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Dictionary of Vexillology: S (Seal - Service Pennant)

Last modified: 2014-12-20 by rob raeside
Keywords: vexillological terms |
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An emblem or design representing a government, a branch within that government or a person that, when embossed upon or affixed to a document, proves its authenticity or which validates a legal instrument. The reproduction of an official seal often appears on US sub-national flags – see ‘seal of the state of’ (also ‘anti-heraldry’, ‘military crest’, ‘quadrant 1)’, ‘seal flag’, ‘seal on a bedsheet’, ‘sub-national flag’ and ‘state flag 2)’).

[Seal of US state of Georgia] [Seal of US state of Minnesota] [Seal of US state of Utah] [Seal of City of Bakersfield]  [Seal of US state of Minnesota]
State Seal of Georgia, Minnesota, and Utah and the municipal seal of Bakersfield, US (fotw, official and Wikipedia); Seal of Subotica, Serbia (fotw)

Please note, that whilst a seal originally showed the user’s badge or parts of their armorial bearings (and was used to create an impression on wax or lead), when seen on flags today it is generally not (particularly in US usage) a coat of arms as defined herein (see also ‘anti-heraldry’).

A term for the flag whose main charge consists of a seal as defined herein, set largely (but not exclusively) on a plain field and most often seen in the flags of US states and government agencies (see also ‘anti-heraldry’, ‘armorial flag’, ‘charge 2)’, ‘plain 2)’, ‘seal’ and ‘seal on a bedsheet’).

[Utah, US] [Missouri, US] [Kentucky, US] [Seal of US Dept of Energy] [Seal of US state of Minnesota]
From left: Flag of Utah, US (fotw); Flag of Missouri, US (fotw); Flag of Kentucky, US (fotw); Flag of the Dept of Energy, US (fotw); Flag of Subotica, Serbia (fotw)

This term has been introduced by the Editors since no established alternative could be found.
b) In US usage flags of his type are often derived from previously established military colours.

In US usage, the seal relating to a specific state of the union – see ‘seal’ (also ‘seal flag’).

[Seal of US state of Florida] [Seal of US state of Utah] [Seal of US state of Minnesota]
Seals of the States of Florida, Utah and Minnesota, US (FOTW and Wikipedia)

See ‘magen david’ and its following note (also ‘pentagram’).

[Morocco] [Morocco]
National flag and Emblem of Morocco (fotw)

1) A term that is intended to be derogatory, to apply particularly to sub-national flags in the US and to describe any such flag that bears a seal (as opposed to another form of charge) upon a plain field – but see ‘seal flag’ and 2) below (also ‘logo on a bedsheet’ plus its following note and ‘seal’).
2) As above, but the term may include flags bearing a coat of arms rather than a seal – see ‘armorial flag’.

[New Hampshire, US] [Idaho, US] [Minnesota, US] [New York, US]
Flag of New Hampshire, US (fotw); Flag of Idaho, US (fotw); Flag of Minnesota, US (fotw); Flag of New York, US (fotw) 

A term for that quarter of a flag which occupies the upper fly - the second quarter, upper fly or upper fly canton – see ‘canton 3)’ (also ‘hoist 1)’).

[second canton]

An old term, now rarely used outside the British and Canadian foot guards, for the regimental colour (see also ‘colour 2’ and ‘colours 2)’).

[second colour]
Second/Regimental Colour of the Governor General’s Foot Guards, Canada (Official Website)

1) In vexillology a term that is used to describe the section (or sections) of a charge or field which meet at, or emanate from, a central point.
2) See ‘gyronny’.

[sectors example] [sectors example]
Roundels of The Czech Republic and Jordan (fotw)

See ‘registration flags’.

[sector flag example]
Sector/Registration flag, One Department of Rochefort, France (fotw)

1) See ‘faceted’.
2) In vexillology a term that may be used in place of the heraldic “gyronny” when a charge or field is divided into sections in (usually) alternating or different shades/colours meeting at a central point – but see ‘gyronny’.

[sectored example]   [sectored example]
From left: Flag of Gornji Grad, Slovenia (fotw); Symbol of the Ratana faith, New Zealand (fotw)

The heraldic term used when describing the centre of a rose, other flower or flower-like charge, particularly when this is of a different tincture - but see ‘barbed’ (also ‘tincture’).

  [seeded example] [seeded example] [seeded example] [seeded example]
Flag of Haguenau, France (fotw); Flag of Lochristi, Belgium (fotw); Flag of Broye, Switzerland (fotw); Flag of Les Ecasseys, Switzerland (fotw)

Please note that botany draws a distinction between the stamen and seedpods of a rose or other flower, whereas English heraldry does not.

See ‘faceted’ and ‘gyronny’ (also ‘sector(s) 1)’).

[segmented example]
Flag of Mollis, Switzerland (fotw)

See ‘Appendix V:’.

[segreant example]
Military Crest of Michigan, US (fotw)

The outer edges of a length of cloth so woven that the threads do not unravel, and used to minimize the area of a flag which might otherwise be lost through hemming – most particularly in those flags formerly made from breadths of fabric (see also ‘breadth 2)’.

[selvedge example]
(Željko Heimer)

1) A system of signalling by means of two flags hand-held in various positions according to a recognized code (see also ‘Morse code signalling with flags’ and ‘wig wag’).
2) A system of signalling by means of movable mechanical arms, now obsolete but widely used prior to invention of the electric telegraph and at sea sometimes fitted aboard warships - telegraphing.
3) A system of flags, pennants and black shapes hoisted in various positions to indicate the state and height of the tide in some French ports.

[semaphore positions]
Positions in Semaphore (Jim Croft)

Please note with regard to 2), in British RN usage ships hoisted a designated semaphore flag to indicate that they were about to make a signal by means of the mechanical semaphore system.

