Sailor Speak of the Week – House Flag

Definition

Funnels and house flags of steamship lines circa 1900.

Noun

  • The identifying flag of a company a merchant ship belongs to. (Earlier, the owner of the vessel.)

Origin

Mid-18th century.

Comments

One possible origin of displaying house flags could be from the then colony of Salem, Massachusetts. Another origin could be from the Hanseatic League from the 13th – 15th centuries. Although those weren’t truly company flags.

Modern house flags come in any number of different designs and it can be confusing given the sheer variety of them. Some people are against the use of house flags in the present day because flags have a long history of being used for communication in the maritime world. House flags, on the other hand, are mostly seen as decorative and do not serve any real communication purpose. With so many different decorative “house flags” it can be impossible to keep them all straight.

References

Rogers, J.G. (1985). Origins of Sea Terms. Mystic Seaport.

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