The 48-star United States Flag identified as Lot # 40193 in the Heritage Auctions’ Arms & Armor Sale catalog measures only 30 inches high and 57 inches long. There are noticeable holes in its blue field of stars and the thirteen red and white stripes are tattered and worn. The holes were made by a German machine gun, according to Heritage Auctions. The flag’s shredded Fly End is the result of seven-and-a-half hours of battle during 19 trips under enemy fire. Once owned by Lieutenant Howard Vander Beek, the skipper of U.S. Navy Landing Control Craft 60, this flag flew from the stern of the sole guide boat at Utah Beach during the D-Day Invasion. And it is one of a kind artifact.
To a collector, a D-Day Invasion flag represents a rare opportunity to own a piece of World War II history. Dallas-based Heritage Auctions recognized this when the auction house obtained the Vander Beek flag from a consignor last summer. The auction company, which bills itself as the “World’s Largest Collectibles Auctioneer,” had a track record of selling rare American battle flags. In December 2006, Heritage sold Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart’s personal battle flag for $935,000. The following year, the company sold General George Armstrong Custer’s personal silk swallow-tailed cavalry battle flag from the Civil War for $896,000. Another D-Day battle flag that flew on the beaches of Gold, Juno, Utah and Omaha throughout the Normandy Invasion had also recently sold at Bonhams New York for $386,500. Armed with a successful past sales history and a desirable military relic, Heritage set its pre-sale estimate for the Vander Beek flag at $100,000.
The flag sold on June 12, 2016 for more than five times its pre-bid estimate. The successful bidder, Dutch art collector Bert Kreuk, paid $514,000 for the banner and then placed it on long-term loan to the National Military Museum in The Netherlands. Although Lieutenant Vander Beek’s family was invited to the National Military Museum’s acceptance ceremonies in The Netherlands, they will not share in any of the proceeds from the Heritage Auctions sale. Unfortunately, the Vander Beek family sold their ancestor’s flag seven months earlier through Jackson’s International Auctioneers & Appraisers in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Listed as Lot #235 in Jackson’s Russian, Asian, European & American Fine Art Sale on November 17, 2015, the Vander Beek flag was given a pre-bid estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. The lot sold for $35,000 (including a 28% buyer’s commission) to an anonymous buyer who then consigned it to Heritage Auctions over the summer. The rest is a matter of record.
Regrettably, the Vander Beek family’s D-Day flag story illustrates the importance of locating what appraisers call “the most common market” for the sale of antiques and collectibles. The phrase “most common market” is derived from U.S. Treasury Regulation §20.2031-1(b) in its definition of fair market value. The expression refers to the marketplace where similar objects are most often sold to the general public, and sellers who chose a marketplace other than that which is most common for the sale of their valuable family heirlooms realize their mistake only after the fact.
We encourage all of our clients and prospective clients to explore the marketplace thoroughly before selling their precious family heirlooms. An uninformed decision can be too costly to consider.