548  84,11%
Vertical 	 1 974  6,25%
Swallowtails 	 1 790  5,67%
Triangular 	   776  2,46%
Trapezoidal 	   110  0,35%
Streamers 	   108  0,34%
Hanging 	   101  0,32%
Bizarre shapes 	    54   0,17%
With tongues 	    31  0,10%
With a round fly    21  0,07%
With not straight fly 16  0,05%
With streamer 	    13  0.04%
Wimpels 	    13  0.04%
Parallelograms 	    10  0,03%

Some of these categories are self-explanatory (and the bigger ones will be dealt with in closer detail later on), but some aren't.

- "Trapezoidal" flags are those shaped as triangles with the tip (fly) cut off.
- "Hanging" flags are gonfannons and the like. I've only included here those images that show the horizontal hanging system, the rest was put under "vertical flags".
- "Bizarre shapes" are all those weirdly shaped flags that don't add up to at least 10 instances each.
- Flags "with tongues" are flags of the general structure of the venetian flag.
- Flags "with a round fly" are just that: flags shaped as shields with round flies. Some Algerian flags are good examples.
- Flags "with not straight fly" are those that would be rectangular, if it wasn't for some chunks taken off the fly, excluding similar categories, like swallowtails. A good example is the ancient flag of Valencia, Spain
- Flags "with streamer" are a somewhat artificial category of flags, whose GIFs in FOTW include a streamer above.
- "Parallelograms" are those flags shaped as the ASCII-drawing below. They are mostly from Poland.

The rectangular flags are subdivided as:

Plain fields       8 701   33,04%
Bicolours          4 693   17,82%
Tricolours         3 744   14,22%
Striped            2 936   11,15%
Tribands           2 719   10,32%
Crosses            1 604    6,09%
Bordered             989    3,76%
Quartered            571    2,17%
Gyronnies            147    0,56%
Lozengies             92    0,35%
Checquered            71    0,27%
Semees                40    0,15%
With bizarre fields   16    0,06%
Interwoven            14    0,05%

I have spotted some errors in the meanwhile, so these numbers will take precedence over those posted back then. I will make subdivisions whenever in a given type or subtype can be spotted one or more subgroups with more than 10 flag images.

Starting with a rare type: the flags with round flies, or lanceolates. These can be divided in flags that can be considered as a rectangle with a semicircular fly added to it and those that start curving from the hoist:

Rectangular 13    61,90%
Curved       8    38,10%
Total       21

By countries, these two subtypes are divided thus:

Rectangular

Algeria    3    23,08%
Spain      3    23,08%
Tunisia    3    23,08%
Others     4    30,77%

Curved

Algeria    4    50,0%
Tunisia    3    37,5%
Others     1    12,5%

The flags with tongues have one major subtype: those that look as if someone simply took a pair of scissors and a rectangular piece of cloth and opened narrow cuts to create the "tongues", as opposed to all the remaining subtypes, that work more as if indentations were removed from the fly, or as if small bits of cloth were sewn to it.

These flag images are divided thus:

With cuts   11    35,48%
Others      20    64,52%
Total       31

By countries, these two subtypes are divided thus:

With cuts

Italy     11  100%

Others

Italy      6   30%
Religious  5   25%
Others     9   45%

Hanging flags

This category grew. This is, as I mentioned earlier, a category that shares with vertical flags many points of contact, and I decided to include here all those flags that were showing the method of hanging, with pole and all. But I got distracted and ended up putting in vertical flags many flags that fit the description.

Why did I make the separation? For two reasons: First of all, because vertical flags are those that are higher than long, and many of these fly from poles the normal way; secondly because some flags that hang are not higher than long. Good examples are the roman vexilla.

It would be more accurate and significant to make a study of these flags with relation to how they are displayed, but that's not for a quick visual classification of images, as the one I produced.

