Army Regulation 840-10.
Heraldic Activities:
Flags, Guidons, Streamers, Tabards,
and Automobile and Aircraft Plates
(Revised 1 June 1998)

Library Of Congress call number:
D 101.9:840-10|998
Government Printing Office PIN:

[Notice: This is not an official United States nor State of California website and does not pretend to be.]

What is the "gold-fringed flag" we see displayed upon a flagstaff in Government buildings, in courts, in our churches, and in our legislators' offices?

My personal interest in this issue was that, after a diligent search in several Law Libraries spanning several years, I could not find any California statute or regulation authorizing the civilian display of the flag of the United States bearing gold fringe or of any California flag bearing fringe of any color.
I believe that, whichever state you live in within these United States of America, if you care to investigate further, you may find a similar situation exists within your own state.

The only California statute relating to the display of United States or California flags bearing fringe which I have found is West's Ann.Cal.Military & Veterans Code, 611:

West's Ann.Cal.Mil. & Vet. Code (2001), 611 (emphasis added in boldface):
611. (a) "Flag," as used in this division, means the State Flag of California and the Flag of the United States, as defined in this section.
(b) "State Flag of California" includes any flag, standard, color, or ensign authorized by the laws of this state, and every picture or representation thereof, of any size, made of any substance, or represented on any substance evidently purporting to be any such flag, standard, color, or ensign of this state, and every picture or representation which shows the design thereof.
(c) "Flag of the United States" includes any flag, standard, colors, or ensign authorized by the laws of the United States or any picture or representation of either, or of any part or parts of either, made of any substance or represented on any substance, of any size evidently purporting to be either of said flag, standard, colors, or ensign of the United States of America, or a picture or a representation of either, upon which shall be shown the colors, the stars and the stripes, in any number of either thereof, or of any part or parts of either, by which the average person seeing the same without deliberation may believe the same to represent the flag, standards, colors, or ensign of the United States of America."

The National Geographic Magazine suggests that "standard" and "colors" are terms for different specific military usages or configurations of what I, as a private Citizen, would normally call a "flag":

It seems reasonable to me that if the "flag of the United States" is "evidently purporting" to be the flag of "the United States of America", then (1) "the flag of the United States" is NOT "the flag of the United States of America" and (2) "the United States" and "the United States of America" are two separate and distinct legal entities. Since I believe I live within one of the 50 states of these United States of America, it just became time for me, as "the average person" to exercise some "deliberation" about the possible differences.

The 1925 Opinion of the-then United States Attorney General, John G. Sargent, who is presumed to have known, reads (in part):

The only statute now in force which defines the flag or regulates its design is the Act of April 4, 1818, chapter 34 (3 Stat. 415), reenacted as sections 1791 and 1792 of the Revised Statutes of the United States....

There is no statute which fixes the proportionate dimensions of the hoist and fly, the size of the union, or the size and arrangement of the stars in the union. These matters appear to have been regulated originally by custom. They are now controlled by Executive orders and by Army and Navy regulations. ... In this connection I may quote from the Executive order of May 29, 1916, which constitutes the latest Presidential definition of the dimensions of the flag, and which is the present controlling authority: ...

The presence, therefore, of a fringe on military colors and standards does not violate any existing Act of Congress. Its use or disuse is a matter of practical policy, to be determined, in the absence of statute, by the Commander in Chief....

(1) I am therefore of opinion that the question of a fringe may be determined by the President as Commander in Chief. The same authority may determine the dimensions of the flag and the arrangement of the stars in the union. These details are not controlled by the statute to which I have referred. Upon the propriety of such decisions, as contrasted with their legality, I do not believe it necessary to express a formal opinion....
34 Op. Atty. Gen. 483 (May 15, 1925); 1925 U.S. AG LEXIS 29.

I reasonably infer from the foregoing information that where a flag of the United States bearing golden fringe on the three outside edges is being displayed, the intention of the person(s) causing that flag to be so displayed is that such a flag should be viewed and treated as indicating a military or a Merchant Law jurisdiction.

