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FIAV Flag Information Symbols

Last modified: 2011-12-23 by rob raeside
Keywords: symbols | flag information symbols |
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See also:

Vexillological Symbols

The complete listing of these symbols are as listed in Smith's 1975 and 1980 books.
David Martcuci, 07 July 1997

[The symbols below were proposed for use by FIAV, but have never been officially adopted. Ed.]

Alternate version of the flag
De facto Version, no official law or edict making the flag official
Historic flag no longer in use *
No flag approved
Normal presentation (view) *
Proposal
Reconstruction based upon written sources only
Reverse (mirror image)
reverse side is not the same
Sinister hoist - the flag is intended to be viewed with the staff on the right
Two sided; the reverse is different from the obverse
Variant - this flag is one of several which can be displayed
images by António Martins-Tuválkin ("no flag" and "historical" images) and Željko Heimer

* indicates an extended symbol not in the proposed FIS set. This symbol has been proposed by Željko Heimer.

For a full explanation of these and other symbols, see Željko Heimer's Flag Information System page.


António Martins-Tuválkin has developed a true type font for Windows applications using the FIAV Information System codes. The vexillological symbols font can be downloaded from FOTW.

Another TrueType font developed by Phil Nelson using the Information symbols and all grids (shown below) is available for download at FOTW using the Unicode personal use area and compatible with Windows 2000 and above.


Usage symbols

The sixty-four grids for representing a flag are based upon the general usage of the flag. The first row represents land use, the second sea use, each divided into Civil (private), Nation (state/government) and Military use (war flag).

 

Private Use

Public Use

Military Use

Land Use

Civil Flag

State Flag

War Flag

Sea Use

Civil Ensign

State Ensign

War Ensign

The 64 grids follow:

No attributes selected Civil flag
War ensign Civil flag/war ensign
State ensign Civil flag and state ensign
State and war ensign Civil flag, state and war ensign
Civil ensign Civil flag and ensign
Civil ensign and war flag Civil flag/ensign and war ensign
Civil and state ensign Civil flag and ensign, state ensign
National ensign Civil flag and national ensign
War flag Civil and war flag
War flag and ensign Civil flag and war flag and ensign
War flag and state ensign Civil and war flag and state ensign
War flag and state and war ensign Civil and war flag, state and war ensign
War flag and civil ensign Civil and war flag and civil ensign
War flag and civil and war ensign Civil and war flags and ensigns
War flag and civil and state ensign Civil and war flag and civil and state ensign
War flag and national ensign Civil and war flag and national ensign
State flag Civil and state flag
State flag and war ensign Civil and state flag and war ensign
State flag and ensign Civil/State flag and state ensign
State flag and state and war ensign Civil and state flag, state and war ensign
State flag and civil ensign Civil and state flag and civil ensign
State flag and civil and war ensign Civil and state flag, civil and war ensign
State flag and state/civil ensign Civil and state flags and ensigns
State flag and national ensign Civil and state flag and national ensign
State and war flag National flag on land
State flag and war flag and ensign National flag and war ensign
State flag and ensign and war flag National flag and state ensign
State/War flag and ensign National flag, state and war ensign
State/War flag and civil ensign National flag and civil ensign
State/War flag and civil and war ensign National flag and civil and war ensign
State and war flag, civil and state ensign National flag and civil and state ensign
State and war flag and national ensign National flag and ensign

by António Martins-Tuválkin

In the above, the use of the word "state" is to imply the nation; however, when all three elements of a row are identified in use for a particular flag, the use will be identified as "National". [Ed.]


Division of flags by users

Civil flags
The national flag flown on land by private citizens.
State flags
representing the actual government power for example the nation itself, districts and cities, and government functions like customs and border guards. The national flag flown on land over non-military [yet government-owned] property; also called government flag.
Personal flags
Colors representing an individual power or authority. The President of the United State's flag or Minister of National Defence of the DDR.
Positional Color
A positional color is similar to a rank flag, except that it represents an office a person holds, rather than his/her rank. He/she can keep the rank flag but not the positional color when he/she changes position or retires.
Organisation Flags
Sports teams and Trade Unions.
Naval Flags
Navies and Merchant Marine use all sorts of flags and signals. I lump them together for ease, also the construction of the flags is different that land flags (in most cases)
James Gaddis, 08 December 1995
Nick Artimovich, 23 February 1996