I found two major subdivisions of hanging flags: rectangular flags and flags with three tongues:

Three tongues   57    46,34%
Rectangular     56    45,53%
Others          10     8,13%
Total          123

By countries, these three subtypes are divided thus:

Three tongues

Italy    57    100%

Rectangular

Italy       31     55,36%
Ukraine     11     19,64%
Germany      5      8,93%
Croatia      3      5,36%
Others       6     10,71%

Others

Italy    9     90%
Others   1     10%

The hanging flags with three tongues can be subdivided between those that are symmetrical, with identical tongues on both sides, and those that are asymmetrical

Symmetrical   45   80,36%
Asymmetrical  11   19,64%
Total       56

They are all Italian, so there's no subdivision by countries


The symmetrical flags can be further subdivided thus:

Plain        23    51,11%
Bicoloured   21    46,67%
Others        1     2,22%

(all Italian)


No subdivision of the plain ones reaches 10 items, but the bicoloured ones have more than 10 vertical divisions:

Vertical    12   57,14%
Others       9   42,86%

(all Italian)

The rectangular hanging flags have the same kind of subdivision of the rectangular flags, except that there are far less images and therefore far less subcategories with more than 10 examples:

Plain       24    42,86%
Bicoloured  14    25,00%
Bordered    11    19,64%
Others       7    12,50%
Total       56

By countries, they are subdivided thus:

Plain

Italy    16    66,67%
Ukraine   8    33,33%

Bicoloured

Italy     13    92,86%
Others     1    7,14% (it's a religious flag)

Bordered

Germany    5    45,45%
Italy      4    36,36%
Ukraine    2    18,18%

Others

(1 from each country)

Of these subtypes, the only one that is divisible is that of the plain flags, divided by main charge thus:

COA      23    95,83%
others    1    4,17% (it's a cross)

by countries, it goes like this:

COA

Italy    16    69,57%
Ukraine   7    30,43%

Not all the triangular streamers (and pennons) are isosceles triangles, so this is the main subdivision of this cathegory. Furthermore, an error was corrected, removing one image from the pentagonal streamers (lowering the total to 10) and putting it here:

Isosceles  47    95,92%
Others      2    4,08%
Total      49

By countries, the isosceles streamers subdivide thus:

Brazil     3       6,38%
Spain      3       6,38%
Mexico     3       6,38%
Others    38      80,85%

The isosceles streamers can be further subdivided like this:

Bicoloured   15   31,91%
Tribands     11   23,40%
Tricoloured  11   23,40%
Others       10   21,28%

By countries, they split thus:

Bicoloured

Haiti   2 13,33%
Others 13 86,67%

Tribands

Argentina   2   18,18%
Austria     2   18,18%
Spain       2   18,18%
Honduras    2   18,18%
Others      3   27,27%

Tricoloured

Mexico    3   27,27%
Hungary   2   18,18%
Others    6   54,55%

Others

Brazil     3   30%
Others     7   70%

No subdivision of these groups reaches 10 items.

The subdivision of the swallowtailed streamers is a bit more straightforward than that of the triangular ones. The first step is, again, in the shape, with more than 10 rectangular and pentagonal streamers. Rectangular streamers are those that would be a rectangle if it wasn't for the triangle cut from the fly; similarly, pentagonal streamers are those that would be a pentagon if it wasn't for the cut from the fly (not a triangle this time, but a diamond).

Numerically this sums up to:

Rectangular   23    51,11%
Pentagonal    13    28,89%
Others         9    20,00%
Total         45

By countries, the distribution goes:

Rectangular

Norway    6   26,09%
Ukraine   4   17,39%
USA       3   13,04%
Others   10   43,48%

Pentagonal

Thailand  6   46,15%
Albania   3   23,08%
Others    4   30,77%

Others

Germany   4    44,44%
USA       2    22,22%
Others    3    33,33%

The rectangular streamers can be further subdivided by the type of swallowtail. A normal swallowtail is the one that is shaped as a triangle, but there are other shapes (particularly those shaped as a trapeze):

Normal    20    86,96%
Others     3    13,04%

By countries, they split thus:

Normal

Ukraine   4   20%
Norway    3   15%
USA       3   15%
Others   10   50%

Others

Norway    3  100%

The normal ones include more than 10 flags with two fields, called "bicolour" for convenience:

Bicolour   13   65%
Others      7   35%

By countries:

Bicolour

Ukraine    4   30,77%
Germany    2   15,38%
Finland    2   15,38%
Norway     2   15,38%
Others     3   23,08%

Others

USA         3    42,86%
Netherlands 2    28,57%
Others      2    28,57%

Like the rectangular streamers, the pentagonal ones also split by the type of swallowtail, and pretty much the same way:

Normal     12    92,31%
Other       1     7,69%

By countries, they go:

Normal

Thailand    6    50%
Albania     3    25%
Others      3    25%

(the "other" is Dutch)
 
Trapezoidal flags have all the same shape, so will be subdivided like rectangular flags:

