Oops! How many stripes on the U.S. flag?

School kids and people seeking naturalization as citizens of the U.S. should be able to tell you there are 13 stripes on the U.S. flag, one for each of the original 13 colonies. The top stripe is red, and the bottom stripe is red.

Oops. The U.S. Postal Service printed a stamp that features what looks like a flag with a 14th stripe.

Representations of the general usage, first class postal stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service in April 2008 -- and, is that a 14th stripe on the flag in the lower right?

Representations of the general usage, first class postal stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service in April 2008 -- and, is that a 14th stripe on the flag in the lower right? The four original, correct paintings were done by Laura Stutzman of Mountain Lake Park, Maryland.

A philatelist blogger, Stamps of Distinction, noted the error in a post earlier this week. The Postal Service acknowledged a problem with the stamp, but said what looks like a seventh white stripe at the bottom of the flag is really just a light patch added to the stamp to give contrast with the last red stripe.

The error appears on the fourth of a four-stamp plate known as the “Flags 24/7 stamps.” The flag is portrayed flying at four different times of the day, sunrise, noon, sunset, and night. The night portrayal carries the last-minute art revision that looks like a 14th stripe, on the bottom of the flag.

Errors in stamps drive up collectors’ prices — USPS says it has no plans to change the stamp now, so it won’t become a rarity.

Stamps of Distinction explains the intricacies of U.S. flag design, stamp traditions, and more specifics. You would do well to visit that site and check the full post.

Please note that flags flown after sunset should be specially lighted to be flown; the U.S. flag code suggests flags should be retired at sunset, otherwise, except at a few locations where the flag may be flown 24 hours a day, by law. USPS said:

For more than 200 years, the American flag has been the symbol of our nation’s source of pride and inspiration for millions of citizens. In May of 1776, Betsy Ross reported that she sewed the first American flag.

Federal law stipulates many aspects of flag etiquette. In 1942, a code of flag etiquette was established. The code states in part that the American flag should be displayed from sunrise to sunset every day, weather permitting, but especially on days of national importance like Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Veterans Day. Also, federal law requires that “when a patriotic effect is desired,” the flag can be flown through the night if properly lit. Although compliance is voluntary, public observation of the code’s measures is widespread throughout the nation.

Teachers, can you use this for a warm-up/bell ringer exercise on flag history?


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