See 'semaphore 2)', and note.

[semaphore flag]
Semaphore Flags (Sea Flags)

An originally heraldic term used when the field of a flag or shield is sown or strewn over with an indeterminate number of charges such as fleur-de-lis or stars – powdered – but see note below (also ‘billetty’ and ‘ermine’).

[a semy flag] [semy] [a semy flag] [a semy flag] [a semy flag]
Banner of France c1200 – c1350 (fotw); National Flag of France 1814 – 1830 (fotw); Arms and Flag of Zumberak, Croatia (fotw); Former Arms and Flag of Alvalade, Portugal (Sérgio Horta)

Please note that in vexillology the term may be used even if the number and disposition of the charges are strictly determined as in, for example, the US national jack.

[a semy flag]
Traditional Jack, US (fotw)

See ‘billetty’.

[a semy flag]
Flag of Dully, Switzerland (fotw)

A cruciform vexilloid of classical Greece used aboard ship (to indicate command, for signalling and for identification) and sometimes draped with a phoinikis or purple cloak/length of cloth (see also ‘standard 5)’ and ‘vexilloid 2)’).

The word semeion had a broad range of meanings in classical Greek all roughly corresponding to “sign” (see also ‘signum’) and it is accordingly suggested that the definition given above (whilst based on written sources) must be considered to some degree conjectural.
Semeia is the plural form of semeion, and that classical Greek writers also refer to “barbarian semeia” with those of the Phoenicians recorded as having been a globe and crescent.

See ‘demi’.

[a semi flag]
Flag of Wildberg, Switzerland (fotw)

The term used in some European heraldic systems (albeit inaccurately) to describe a round-bottomed or Spanish-style shield – see ‘Spanish-style shield’ (also ‘French shield’, ‘Gothic shield’, ‘Italian shield’, ‘rectangular shield’, ‘shield 2)’ and ‘triarched triangular shield’).


A fine silk fabric originally used as a field for the finest quality of various flags - cendal.

A pennant hoisted to indicate the senior officer's ship when several warships of the same navy are alongside or at anchor in a port – a senior officer present afloat pennant (see also 'broad pennant', 'command pennant' and 'flag of command'). It should be noted however, that many different designs are in use by different navies, and that these might also have differing or additional meanings.

[Senior Officer Afloat pennants]
From left: Argentina (CS); Estonia (CS); France, French Forces only (CS)

Please note that a green, white and green square-ended pennant – the starboard pennant in the NATO signal code - is used for this purpose (at the starboard yardarm) by all warships of the Alliance, but usually only when there is no flag officer present who is flying his flag afloat. It is, however, also employed to indicate the senior officer when ships of more than one NATO navy are present in a port, irrespective of whether any flags of command or broad pennants are flying.

[starboard pennant]
The NATO Starboard Pennant (CS)

See ‘Franklin flag

[Serapis flag]
The Serapis/Franklin Pattern of Stars and Stripes, 1778 (fotw)

See ‘stand of colours 1)’ and ‘venn’.

[Sergeant Major’s Colours example] [Sergeant Major's Colours example]
Examples of Sergeant Major’s Colours in Venn A and Venn B, English c1641 (fotw)

Please note that these flags relate to the field officer whose rank was immediately below that of Lt Colonel, and not to a regiment’s senior non-commissioned officer as is modern usage.

1) The vexillological term for a saw-toothed line on a shield, banner of arms or a flag – but see note b) below (also ‘nettle leaf’ ‘stepped’and ‘wolfteeth’).
2) A term that may be used for a saw-toothed stripe – a zigzag (see also ‘wavy’).

[Bahrain - serrated flag] Milíkov, Czech Republic Milíkov, Czech Republic Civil flag of Taiwan 
National Flag of Bahrain (fotw); Flag and Arms of Milíkov, Czech Republic (fotw); Civil Ensign of Taiwan (fotw)

With regard to 1), the five white points on the flag of Bahrain (illustrated above) refer to the five pillars of Islam.
b) The heraldic terms to describe this type of division are ‘indented’ or ‘dancetty’.

1) See under ‘ensign’.

[Postal flag - Norway]
Former Postal Ensign/Flag of Norway (fotw)

1) See ‘state flag 1)’ (also ‘state service flag’).
2) See ‘ensign 2)’ plus ‘government ensign’ and ‘service ensign’ under ‘ensign’.
3) In US usage, a flag (instituted in 1926) flown annually at the Capitol, Washington on Armistice Day (11 November) to commemorate those who served or are serving in the armed services of that country – an American war mothers or armistice day flag.
4) In largely North American usage, a flag/banner (originally introduced in 1917) for display by families, employers, or other organizations to signify that one or more members is/are serving in the armed forces – a sons in service flag or national service flag/banner.

Armistice Day Flag, US single star service pennant two star service pennant single gold star/two blue star service pennant Canadian service pennant
From left: Armistice Day Flag, US (Dave Martucci); Service Flags US (fotw); Canada (CS)

Please note with regard to 4) that a gold star (as illustrated above) or emblem indicates that the person being represented has died in service.

See ‘consecration’.

The generic term – and a direct translation of the German dienstwimpel – for an increasingly obsolete type of pennant that is sometimes flown (in varying forms) together with the government ensign or from the mainmast of vessels in government employ to indicate the function or service involved, or occasionally from an appropriate shore based establishments – a departmental pennant (see also ‘government ensign’ under ‘ensign’ and ‘main’).

DDR Shipping inspectorate Lifesaving service Danish icebreaking service
The DDR Shipping Inspectorate, 1955-90 (fotw); Lifesaving Service, US (fotw); Icebreaking Service, Denmark (fotw)

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