Bicolours     30    27,52%
Plain         25    22,94%
Tricolours    14    12,84%
Tribands      11    10,09%
Crosses       10    9,17%
Others        19    17,43%
Total        109

By countries, these six subtypes are divided thus:

Bicolours

Finland       18    60,00%
Signal flags  10    33,33%
Others         2    6,67%

Plain

Signal flags       9    36%
Venezuela          7    28%
Brazil             2     8%
USA                2     8%
Others             5    20%

Tricolours

Finland        7    50,00%
Signal flags   4    28,57%
Others         3    21,43%

Tribands

Argentina      3    27,27%
Signal flags   3    27,27%
Finland        2    18,18%
Others         3    27,27%

Crosses

Signal flags   4    40%
Australia      2    20%
Others         4    40%

Others

Signal flags   7    36,84%
Finland        4    21,05%
Croatia        4    21,05%
Others         4    21,05%

The bicoloured trapezoidal flags are divided by orientation of the division: most of these flags are horizontally divided, but there are also other types of division. Numerically this sums up to:

Horizontal    23    76,67%
Others         7    23,33%
Total         30

By countries, the distribution goes:

Horizontal

Finland       18    78,26%
Signal flags   5    21,74%

Others

Signal flags   5    71,43%
Others         2    28,57%

No subdivision of these divisions reaches 10 images.

The best way to divide the plain trapezoidal flags is according to the position (and existence or not) of the main charge. However, only one position went over 10 examples, and so the distribution becomes:

Offset towards the hoist 12    48%
Others                   13    52%
Total                    25

By countries, the distribution goes:

Offset towards the hoist

Signal flags    8    66,67%
Others          4    33,33%

Others

Venezuela     7    53,85%
Brazil        2    15,38%
Others        4    30,77%

Triangular flags will split further by shape. There are several different types of triangles, being the most common those with the tip vertically centered (isosceles). Other two shapes passed 10 instances: triangles-rectangles with horizontal bottom edges and triangles with round tips. Numerically, they divide thus:

Isosceles          727      93,81%
Round tip           14      1,81%
Horizontal bottom   12     1,59%
Others              22     2,84%
Total              775

By countries, these four subtypes are divided thus:

Isosceles

Germany     84     11,55%
France      84     11,55%
USA         78     10,73%
Mexico      40     5,50%
Spain       37     5,09%
Others     404     55,57%

Round tip

France    9    64,29%
Guinea    2    14,29%
Others    3    21,43%

Horizontal bottom

Indonesia        3    25,00%
Religious flags  3    25,00%
India            2    16,67%
Others           4    33,33%

Others

Germany         10    45,45%
United Kingdom   4    18,18%
India            2     9,09%
Others           6    27,27%

Triangles with round tips have all more or less the same shape, so they subdivide by design. However, only one of the various possible flag designs has 10 or more examples, so the distribution becomes:

Plain       12    80%
Others       3    20%
Total       15

By countries, the distribution goes:

Plain

France      9    75,00%
Guinea      2    16,67%
Germany     1     8,33%

Others
One flag per country

Isosceles triangular flags subdivide by design, and this message will deal only with the major subdivisions and country distribution of those divisions.

We have quite a few categories here, including for the first time a "unapplicable" category. This will be used whenever the image is clear enough to say that it is (in this case) a triangular flag, but not which kind of triangular flag, or whenever two or more flags are on the same image (in this case, two triangular flags). The subdivisions are:

Plain            208    28,65%
Bicolours        116    15,98%
Bordered         106    14,60%
Crosses           92    12,67%
Tricolours        87    11,98%
Tribands          66    9,09%
Striped           27    3,72%
Quartered         18    2,48%
Not applicable     3    0,41%
Others             3    0,41%
Total            726

By countries, the distribution goes:

Plain

USA          24    11,54%
France       15    7,21%
Germany      12    5,77%
Brazil       11    5,29%
Belgium      10    4,81%
Croatia      10    4,81%
Others      126    60,58%

Bicolours

France       22    18,97%
USA          21    18,10%
Germany       7    6,03%
USSR          7    6,03%
Signal flags  7    6,03%
Others       52    44,83%

Bordered

Germany      34    32,08%
USA          12    11,32%
Croatia       7    6,60%
France        6    5,66%
Signal flags  4    3,77%
Others       43    40,57%

Crosses

Spain            15    16,30%
France           13    14,13%
Italy             9    9,78%
Germany           5    5,43%
Austria-Hungary   4    4,35%
Portugal          4    4,35%
Others           42    45,65%

Tricolours

Mexico      37    42,53%
France      10    11,49%
Germany      7    8,05%
USA          7    8,05%
Croatia      5    5,75%
Others      21    24,14%

Tribands

Germany       14    21,21%
France        10    15,15%
USA            9    13,64%
Spain          7    10,61%
Signal flags   4    6,06%
Others        22    33,33%

Striped

France     5    18,52%
Italy      4    14,81%
Germany    3    11,11%
Bahamas    2    7,41%
USA        2    7,41%
Others    11    40,74%

Quartered

International 4 22,22%
South Africa  3 16,67%
Others       11 61,11%

The others have 1 image per country.

