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Diamond-shaped star configurations are some of the most rare and interesting that exist on early Stars & Stripes, comprising less than one in one thousand flags that were made during the 19th century. This is one reason why this extraordinary 35 star pattern is so important among surviving examples, but equally important is the existence of two hand-written, period notes, hand-written with dip pens on paper by members of the Drum Family. The flag was found in Meadville, Pennsylvania, in the Northwest corner of the state, near Erie. The earlier of the two notes contains the following text: “This flag was made in 1861 by Mrs. John Drum. It was flung to the breeze for our Union Victories and lowered at half mast at the death of our martyred presidents, Lincoln & Garfield.” To which further verbiage was later amended: “Draped for Pres. McKinley, assassinated at Pan-American, Sept. 6, 1901.” A later note adds to the flag’s history. It reads: “This flags was hung on the same pole, in the same place, and floated over the our house on November 11th, 1918 to add to the Celebration of “Peace Victory,” of the World War.” [signed] Helen F. Drum The presence of these two documents adds important specific history to an already outstanding flag, which, if the date is correct, likely began its life with 33 stars. The original design probably consisted of the 5 by 5 square of stars turned on the diagonal in the center to create a diamond, plus two stars outside the pattern, lined up on the diagonal in each corner. Note how this creates a distinct Southern Cross that running from corner-to-corner of the canton. The two stars that were probably added later are rather conspicuous in the upper, hoist-end corner of the canton. These are not applied any differently than the rest, or with different fabric, but the transition from 33 to 35 stars occurred within a 2-3 year period, so it would make sense that the stars might look exactly the same if the original maker added them with left over fabric. Their inclusion gives the design an off-balanced and modernistic appearance that makes it difficult for one’s eye to rest on the pattern. So why does the note state that the family history of the flag’s use was to mourn the death of Lincoln, while the message in the stars seems to reflect the opposite side opinion toward the issues of the war? One possibility is that Mrs. John Drum, the flag’s maker, was, in fact, a Southern Sympathizer, yet her descendents, namely Helen Drum, was a Union supporter who wished to erase this part of her family’s past. If the flag was made in or near Pittsburgh, for example and therefore close to a Border State like West Virginia, it would be more likely that there would be conflicting opinions, even within a single family unit. Of course, a person within this family may have flown the flag upon Lincoln’s death, as disagreement about the war and murder of the president could easily reflect two very different levels of commitment to the cause. Still another possibility is that the presence of the Southern Cross is merely coincidental. While such a theory is possible and worthy of mention, I think it unlikely that that was the case, however, if only because the design is both so distinct and accurate in its number of stars. Many flags of this period were made with just this kind of embedded symbolism, employed to subtly display the political views of the maker. Since there was no official configuration of stars until 1912, the makers of flags took all manner of liberties to both send messages and create beautiful imagery. When either of these two things exists, the interest among collectors is heightened, but when both exist, the increase in desirability becomes exponential. This is especially true when there is an association with the South, as Confederate items almost universally bring higher prices than their respective Union counterparts. Note how the stars point in various directions on their vertical axis, which adds yet another degree of visual interest to the design. Of even greater impact, however, is the color of the fabrics. The canton is a beautiful shade of indigo, nearly a Prussian blue, while the stripes fall between salmon and persimmon. This is because the cotton and wool blend is accomplished with natural colored fabric on the warp and red on the weft, the combination of which results in a red-orange hue. From a textile perspective, a design perspective, and a historical perspective, the flag is a Masterpiece among known example on all counts. West Virginia entered the Union as the 35th state on June 20th, 1863, and this flag was used during the closing years of the Civil War. Although 35 was the official star count until July 4th, 1865, most flag making that was not under military contract would have included a 36th star after the addition of Nevada on October 31st, 1864. This means that 35 star flags were realistically produced for less than a year and a half. Construction: The fabric used in the blue canton and red stripes of the flag makes it unusual among Civil War era flags. These are blended wool fabrics, probably a blended wool and cotton, with a weight very similar to the lightweight cotton from which the white stripes and stars were made. Wool was chosen because it sheds water and is thus preferable for a textile that will be used in an outdoor setting. The stripes and stars were plain cotton, however, likely because of the unavailability of wool in that color and in a similar weight. This is a typical scenario for a flag of this era that includes both wool and cotton. Usually, however, the canton and/or the red stripes are instead made of merino wool, a clothing grade fabric made from the belly of a sheep. The odd choice of fabrics is indicative of flags made with 33 stars and fewer, which supports the theory that the flag originally had 33 stars (1859-61) and not 35. After the war broke out, suppliers of textiles worked fervently to meet the demands of wartime manufacture. This led to greater consistency in the making of both homemade flags—which were usually made entirely of cotton, or cotton with a merino wool canton—and commercially made flags—which were usually made of silk with gilt-painted stars or wool bunting with cotton stars. The stars of the flag are made of cotton and are double- appliquéd. This means that they are sewn to both sides of the canton. The stars are sewn with a combination of hand and treadle stitching. Some are hand-sewn on one side and treadle-sewn on the other, while one, at least, is hand-sewn on three of its points, though treadle-sewn on the remaining two, as if the maker could not decide what was easier. The sewing machine had only been mass-marketed since 1855, just a few years prior, so it is easy to see why any good seamstress might be eager to use a machine to sew the straight seams necessary for the stripes, yet hesitant to try to appliqué a star while pumping the treadle, turning the edges of the fabric under, and turning the canton while sewing, all at the same time. The stripes of the flag are, in fact, sewn entirely by treadle machine, as was the application of the blue binding the runs along the top and bottom of three sides. The binding of the hoist end around a braided hemp rope was done by hand, however, as was the application of white wool herringbone weave tape along the fly end. Mounting: The flag has not yet been mounted. Condition: Loss at the fly end of the top two stripes was repaired by hand with cotton fabric, probably in the 1890-1901 period, maybe when it was flown to mourn McKinley’s assassination. We can easily remove this and use fabric that is much closer in color to mask the loss, by placing it behind the flag during the mounting process. Because there are only very minor nicks, holes and repairs elsewhere, the flag survives in a tremendous state of preservation for the period and it was obviously well looked after. There is only minor foxing and staining.
Inventory Number: 35j-821


Jeff R. Bridgman American Antiques, llc
Contact   Jeff Bridgman Phone: (717) 502-1281
Period: 19th Century (1801-1900)
Date: 1863-1865
Condition: See Item Description
Measurements: Flag: 56" x 98"
Inventory Other Inventory by this Dealer
Price: Please Call
E-mail: Inquire
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