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Flags with different reverses

Last modified: 2011-12-23 by rob raeside
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Categories of Different Backsides

We need to distinguish between two distinct phenomena:

  1. Flags that have writing or (certain types of) pictures that are oriented in one direction. Common sense suggests that the back of such a flag should not just be a mirror image of the front, but only to get the orientation of the writing (or picture) right. I would not say that such flags have truly DISTINCT obverses and reverses, but only that the obverse and reverse are not, as most flags are, mirror-images of each other. Indeed, the main reason this isn't done more often for flags with writing is probably cost.

  2. Much more interesting and extremely rare are flags that have truly DIFFERENT images on their obverses and reverses, e.g., Oregon. Query: Is there a common historical pattern to such flags? Do they generally arise out of a compromise between two competing flag designs? Are there other explanations?

Perry Dane, 31 August 1995

Flags with Different Backsides

Paraguay is the only country in the United Nations with a different backside.

The US State of Oregon has a Beaver on the reverse side.

Although none are official I think many historical US flags were different. I know of one in Kansas Archives that has 34 stars in the canton on the front and 13 on the back in X shape.

John Niggley, 30 August 1995

The US State of Massachusetts has a white field with a blue shield in the center. On the shield is a Indian in gold and a white five pointed star in the upper left corner. Above the shield is a gold arm and sword rising from a gold and blue cord. On the reverse is a blue shield with a green pine tree.

The former Ethiopian Imperial Standard had a representation of a lion on one side and St. George slaying the dragon on the other, both set on the Ethiopian tricolour of green-yellow-red.

Stuart Notholt, 03 September 1995

According to the Romanian president's web site and Wikipedia, the reverse of the Moldovan flag does not have the arms.
James Dignan and Alex Danes, 13 August 2008 - although this claim is disputed.


Flags with Similar (non-mirrored) Backsides

The US Marine Corps flag officially should have the backside as a reverse image except all lettering and the "continents" should be correct on both sides.
John Niggley, 30 August 1995


The flag of the Isle of Man has to be printed separately for each side due to the fact that the legs of the triskelion have to be seen to be standing the same way round from both sides. Presumably the same is true for countries with asymmetrical crests on their flags (eg, Croatia).
James Dignan, 30 August 1995


In fact the Croatian flag is made both printed "one sided", so the back side crown ("the zoo", as it is popularly called) is mirrored, and "two sided", in occasion when the coat of arms is applied to a tricolor flag, by means of sewing or glued, later especially often on small size flags.
Željko Heimer, 16 September 1995


The Saudi Arabian flag, has the lettering ("There is no God but God ....") also repeated on the back, properly reversed.
Ed Haynes, 30 August 1995


The new (post Gulf War II) Iraqi flag which, since it has an inscription on the flag (in this case, "God is Great") needs distinct obverse/reverse patterns.
Ed Haynes, 31 August 1995


The USSR flag had in front a hammer and sickle and the back was a plain red flag with nothing on it.

I'll admit that I had a bit of trouble finding a written reference again when I needed it, but from L. Mucha, W. Crampton, ed., Webster's Concise Encyclopedia of Flags & Coats of Arms, 1985:

"The flag was approved in 1923 and finally settled in 1924; the shape of the hammer and sickle was slightly corrected and exactly prescribed in 1955. In 1980 it was stipulated that the hammer, the sickle and the star appear only on the obverse side of the flag, the reverse being all red."

I've seen (and probably own) flags made following this regulation and others ignoring it completely.

Jon Radel, 03 September 1995