1. Chaco Province, 1995 proposal (top); since 2007 (bottom)

    The ’90s were an… interesting time for flag design. This is one of the more out there flags I’ve seen from that decade, and it came very close to being adopted. The design won a provincial flag contest, beating around 120 other proposals (I can only wonder what they must have looked like.) But as soon as it got out there, it was utterly blasted by the public. The outcry was so total that the province passed the flag off the Association of Ceremonial Professionals of the Argentine Republic, who decided in 1997 that it was not appropriate for use. A new contest was eventually arranged, which led to the adoption of a much more traditional-looking flag ten years later.

    (designer: Jorge Alberto Esquível [top], Mario Orlando Gadotti [bottom])

     
  2. Governor of Oklahoma, since 1957

    The Governor of Oklahoma will not rest until Puerto Rico becomes a state and this flag has the correct number of stars.

     
  3. Trustees of the Port of Bombay, 1880-1947

    The British Admiralty had a habit of putting little naval vignettes on the flags it designed, but they definitely went overboard on this one. The flag shows various scenes from the around the Port of Bombay: a lighthouse, a steamship, a dhow, and a signal station. The Mumbai Port Trust still exists today, and though it long stopped using this flag its logo still contains those four scenes.

     
  4. Ilha Comprida

    Sounds nice and exotic until you realize it just means “Long Island”. Dig that colour scheme though.

     
  5. West Virginia, 1905-1929 (front and back)

    The West Virginia flag actually used to be a lot more distinctive than it currently is. The front had the coat of arms and a scroll reading “State of West Virginia”, while the back had a sprig of rhododendron, the state flower. And outside the blue border was an even smaller carmine red border. I’m not aware of any surviving drawings but it would have looked something like the images above.

    The flag had the same problem most double-sided ones have. It was expensive to produce and the colours bled through to the other sides, turning the whole thing into a big jumble. The state legislature simplified the design in 1929, having just one side with the coat of arms surrounded by rhododendrons. This left Orgeon’s four-year-old flag as the only double-sided one in the country.

     
  6. West Virginia, since 1929

    Far the most inventive state flag, but at least it’s a half-step up from the typical seal-on-a-bedsheet you see across half the country.

     
  7. Canada, 1904 proposal

    I first saw this 110-year-old flag on a vintage postcard with the bewildering caption “Canadian Union Jack. Drapeau National Canadien. Registered in the Department of Agriculture, 1st October 1904.” I mean, where to begin, right? Who designed this thing? What’s with the all these weird pseudo-Masonic symbols? What is HLDP? And why of all things was it registered with the Department of Agriculture?

    That last question turned out to be simple. The Deparment of Agriculture used to have a very broad portfolio which included among other things, Immigration, Healthcare, the Census, and Copyrights, Trademarks and Patents. But the rest was a mystery, and the only thing online was speculation about the symbolism. But searching for HLDP eventually led me to a 1908 book called Canada et Canadiens by Adrien Loir. On page 346, in his chapter about Flags, he gives the following explanation, which I have clumsily translated from French:

    A French Canadian named Léger, living in Ottawa, deposited a modified Tricolore with the government. Last year I attended a conference at a political club where this flag was presented by its inventor. Here is how it’s described in the official document deposted with the Trademark Office.

    This Canadian national flag consists of three colors: blue, white and red.

    Canadians say they haven’t chosen this flag because of its French colors, but rather because they are the symbols of their aspirations. They explain further in the official document recorded in Department of Agriculture, Ottawa, 1 October 1904:

    "The blue part is placed nearest the flagpole. Blue, a natural color — The sky, the sea.

    "The white part is placed in the center. — Spotless, Noble, Loyal, A subject nation. — This is the color of purity.

    "The red part is placed at the flying end of the flag. Challenge injustice. Protect our rights. It is the color of defiance, of protection. The eye of God is placed on it, leading us along righteous paths to a glorious destiny for our country.

    "The crosses of Saint George, Saint Andrew, Saint Patrick. The most promient badge on the British flag, commemorating the union of Ireland and Scotland with England, is borrowed in order to perpetuate in our country the acquired freedoms that we enjoy in common.

    "The Tree of Confederation. — The Maple emblem of Canada. The stump and the two main leaves represent the two Canadas. The upper leaves each represent one Province.

    "The globe is divided into six parts, each colour representing one nationality.

    "The beaver — Industry.

    "The two hands. — Brotherhood. We are Canadiens. 

    "The four letters: H. L. D. P. — Honneur, Liberté, Défense, Patrie. [Honour, Liberty, Defense, Country]"

    The illustration on the postcard was done in 1909 and doesn’t quite match the original description. The tree for example has one big leaf for Confederation instead of two for English and French Canada, as well as leaves for Alberta and Saskatchewan, which weren’t yet provinces in 1905. And the globe the tree is growing out of is split into four sections instead six.

    With all that complicated symbolism, this is the type of flag proposal that you would expect to have been ignored and forgotten. But amazingly the damn thing was actually manufactured. There are photos of two surviving examples on the Flags of the World site, one of which is missing the eye of God. That suggests that quite a few of them were made.

    (designer: M. Léger)

     
  8. Western Samoa, 1925-1948

    The lack of creativity that went into colonial flag design never ceases to amaze me. Like really, is that the only thing you could think of to represent Samoa? The fact that it has palm trees? 

     
  9. Lesotho, 1987-2006

    In its day, this was the only national flag to use brown as a major colour. 

    (designer: Retselisitsoe Matete)

     
  10. Basutoland (unofficial), 1951-1966

    Just because a colony gets a badge doesn’t mean it gets an ensign. Basutoland (modern Lesotho) was granted a coat of arms in 1951, but it was only ever used on the Resident Commissioner’s flag. Still, an unofficial blue ensign was reported in some sources.

    Before independence the country’s motto was Khotso ke Nala, meaning “peace brings prosperity.” In 1966, it was changed to Khotso, Pula, Nala, “peace, rain, prosperity.” Rain is a big deal in this part of the world.

     
  11. President of Zambia

    Orange is hardly a common flag colour, but Zambia’s never been one for traditional colour schemes. The African Fish Eagle in the crest is the same as the one on the national flag. Before independence it was on the shield in a blue compartment, grasping a dead fish.

    There’s a decent photo of the flag in flight here.

     
  12. Romania, 1948

    While not the most tractor-loving nation in the world (that honour would have to go to Belarus), Romania is the only country to ever actually put a tractor on its flag. It was replaced by a nature scene a couple of months later.

     
  13. Midway Atoll, since 2000

    There are around 3 million birds on Midway and only 60 people, so it’s fitting that they have such a bird-centric flag. I also like how they have two slightly different shades of blue for the sea and the sky.

     
  14. Sabah, 1963-1981

    In the 1981 state election, the United Sabah National Organization was utterly crushed. They had already been in opposition since 1976, but this time they were reduced to a mere three seats out of 48. (The winning party had 44.) The new government stripped the state flag of USNO colours, replacing it with one that looked a lot like the Czechoslovakian flag. In 1988 the old pattern was restored, but the yellow stripe was removed and the green and brown colours were replaced with a second and third shade of blue.

     
  15. Peru-Bolivian Confederation, 1836-1839

    There were actually two Perus in the Peru-Bolivian Confederation. The Republic of South Peru got an entirely new flag and coat of arms when it declared independence in 1836, but North Peru kept the old Peruvian state symbols. The coats of arms of the three constituent states were put together onto this kind of cluttered national flag.