Archive for May, 2010

I would love, somehow, to inform the two nice folks who just bought T-shirts from Cafepress carrying my design of the De Zavala flag that they paid Cafepress, respectively, TEN and THIRTEEN dollars more than if they had bought it from me. PLUS I got $6.30 in profit as opposed to $10 if they’d bought through me.

That is to say, they searched for a De Zavala shirt, found my design in Cafepress’ Marketplace, and paid $30 and $33 dollars (why the difference, I don’t know) for a shirt that was selling in my Cafepress store at $23. And Cafepress made, respectively, $27 and $29.70 in profit, as opposed to the $18 they would have profited from a sale through my store. Ya wonder why they optimize searches for their Marketplace as opposed to my store? I don’t.

There is a school of thought that I might not have made even that $6.30 in reduced commissions if it weren’t for Cafepress’ Marketplace. I say, “Horse manure,” because if you Google “de zavala flag shirt,” you get my shop as the first result. I’ll take my chances with that.

But I am NOT going to let a company sell my design for a higher price and give me less money.

Which is why that Google result now links to my new Printfection shop. Where you can buy the shirt in your choice of colors and fabrics for prices starting at $26. I get $4, and Cafepress gets absolutely jack.

Cotton, 3 shades of blue

Or in sustainable, organic cotton

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(Part of a series explaining the history behind my Texian Tees. Other entries: the De Zavala Flag; the Burnet Flag; the Gonzales Flag (Old Come and Take It); and the New Orleans Greys Flag. Click here to see and buy the shirts!)

It’s with sheer glee that I introduce my latest design. I’ve been working on this for weeks (in my spare time), even making a reconnaissance trip to see the flag itself and take its picture. I believe wholeheartedly that this is the best representation you’re going to find on a shirt of the San Jacinto battle flag. I’m very proud!

My research indicated that this image of seated Liberty with a staff, shield and Phrygian cap traces its roots through British coinage back to the Roman Empire — so I have restored the rock she originally probably sat on, as well as the plow and wheat sheaves on her shield. Read my full report on the symbolism in the flag here.

Now, my research also led me to believe that this design might have been adopted when the flag was repainted, and so it might not be quite what originally flew at the April 21, 1836 battle in which Sam Houston’s army routed Santa Anna’s troops and won independence for Texas. But this is the design that’s on the flag now, so that’s what I used.

As I was working, my mind wandered over what artistic choices James Beard might have made, if he truly did paint this for the Newport Rifles company, headed from Kentucky to Texas, back in 1835, and what it meant to the people who saw it then. I visited the state Capitol and pondered how cool it was that this icon of Texas independence hangs right there with the state representatives while the Lege is in session. I tracked down to my own satisfaction why Liberty is seated that way, and chatted with a coin expert in Switzerland about liberty-goddess images through the centuries.

The San Jacinto flag is very different from a lot of the other early Texas flags; no bold blocks of color, no Lone Star. And years ago when I first saw it, I wondered what exactly it meant to those early Texians.  Now I understand a little better, and, at least to my eyes, it will never be a muddy, stained, obscure image again.

About my design:

I worked at creating a clean new version of the original stylized design, more or less as I think it would have looked when first painted. That is to say, the age spots and wear are all gone; I’ve researched what her symbolic devices are in order to fill damaged areas with a high-quality image; and because many Texans are used to the aged-cream background the flag has today, I’ve designed my image so that you can choose to place it on a cream-colored shirt or on a pale blue shirt, since the original flag was blue.

Click to buy the shirt!

Short link for this entry: http://bit.ly/sanjacinto

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Compared to the stars, blocks of color and occasional cannon of other early Texas flags, the San Jacinto flag is a complex mass of symbolism. Here’s a reproduction (which I have kinda brightened up) of the image at the center of the actual, refurbished flag, from Robert Maberry’s 2001 book “Texas Flags”:

It’s clear that the image carries special meaning, but to modern eyes (at least mine) it’s not clear what. Well, the sword and the “Liberty or Death” motto are pretty unambiguous. But what’s the lumpy red thing on the spear, and why is she crouching, and who is she?

You can make out a shield at bottom right, which Maberry says is decorated with wheat sheaves and a plow. Clear enough, that’s for the settlers and farmers.