The National Geographic Magazine
Volume ######, Number Four, October, 1917.
[from p. 309:] "17. The national standard used by mounted troops and the national colors used by unmounted troops are exactly alike, except that the colors are larger and have cords and tassels, as on the President's colors."
[from p. 314:] (Note: Figure 17 (in the upper left corner of the page) is a colored line-drawing of the United States flag bearing gold fringe on the three outside edges.)

I found a verifiable citation for "law of the flag" in BOUVIER'S LAW DICTIONARY, Baldwin's Students Ed. (1946), FLAG, pp. 423-424 (italics in original, boldface emphasis added, [F.] = "Fed. Rep." = Federal Reporter in original):

Law of the Flag. An expression supplied to the municipal law of the country to which a ship belongs of which the flag is the symbol, when that law is resorted to in preference to the lex loci contractus [The law of the place where an agreement is made.] for the construction and effect of a contract or the determination of a liability affecting the ship or her cargo.
The law of the flag is "to regulate the liabilities and regulations which arise among parties to the agreement, be it of affreightment or by hypothecation, upon this principle, that the ship-owner who sends his ship into a foreign port gives a notice by his flag to all who enter into contracts with the shipmaster, that he intends the law of that flag to regulate those contracts, and they must either submit to its operation or not contract with him or his agent at all;" Foote, Priv. Int. L. 408; and in England this rule is usually followed, the tendency being that, in the absence of indication of the intention of the parties the presumption is in favor of the law of the ship's flag; Scrutton, Chart. Part 11; contra, 3 Moo. P. C, N. S. 272; 129 U. S. 397; 12 Q. B. D. 589; 10 id. 540; in which cases it was held that the lex loci contractus must prevail. In his treatise on merchant shipping (3d ed. 170) MacLachlin thus states the rule as to the effect of the law of the flag on the authority of the master. "The agency of the master is devolved upon him by the law of the flag. The same law that confers his authority, ascertains its limits, and the flag at the mast-head is notice to all the world of the extent of such power to bind the owners or freighters by his act. The foreigner who deals with this agent has notice of that law, and, if he be bound by it, there is no injustice. His notice of the national flag which is hoisted on every sea and under which the master sails into every port, and the circumstance that connects him with the vessel isolates that vessel in the eyes of the world, and demonstrates his relation to the owners and freighters as their agent for a specific purpose and with power well defined under the national maritime law; id; this was suggested by the author quoted as a possible explanation of the apparently anomalous exception of bottomry bonds from the general rule that the lex loci contractus prevails.
This precise rule was followed in the leading English case of Lloyd v. Guibert, where the question was as to the master's authority to bind the ship-owner; L. R. 1 Q. B. 115; S. C. 6 B. & S. 100, and 33 L. J. Q. B. 245; S. C. on appeal 35 id 74; 6 B. & S. 120.
In this case, in the Queen's Bench, Blackburn, J., in language almost exactly following the above quoted, applied the law of the flag (French), which did not recognize a personal liability of the owner in a bottomry bond, as against the lex loci contractus (Danish), or the laws of the place of performance (English), or that of the place when the cargo was loaded (Haytien). The court after noting the "singular absence of authority" said that two American cases had been cited; 1 La. 528 and 3 Sto. 465, adding that "neither of these decisions is binding on us, but we have derived very great assistance from them." As to the last of these cases there follows this comment: "The very learned judgment of Mr. Justice Story just referred to affords a complete answer to a plausible argument in which was suggested that the general maritime law clothed the master with power to bind his owners absolutely, and that the municipal law of the owner's country was analogous to secret restrictions in the ostensible authority of a partner or other agent clothed with general power." In the Exchequer Chamber, where the judgment was affirmed, Willes, J., said: "The general rule, that where the contract of affreightment does not provide otherwise, there, as between the parties to such contract, in respect of sea damage and its incidents, the law of the ship should govern, seems to be not only in accordance with the probable intention of the parties, but also most consistent and intelligible, and therefore most convenient to those engaged in commerce." The same doctrine was applied by the English Court of Appeal to the master's control over the cargo as well as the ship, by Brett, L. J., in L. R. 7 P. D. 137; by Dr. Lushington in Br. & L. 38, and in a later case by Sir J. Hannen, who sustained a sale of part of a damaged cargo, where it was shown by the result to have been unnecessary, such sale being authorized by the law of the flag; [1891] Prob. 328. But see 1 La. 249; id 528, where the lex loci contractus was held to prevail.
