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   Antiques for Sale > Flags, Patriotic & Political



In the world of antique American flags there are nearly countless star patterns. Because there was no official configuration until 1912, their design before that time was left to the whims of the maker. Most structured their stars in lineal rows or columns. A much smaller number of flag-makers chose circular designs, employing two or three consecutive wreaths. Substantially further down the rarity scale is a geometric pattern called the "Great Star," in which the stars are arranged in the profile of one large star. This pattern is visually powerful and highly coveted by collectors, but there are rarer configurations still. Among these are circles within squares, pentagons, ovals, and completely random patterns. There are flags where the stars actually spell something with alphabetic or numeric characters, and there are diamonds, shields, snowflakes, and starbursts. This flag does not fall into any of the basic categories, common or otherwise. The design is centered on a wreath of 13 stars surrounding one large star, placed in the center of a wide blue canton. Rows of 6 stars are lined up across the top and bottom, and within the open space that flanks each side of the circle are four pairs of two stars. The resulting pattern is not only unique to this flag, but visually dynamic. Note the measure of folk quality created by the crude aspects of the stars' placement, which lacks consistency in both their intended geometric relationship between one-another, as well as in the orientation of their points on a vertical axis. This is further augmented by the rather broad profile of the stars, many of which have arms that are bent in one direction or another and bear some resemblance to living starfish. The visual movement provided by this trait contributes significantly to the overall design. Kansas was admitted into the Union as the 34th state on January 29th, 1861, about 2 ½ months before the Confederate assault on Fort Sumter that marked the beginning of the Civil War. The 34th star was officially added on July 4th of that year, but most flag makers would have added a 34th star with the addition of Kansas in January. The star count remained official through the opening two years of the war, until July 3rd, 1863, and 34 star flags would have generally been produced until the addition of West Virginia in June of that year. Adding to the flag's appeal is its small scale. During the 19th century, flags with pieced-and-sewn construction (as opposed to printed) were typically eight feet long and larger. This is because they were important in their function as signals, meaning that they needed to be seen and recognized from great distance. A flag that was six feet in length was considered small and production of flags smaller than this was extremely limited. Even infantry battle flags were approximately six by six and-one-half feet and thus practically the size of an average quilt of the same period. Measuring just 24 x 45.5 inches, this is extremely small among its surviving counterparts. As time passed, circumstances changed and sewn flags began to find more of a decorative purpose. It wasn't until the 1890’s that manufacturers began to produce smaller sewn flags in great quantity. These had 13 stars, due to the greater ease in interpreting their shape at a distance on a small field (a practice long maintained by the U.S. Navy). Production of these continued into the 1920’s, but during the same era, flags were not normally produced with pieced-and-sewn construction that bore the full complement of stars. The same was true prior to 1890, save in much smaller quantity. Flags smaller than five feet, when they were made at all, would usually have 13 stars. Those with a count that reflected the number of states at the time of manufacture were few and far between. Both of these circumstances, meaning a combination of the tiny size of this example (approximately two feet by forty-five inches) among its counterparts and the fact that it contains the complete star count, add considerable interest to flag collectors, who prefer smaller flags because they are more practical to frame and display. The combination of the beauty of this design and its rarity, small size, and Civil War period manufacture, result in a flag of masterpiece quality and significance. Construction: The stars are made of cotton, hand-sewn, and double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). The canton and stripes are made of wool bunting and joined with treadle-stitching. An interlocking chain stitch was used in the application of the canton to the stripe field. This stitch is seldom seen in 34 star flags. It consumed a great deal of thread and while strong, was not favored by flag-makers. When present, it is most often encountered in flags made between late 1863 and 1867. The use of white thread as selvedge along the finished edges of the red wool (top and bottom stripes) is both visually interesting and unusual. I do not recall having seen this trait on any other wool bunting flag with 34 stars and it is rare in American flags of in any period. There is a cotton sleeve along the hoist, through with a braided hemp rope has been inserted and sewn into place. The letters "J.N.C" are hand-embroidered on the reverse of the sleeve with red cotton thread, near the bottom of the hoist, separated by two periods. These would reflect the initials of a former owner. It was common to mark ownership of flags during the 19th century, but far less common to do so with embroidery. The added embellishment is fine feature. Mounting: The flag was stitched to 100% silk organza on every seam and throughout the star field for support. It was then sewn to a background of 100% cotton twill, black in color, which was washed to remove excess dye. An acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye and the fabric was heat-treated for the same purpose. The mount was then placed in a gilded French molding of excellent quality, with a traditional American profile, to which a black, scooped-profile liner was added. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic. Condition: The condition is exceptional for the period. There is very minor mothing and minor loss from wind shear at the fly-end corner of the top stripe. There is a small nick along the top edge of the canton, near the center, and there are tiny holes along the hoist where the flag was likely affixed to a wooden staff or perhaps tacked to a stationary object for some other means of display. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Inventory Number: 34j-949


Jeff R. Bridgman American Antiques, llc
Contact   Jeff Bridgman Phone: (717) 502-1281
Period: 19th Century (1801-1900)
Date: 1861-1863
Condition: See Item Description
Measurements: Frame Size (H x L): 36.25" x 57.25" Flag Size (H x L): 24" x 45.5"
Inventory Other Inventory by this Dealer
Price: Please Call
E-mail: Inquire
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