1. In English speaking countries -- at least in the US and UK -- it is common to speak of war flags as military flags. This would include personal flags, such as that of an army commander or a general, and unit flags, such as a particular regiment.
2. Naval ensigns are normally flown are referred to a jack in the United States Navy and flown from the jack staff -- at the bows -- when in port. National colors are flown from the flag staff at the stern when in port and from the mainmast when at sea. Both the jack staff and the flag staff are removed when at sea to permit a clear field of fire for naval weapons.
3. National colors are flown 24 hours a day when at sea, but it and the jack are flown only between sunrise and sunset when in port.
4. One caveat -- the above were the custom in the mid-1950's -- when I did my National service -- and before. As we all know, economics and politics have a way of changing century-old traditions, and I cannot state with certainty that this hasn't happened!
Alvan Fisher, 08 December 1995


The laws regarding use of civil flags versus state flags vary from country to country. For example, private citizens are not allowed to purchase the state flag of Germany (Bundesdienstflagge, black/ red/ gold with a central gold shield with a black eagle) because it is the flag of the state - only state officials and institutions may use it. The flag laws of Austria were changed a number of years ago and the flag with the eagle was restricted to official use only. According to J.O. Engene, he is unable to purchase the Norwegian state flag. I believe that in most cases the state flag was designated for use by government officials only, and the civil flag, or "national colors", could be used by citizens. Note the illustration in Flags Through the Ages and Across the World [smi75b] page 129 shows a bullring in Spain with meters and meters of flags/ banners in the red/ yellow/ red pattern of the national flag with the caption "the length of the flag here is no concern, only its colors and the widths of the stripes are considered important.

The implication that people may fly the "state" flag just because it is available and inexpensively printed does not legitimize its use. We in the US only have the Stars and Stripes to wave for civil flag, state flag, national ensign, etc. I would appreciate comments from other FOTW members about the "correct" use of your state or government flag versus actual flag display.
Nick Artimovich, 23 February 1996


That is right. The Norwegian state flag is strictly for official use, and state flags are not sold to the public. For ordinary people to use one would be preposterous - claiming an authority one does not possess. Using one outside the country would amount to the same, at least in the eyes of Norwegians. I would find it strange if Norwegian-Americans would want to buy flags with split and tongue. Perhaps the situation is different for the Nordic flags, since the state version does not add arms to the national flag but instead adds a split and/or tongue.
Jan Oskar Engene, 26 February 1996


What we're dealing with are primary flags of national identification.

The primary flags of national identification for a British merchant vessel is the red ensign; for a German merchant vessel the basic German tricolor; for a US vessel the Stars and Stripes. In standard vex terms, this is the civil ensign.

The primary flags of national identification for a British government vessel other than a warship is the blue ensign; for a German government vessel the tricolor with national shield; for a US government vessel the Stars and Stripes. In standard vex terms, this is the state ensign.

The primary flags of national identification for a British warship is the white ensign; for a German warship the swallowtailed tricolor with national shield; for a US warship the Stars and Stripes. In standard vex terms, this is the naval or war ensign.

The primary flags of national identification for a British private citizen on land is the Union Jack; for a German, the tricolor; for an American, the Stars and Stripes. In standard vex terms, this is the civil flag.

The primary flags of national identification flown over a British government office is the Union Jack; over a German government office the tricolor with national shield; for an American, the Stars and Stripes. In standard vex terms, this is the state flag.

The primary flags of national identification flown by the British Army is the Union Jack; by the Bundeswehr ashore the tricolor with national shield; by the US Army and Air Force, the Stars and Stripes. In standard vex terms, this is [unfortunately] the war flag.

Thus the Union Jack is a civil, state, and war flag

The British red ensign is a civil ensign.

The British blue ensign is a state ensign.

The British white ensign is a war ensign.

The plain German tricolor is a civil flag and civil ensign.

The German tricolor with national shield is the state and war flag and state ensign. 1

The swallowtailed German tricolor with national shield is the war ensign.

The Stars and Stripes is the civil, state, and war flag and the civil, state, and war ensign.

The British Army has its own flag, red with the Army badge, but this is not a primary flags of national identification and therefore, Whitney Smith's books notwithstanding, not a war flag within this system. The U.S. Coast Guard has its own "ensign," but again it is not a primary flags of national identification and hasn't been one since the late 19th century, so again it doesn't fit within this system.

The British RAF ensign, on the other hand, is a primary flags of national identification, and therefore  is a second British war flag.
Joe McMillan, 8 November 2005


1The German federal service flag is not the state flag (and ensign), but the flag for federal offices (and vessels) only, not for offices of municipalities or Länder. These do use the plain tricolor. Thus, many countries make a difference between the usage by the state and the citizen; Germany makes a difference between the central authorities (federal government) and all the rest.
Marcus E.V. Schmöger, 10 November 2005
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