The red doohickey on the pole, Maberry says, is a Phrygian-style liberty cap, and after some research I have concluded that our Revolutionary forebears would burst into tears if they knew their descendants had forgotten what it was. Red, conical, felt. Traditionally supposed to have been worn by slaves in ancient Rome once they were freed. Very big with the Revolutionary Americans, also the French, whose “Marianne” wears one. It gets a nod in “Rip Van Winkle” (1819), where it’s referred to humorously as a kind of “red night-cap” atop a pole in such a way that it’s clear Washington Irving expects everybody to get the reference.

This led me to a path of research that showed me just who the lady is, and why she’s sitting down. She’s an Americanized version of “seated Britannia,” a traditional depiction of a goddess who embodies Britain, but who actually goes back to the days when the Roman empire had just slapped a great big wall across the island. Emperor Hadrian’s coins first use seated Britannia to represent Britain — a military province, as shown by the shield and spear — perched on a rock, possibly to show subjugation to Rome.

This image was recycled in 1672, when British coins of Charles II picked up the image of Britannia as a goddess with spear and shield, even keeping her seat on the rock. (The design was modeled directly on the Roman coin, using an image of a Scottish lady Charles II was lusting after.) She was used continuously on British coins for the next 300 years. In 1835, an American artist gave her a Yankee makeover with stars, stripes and the revolutionary hat on a stick. That image was used on U.S. coins from 1836 to 1891. Since James Henry Beard is supposed to have painted the San Jacinto flag in 1835 for Kentucky volunteers headed to help Texas fight Mexico…  either two artists had the same bright idea at the same time, or somebody’s got their dates mixed up. Our flag’s been repainted and refurbished a bit too much, so maybe somebody did the most recent repaint with a half-dollar in their hand. (Other versions do show up now and then.)

The visual evidence is compelling: This is a design that has pretty much been standardized since about 134 A.D.

Top photo: Heritage Auction Galleries. Middle photo: Courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group. Bottom photo: Courtesy of CNG Triton XIII Auction 2009. http://www.cngcoins.com. Chart by Sue Owen Whaley.

So there you have it: She’s a British (or Scottish) babe on a Roman rock, carrying an Anatolian hat on a stick. With perhaps a slightly French attitude toward upper-body clothing.

In case you’re wondering (I started to), the Statue of Liberty is sometimes said to be a depiction of the Roman goddess Libertas, but she was originally conceived as a colossal lighthouse in the form of an Egyptian woman with a torch, to stand on the Suez Canal. Egypt couldn’t afford her, and in 1870 Auguste Bartholdi retooled his plans, making her a gift to America. She was dedicated in 1886, and at least one source says she’s not wearing a Phrygian cap because it was a little too radical for the times, which saw a fair amount of monarchist sentiment going around in France.

And speaking of inspiring women, I cannot say enough about the knowledge and helpfulness of Dane Kurth, whose website www.wildwinds.com is a fantastic reference and a wealth of information on ancient coins. She tells me, “This (seated) figure of Britannia — as well as most of these female personifications — all hail from ancient depictions of Athena… Britannia, America, France, Italia etc… even Roma – all the same person, basically.” Thank you so much, Dane. Viva Helvetia!

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The other day I was attaching a strap to my new purse, and I decided to do it with little leather tabs riveted to the purse. So I needed to make little holes in the leather tabs to put the rivets through, and I didn’t want to use my awl — my awl is cheap, doesn’t fit in my hand well, etc.

So I got out my hand drill. I love my pretty little Ben Franklin hand drill (it doesn’t really have anything to do with Ben Franklin, but it looks like it ought to), and the job took two seconds.  I could choose any size hole I wanted, limited only by my collection of drill bits.

Then I realized I didn’t even need the drill, really: I just needed the bit. With a little patience, you can just spin the drill bit carefully in your fingers. (This is probably easiest with a small hole and thin leather.) [EDIT April 2012: And a sharp new drill bit.]

Scrap leather and a 5/64 drill bit


The bits are sharp as heck, which means watch your fingers, but it also means they carve into the leather smooth as anything. You wind up with a pretty tidy little hole.  So the next time you need your belt to cinch a little tighter, or your stirrups to go up a little higher, or you want to put a carabiner through your tool belt or who knows what, just pick up your drill bits.

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