In 3 Sto. 465, although the law of the flag was, in fact, enforced, the decision cannot be said to have followed the rule laid down by MacLachlin, as in that case the particular point decided was as to the liability of the owner of the freighter, when the former was a citizen of a state the laws of which did not recognize such liabilities, while by the law of the state in which the freighter resided and also of the foreign port where the cargo was shipped, such a liability existed, and the lex domicilii of the ship-owner was held to govern the contract. See also 8 Pet. 538; BOTTOMRY.
As to the effect of the law of the flag, upon the construction of a contract of affreightment, the decisions in this country as a rule are usually governed by the lex loci contractus. In the case of The Brantford City, Judge Brown thus stated this rule: "The 'law of the flag' . . . does not embody any rule of legal construction. Literally, it is but a concise phrase to express a simple fact, namely, the law of the country to which the ship belongs, and whose flag she bears, whether it accords with the general maritime law or not. In so far, however, as the law of the flag does not represent the general maritime law, it is but the municipal law of the ship's home. It has, therefore, no force abroad, except by comity. But foreign law is not adopted by comity, unless some good reason appear in the particular case why it should be preferred to the law of the former. The most frequent and controlling reasons are the actual or presumed intent of the parties or the evident justice of the case arising from its special circumstances.
On this ground, the law of the ship's home is applied by comity, to regulate the mutual relations of the ship, her owner, master, and crew, as among themselves; their leins for wages, and modes of discipline; 1 W. Rob. 35; 1 Low. 455; 3 [F.] 577; 29 [F.] 127. For the same reason it is also applied, by comity, to torts on the high seas, as between vessels of the same nation, or vessels of different nations subject to similar laws, though not if they are subject to different laws; 105 U. S. 24. Independently of the intent of the parties, the law of the flag has no application to cases of tort, as between ships or persons of different nationalities and conflicting laws; and Federal law, by which stipulations of a common carrier exempting him from the consequences of his own negligence are held to be against public policy and void, is controlling in cases of suits brought here upon shipments made here on board foreign ships under bills of lading signed by foreign masters, though such stipulations be valid by the law of the ship's flag." 29 [F.] 373.
This case is expressly approved by the supreme court in a case upon the same point, which is the leading American case upon this branch of the subject; 129 U.S. 397, 461. See comments on this case by the circuit court of appeals; 67 [F.] 493. Precisely the contrary view, under almost identical circumstances, was held in the case of The Missouri and the doctrine of Lloyd v. Guibert was held to extend to this particular point; 41 Ch. Div. 321. Where both the law of the flag and the lex loci contractus were British, the law of England was held to govern the contract; 63 [F.] 268; 60 [F.] 247. In a shipment of goods in England, in an English vessel, on an ordinary bill of lading, the liability of the vessel is to be determined according to the law of the place of shipment, as the law of the flag; 19 [F.] 101. So also where the bill of lading was made expressly subject to "a live stock contract." and there was an express provision in that contract that all questions relating to the bill of lading should be determined by British law; 24 [F.] 922. But the circuit court of appeals, in a similar case, where the bill of lading contained the "so-called flag clause" (that liability should be determined by the law of England, but there wasno reference to this in the charter, made in this country), held it no evidence to modify the latter and that it was ineffective to substitute the law of the flag for the lex loci contractus with respect to the stipulation for exemption from liability for negligence; 66 [F.] 607; affg. 56 [F.] 126.
Generally it may be said that the doctrine of the Missouri is in conflict with the current of authority in England, it being usually held in that country that as to such stipulations in the bill of lading the lex loci contractus prevails; 9 Q. B. D. 118; 10 id 521, 540; 12 id 596; 3 Moo. P.C. N. S. 272; and to the same effect and under precisely similar circumstances is a judgment of the court of cassation in France, imperfectly stated in a note to the case last cited and fully reported in 75 Journal du Palais (1864) 225, and see 1 Dalloz 449. This question, it may be remarked, is as yet scarcely to be considered settled by any hard-and-fast rule of law, and the only certain guide, says Bowen, L. J., "is to be found in applying sound ideas of business, convenience, and sense to the language of the contract itself with a view to discovering from it the true intention of the parties."
West's Ann.Cal.Gov. Code (2001), 439.
The Adjutant General shall, by regulation, prescribe rules regarding the times, places, and manner in which the State Flag may be displayed. He shall, periodically, compile the laws and regulations regarding the State Flag. Copies of the compilation shall be printed and made available to the public at cost by the Department of General Services.