Quartered triangular flags are dichotomously distributed amongst those divided per cross and those divided per saltire:

Cross    14    77,78%
Saltire   4    22,22%
Total    18

By countries, the distribution goes:

Per cross

International 4    28,57%
South Africa  3    21,43%
Others        7    50,00%

Per saltire

One flag per country

Stripes come in many shapes and orientations, but in triangular flags only those disposed horizontally have more than 10 examples. Numerically, this means:

Horizontal  15    55,56%
Others      12    44,44%
Total       27

By countries, the distribution goes:

Horizontal

France       5    33,33%
Germany      3    20,00%
Others       7    46,67%

Others

Italy        3    25,00%
Bahamas      2    16,67%
Others       7    58,33%

Horizontal stripes, in turn, can be equal or not and, if not, can be symmetrical relatively to the horizontal axis or not (in disposition, not in colour). Of these groups, only the flags with symmetrical unequal stripes reached 10 instances:

Symmetrical unequal 10 66,67%
Others               5 33,33%

By countries, the distribution goes:

Symmetrical unequal

France       4    40%
Germany      3    30%
Others       3    30%

Others

One image per country

Horizontal tribands may have equal stripes, a narrower central stripe, a wider central stripe or other more exotic arrangements. That's the primary subdivision in horizontal tribands and tricolours. In this case, this means:

Narrow central band   19    51,35%
Equal bands           11    29,73%
Others                 7    18,92%
Total                 37

By countries, the distribution goes:

Narrow central band

Germany         3    15,79%
Spain           2    10,53%
France          2    10,53%
Japan           2    10,53%
Signal flags    2    10,53%
USA             2    10,53%
Others          6    31,58%

Equal bands

Germany    3    27,27%
Others     8    72,73%

Others

Germany    4    57,14%
France     3    42,86%

The flags with a narrow central band can be further subdivided by the presence or not of additional major design elements (a hoist triangle or bar, a slanted stripe, etc.), but only simple flags, that is, those that have only the three horizontal bands, pass 10 items:

Simple   11    57,89%
Others      8    42,11%

By countries, the distribution goes:

Simple horizontal tribands

Germany       3    27,27%
Japan         2    18,18%
Signal flags  2    18,18%
Others        4    36,36%

Others

France     2    25%
USA        2    25%
Others     4    50%

Like the flags with a narrow central band, also those with three equal stripes can be "simple" or not, and indeed the simple flags reach 10:

Simple   10    90,91%
Others    1     9,09%

By countries, the distribution goes:

Simple

Germany   3    30%
Others    7    70%

The other flag is Algerian and includes a narrow band along the hoist.

Not all of the flags I called "spear-point" show the same disposition. The majority have the three stripes converging to the fly, but one of them does not, as if the central striped narrowed insufficiently. This leads to the subdivision of this small group in:

Converging to fly      11    91,67%
Not converging to fly   1    8,33%
Total                  12

By countries, the distribution goes:

Convergent

Spain     4    36,36%
USA       2    18,18%
Others    5    45,45%

The flag that does not converge is Indian.

Tricoloured triangular flags come in different flavours: horizontal tricolours, vertical tricolours and a number of other dispositions. These, however, have all less than 10 examples, so the numbers become:

Vertical      48    55,17%
Horizontal    17    19,54%
Others        22    25,29%
Total         87

By countries, the distribution goes:

Vertical (48)

Mexico    32    66,67%
France     5    10,42%
Belgium    2     4,17%
Chile      2     4,17%
Others     7    14,58%

Horizontal (17)

Germany    5    29,41%
Mexico     5    29,41%
Others     7    41,18%

Others (22)

USA       6    27,27%
France    5    22,73%
Croatia   4    18,18%
Germany   2    9,09%
Others    5    22,73%
Jorge Candeias, November 2003 Go to: Part 2