Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
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33 STARS, LATER UPDATED TO 35, WITH A RARE AND INTERESTING DIAMOND CONFIGURATION, ACCOMPANIED BY HAND-WRITTEN NOTES THAT RECORD IT AS HAVING BEEN FLOWN IN CELEBRATION OF WARTIME VICTORIES, AS WELL AS TO MOURN THE DEATH OF THREE PRESIDENTS, YET WITH A DESIGN THAT MAY DISPLAY CONFEDERATE SYMPATHIES; MADE BY MRS. JOHN DRUM, 1861, FOUND NEAR ERIE, PENNSYLVANIA

Web ID: 35j-821
Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 67" x 109"
Flag Size (H x L): 56" x 98"
 
Description:
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 33 star pattern, later updated to 35 stars, is so important among surviving examples. Of equal importance is the existence of two hand-written notes, penned by members of the Drum Family. The flag was found in Meadville, Pennsylvania, in the Northwest corner of the state, near Erie, and the flag may have originated there. The earlier of the two notes reads as follows:

“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 outstanding Civil War flag. The 1861 date is consistent with the information that can be gleaned from the configuration of stars. The original design would have consisted of the 5 by 5 square, turned on the diagonal in the center to create a diamond, plus two stars outside this pattern, lined up on the opposing diagonal and thus flanking in each corner.

Note how this pattern creates a distinct Southern Cross that runs from corner-to-corner of the canton, with a single star in the very center.

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 the presence of the Southern Cross is merely coincidental. Although the intent of the maker is unrecorded, many flags of this period were made with just this kind of embedded symbolism, employed to subtly--or sometimes not-so-subtly--display various political views. Sometimes stars were removed to reflect only those states that the maker felt were loyal to the Union, and sometimes the reverse of that was done in the South, where the Stars & Stripes was altered to Confederate purpose. The number of stripes might likewise be changed for political meaning and verbiage or imagery was occasionally added within the stripe field and/or the canton.

Since there was no official configuration of stars until 1912, the makers of flags took all manner of liberties, both to send messages and create beautiful imagery. 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. Whatever the case may be, mysteries like this heighten interest among collectors and this is especially true when there is a possible association with the South, because Confederate items almost universally bring higher prices than their respective Union counterparts.

The two stars that were added later are rather conspicuous, flanking each side of the outstretched arm in the upper, hoist-end side of the diamond. These are not applied any differently than the rest, or with different fabric, but the transition from 33 to 35 stars occurred within less than 3 years. The fact that they look so similar is a matter of the original maker adding them by the same method, with the same fabric, soon after the original manufacture. The inclusion of these two stars lends a modernistic sensibility to the design, providing a degree of artistic movement that makes it difficult for one’s eye to fully rest on the pattern. Also note how the stars point in various directions on their vertical axis, which adds further visual interest.

Of even greater impact is the color and texture of the fabrics. The canton is a beautiful shade of indigo, nearly a Prussian blue, while the arresting shade of the red stripes is similar to the rich orange found in Navaho rugs of the 1880's -1900 period, with persimmon overtones. The fabric of the latter is a cotton and wool blend, woven with natural colored fibers on the warp and red on the weft. The combination results in the unusual hue and the fabric has a lustrous finish. The blue is likewise a wool and cotton blend with rich texture.

These particular fabrics are not common among the Civil War period flags I have handled, which supports and 1861 or prior date and 33 stars as the original count. Oregon joined the Union as the 33rd state on February 14th (Valentine's Day), 1859 and the 33 star flag became official on July 4th of that year. Kansas came as a Free State on January 9th, 1861. Generally the makers of flags added stars immediately when the state was added, if not before in hopeful anticipation. So when the Civil War broke out in April of 1861, even the federal government abandoned the 33 star count in favor of 34. The state was already in and proper update of the flag was inevitable.

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 (usually of cotton, or cotton with a merino wool canton) and commercially made flags (usually of wool with cotton stars or silk with gilt-painted stars). Prior to Independence Day, anyone might chose to stick to the official star count, but only a few did. Flags made prior to April are more likely to survive with 33 stars and more likely to be made with a seemingly odd choice of fabrics--those that are unusual to see in wartime flags.

The white stripes of the flag are made of plain cotton, likely due to the unavailability of wool in that color and in a similar weight. Like most flags with wool or cotton stripes, the stars of the flag are made of cotton. These are double- appliquéd, meaning that they are applied to both sides of the blue 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, all at the same time.

The stripes of the flag are sewn entirely by treadle machine, as is the blue binding that runs along the top and bottom of three sides. The binding of the hoist end, which surrounds a braided hemp rope, was done by hand, as was the application of white wool herringbone weave tape along the fly end, which was added for repair.

West Virginia entered the Union as the 35th state on June 20th, 1863, and the 35 star flag was generally used during the closing years of the Civil War. The 2 additional stars would probably have been added sometime following that point. 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.

From a textile perspective, a design perspective, and a historical perspective, the flag is a masterpiece among known examples.

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 removed the patches and used an iridescent silk to underlay the loss in the top red stripe 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 cared for. There is only minor foxing and staining.
   
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 35
Earliest Date of Origin: 1861
Latest Date of Origin: 1861
State/Affiliation: West Virginia
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281
E-mail: info@jeffbridgman.com


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