I found the referenced compilation [CALIFORNIA BEAR FLAG, Call numbers M450 B4 1962 and M450 B4 1973] at the CALIFORNIA STATE LIBRARY, LIBRARY AND COURTS BUILDING (9th Street and Capitol Mall, Sacramento, California), Government Documents Section (3rd Floor). The only information which is not already presented here is from page 3 of the 1962 edition:

This booklet is designed to furnish information on the California Bear Flag and to provide rules and regulations with regard to the proper display and respect due the Flag of the State of California.
Senator John A. Murdy, Jr. 35th Senatorial District, Orange County, introduced legislation during the 1961 Regular (General) Session requiring The Adjutant General to periodically compile the laws and regulations regarding the State Flag.* The effort and work of Senator Murdy in making it possible for the State to publish and make available to the public the first compilation of rules regarding the Bear Flag is deeply appreciated.
the contribution of the poem, Bear Flag, by Grace Cecelia Callahan, a state employee and talented writer of many published and unpublished poems, is gratefully acknowledged.
Information contained in this booklet was obtained from the California Blue Books, Government Code, Military and Veterans Code, United States Code and various documents and books containing information on the Bear Flag.
The Adjutant General

* Section 1. Section 439 is added to the Government Code, to read:
"439. the Adjutant General shall, by regulation, prescribe rules regarding the times, places, and manner in which the State Flag may be displayed. He shall pewriodically, compile the laws and regulations regarding the State Flag. Copies of the compliation shall be printed and made available to the public at cost by the Department of Finance."

From my review of the text of CALIFORNIA BEAR FLAG, The Adjutant General apparently did not adopt, and has not adopted, any regulation(s) authorizing the display of the Bear Flag bearing gold fringe on the three outside edges.

West's Ann.Cal.Gov. Code (2001), 69504.
The board of supervisors of each county shall purchase and provide for the installation of the Flag of the United States and the Bear Flag of California in each superior courtroom in the county.

West's Ann.Cal.Gov. Code (2001), 68507.
The Secretary of the Judicial Council shall purchase and provide for the installation of the flag of the United States and the Bear Flag of California in all the courtrooms of the Supreme Court and the courts of appeal.

At least I know who is supposed to be responsible for the presence of these military standards/colors/ensigns in what I previously understood to be a civilian jurisdiction. Maybe I should ask them.

I believe the principle involved here may be called, "Hide in Plain Sight."

Since almost everyone has become accustomed/habituated to seeing these flags in various Government places, but few people have had the specific information or understanding of what these flags signify, most people have not known enough to object. [In court, it appears that if I do not specifically and timely Object, I am generally Presumed to Assent/Consent and to Waive any later Objection.]

My other option is to simply believe, without any facts whatsoever, that a flag bearing gold fringe has been displayed simply because it "looks pretty" or is "aesthetically pleasing".

