I paid $100 to save a 100-year-old American flag

Tracey Folly

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.

My ex-boyfriend and I went to an antique shop that had four floors. If you climbed the stairs all the way to the top floor, you found books stacked floor to ceiling, a windowsill covered in old metal lunchboxes, and more hornets than you'd want to see in an enclosed space.

On the first floor, there was a glass cabinet that held, among other things, broken glass photograph negatives that the store owner claimed held images of Abraham Lincoln. The owner said the photographer had taken the pictures and then smashed the glass negatives after developing the images. It was standard practice to destroy and abandon the glass negatives rather than continue transporting them after they'd served their purpose.

I thought about buying the glass negatives, which may or may not have held the original images of Abraham Lincoln. The photos, if they truly showed the former president, could have been valuable. The original photos may not have stood the test of time. Who knows? Those glass negatives could have borne photos never before seen in the twenty-first century. I guess we'll never know.

Hanging above the staircase somewhere between the first and fourth floor, there was an American flag with forty-eight stars. I'd look at the old American flag every time we visited the antique shop and hold the price tag between two fingers. It was too much.

One day, the store owner saw me admiring the flag. He offered me a deal. He said he was getting ready to close up shop forever, and he'd just as soon see the old flag go to a new home. "You can have it for a hundred bucks," he said.

I reached into my pocket. My pocket contained exactly a hundred dollars, not a penny more. I didn't even have enough money for the taxes.

After some quick calculations, the man agreed to allow me to have the flag for exactly $100, inclusive of sales tax.

I couldn't bear the thought of the flag ending up in a dumpster or an estate sale of sorts once the owner shut down the store. I knew what I had to do. I had to save the American flag.

I bought the flag and brought it home. I washed it gently and repaired the single tear that marred one red stripe. Then I set about researching the flag.

Since the United States had forty-eight stars between 1912 and 1960, the flag is between seventy-two and one hundred ten years old. I'd estimate the actual age of the flag to be a hundred years, give or take.

It's folded neatly and sits on a shelf in my closet, awaiting a decision on where to display it, if at all. On the one hand, it's very old, and I don't want to ruin it by hanging it. On the other hand, no one will ever get to enjoy it while it sits on a shelf in my closet.

What would you do? Suggestions are welcome.

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