The other official reference that I have found is from the United States, Department of Defense, Department of the Army: Army Regulation 840-10. Heraldic Activities: Flags, Guidons, Streamers, Tabards, and Automobile and Aircraft Plates (Revised 1 June 1998).
I have reproduced selected pages from it below for educational purposes.

Army Regulation 840-10. is published by the Government Printing Office as a staple-bound pamphlet, pre-punched to fit a three-ring binder, with the text on very thin newsprint. The ink "bled" through from the next page. It did not photocopy well.

AR 840-10 Change 1 (Effective 1 December 1998) amends AR 840-10 (1 JUNE 1998).
AR 840-10 (1 JUNE 1998) superseded AR 840-10 (1979).
AR 840-10 (1979) superseded AR 260-10 (about 1924).
Equivalent documents in other branches of the military services are supposed to be as listed below. [I have not been able to find any of them on the Internet or in any libraries available to me.]

Air Force: AFR [Air Force Regulation] 900-3. Department of the Air Force Seal, Organizational Emblems, Use and Display of Flags, Guidons, Streamers, and Automobile and Aircraft Plates [Note: supposedly "withdrawn for revision" several years ago].

Navy: NTP-13 [title unknown].

Marine Corp: MCO [Marine Corp Order] P10520.3A. [title unknown].

These are GIF-format reproductions of Army Regulation 840-10. Heraldic Activities: Flags, Guidons, Streamers, Tabards, and Automobile and Aircraft Plates including Certification from the library where I photocopied them.

['Left Click' on each image to expand it. Click your browser 'Back' control button to return here.]

Library Certification:

The Front Cover:


See section 1-6.

Page 1:

Page 4:

See section 2-3 b. and c(4).

Page 5:

[This is my reasonable inference from the available information, not a direct quote:]

Were the flag so displayed intended to be the legal National flag of the United States, the cords and tassels upon the flagstaff would be, by specification, of intertwined Red, White, and Blue (See p. 6., section 2-8.)

Page 6:

See section 8-1.

Page 54:

[This is my reasonable inference from the available information, not a direct quote:]

The solid gold-colored cords and tassels attached to the flagstaff, the finial (See p. 55, Figure 8-1), and the gold fringe on the flag itself, all taken together, indicate some undisclosed branch, division, or department of some undisclosed branch of the military services of the United States.

Page 55:

Page 56:

The Back Cover:

[This is my reasonable inference from the available information, not a direct quote:]

The United States flag, when displayed indoors upon any flagstaff surmounted by a finial consisting of a golden-colored eagle, having its wings outstreached and its head ###### to its own right, perched upright upon a golden-colored sphere [rather than displayed on a wall with the hoist horizontal, the union to the upper left corner (the flag's own right) and with the stripes running vertically], indicates that the organization so displaying it purports to be acting under the direct authority of the President of the United States, acting in his capacity as Commander-In-Chief of the army and navy. (p. 54, sections 8-1, 8-2(1); p. 55, Figure 8-1; 34 Op.Atty.Gen. 483 (1925) set out above.)

Military symbolism of the folds of a military color:

Anyone wanting or needing more information than is presented here, please go to the official sources:

The official website for Department of the Army, Army Regulation 840-10, Internet edition: (originally posted sometime in 1999).

You may also be able to purchase this document directly from the Government Printing Office:

I know that Army Regulation 840-10, (1979) and (1998), has been placed in at least two Federal Document Depository Libraries.
The Federal Depository Library Program is currently administered by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office and involves dispersing various United States Government documents to designated places throughout the Nation.
Many State Libraries, Colleges/Universities, and Law Libraries are, or maintain, Federal Depository Libraries, which by law, are open to the public. For example, in California:

California State Document Depository Libraries:

A private page showing Naval Finials

Arguably, the last Lawful flag of the United States of America [33 states] (flown from 1859-1861):

This page is odd enough that I thought it might provoke some discussion. I got it as an e-mail with no explanation or background material:
Merchant [?!] flags of various countries:

This page is more than a little odd; I do not vouch for it, but it MAY be true:
The Civil Flag of the United States:


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