|38 STARS IN A RARE CIRCLE-IN-A-SQUARE MEDALLION WITH A HUGE CENTER STAR, MADE FOR THE 1876 CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION, PROBABLY BY HORSTMANN BROS. IN PHILADELPHIA
|Frame Size (H x L):||37.25" x 44.5"|
|Flag Size (H x L):||24.75" x 32"|
|38 Star American national parade flag with an especially rare type of medallion star pattern. This consists of a huge center star, surrounded by a wreath of stars, with a square of stars surrounding the perimeter. I have seen fewer than 30 flags with variations of this circle-in-a-square design, making it significantly more rare than the equally beautiful “great star” pattern. They are so rare that even major collectors like Boleslaw Mastai didn’t own one. Mastai wrote the first major text on flag collecting and accumulated several hundred examples.
Many fantastic star patterns were made in the patriotism that accompanied or nation’s 100-year anniversary of independence in 1876 and this is among the best of all examples. Note that the vertical alignment of the stars varies greatly, and that the center star is canted slightly, so that one point is directed in the 11:00 position. There were no regulations concerning either star configuration or position until 1912, and many flag-makers went out of their way to catch the attention of potential buyers.
It is very likely that this flag was made by Horstmann Brothers, a major military outfitter. One of the known examples of this exact variety exists with a binding along the hoist, on which the Horstmann name is printed. That flag was found in the Philadelphia area as part of a collection of international flags, all but one of which were made of press-dyed wool and likewise marked with the Horstmann name. Due to the fact that the company was located in Philadelphia and the Centennial International Exposition—a major World’s Fair event—took place in the same city in 1876, it is logical to assume that Horstmann supplied these flags for the occasion.
Press-dyed wool flags are scarcer than those printed on cotton and silk. Most parade flags were made of cotton because cotton was inexpensive and such flags were often intended for one day’s use only at a specific parade, political rally, a reunion of soldiers, or some other patriotic event. The Centennial Expo lasted for a period of six months, however, which required decorative flags that would last for a longer time. It is reasonable to assume that press-dyed wool flags were made for just such a purpose, because wool sheds water is suitable for extended outdoor use.
Colorado became the 38th state on August 1st, 1876. This was the year of our nation’s 100-year anniversary of independence. Per the Third Flag Act of 1818, stars were not officially added until the 4th of July following a state's addition. For this reason, 37 was the official star count for the American flag in 1876. Flag-making was a competitive venture, however, and few flag-makers would have been continuing to produce 37 star flags when their competitors were making 38’s. It is for this reason that 38 and 13 stars (to represent the original 13 colonies) are more often seen at the Centennial International Exposition, the six-month long World’s Fair held in Philadelphia in honor of the event. Some flag-makers would have been adding a star for the 38th state even before it entered the Union, in the early part of 1876 or even prior. In fact, many makers of parade flags were actually producing 39 star flags, in hopeful anticipation of the addition of two more Western Territories instead of one. But the 39th state would not join the Union for another 13 years, when the Dakota Territory entered as two states on the same day. The 38 star flag became official on July 4th, 1877 and was generally used until the addition of the Dakotas in 1889.
Some Notes on the Press-Dying Process:
First patented in 1849, the press-dying process was thought to be a novel idea that would improve flag-making efficiency. In this case, for example, it could potentially alleviate the chore of hand-appliquéing 76 stars (38 on each side). In reality, however, the result must have been less efficient than sewing. To achieve white stars, for example, metal plates in the shape of stars had to be clamped to either side of a length of woolen fabric, in the desired configuration, so they were back-to-back. These may have been lightly brushed beforehand with a solution that would resist dye, or perhaps with a thin coat of wax. The stars were clamped together tightly, the bunting was dyed blue, and the areas where the metal stars were positioned would be left white. For flags with press-dyed stripes, the same task was repeated with different clamps.
A form of resist-dyeing, this method often resulted in crude characteristics, such as stripes with irregular lines, in various widths, and stars with inconsistent shapes, in slightly varying sizes. It is likely that this resulted in some lost product and wasted time, from flags that had bleeding or misprint issues and were of too poor quality to sell. This may perhaps explain why it never became a become a popular method of flag production.
Wool was preferred because it sheds water, making it the fabric of choice for all maritime flags and, in fact, most flags produced by professional flag-makers for long-term outdoor use. The inclusion of cotton would have made the fabric easier to dye and may have, in fact, precluded the need for clamp dying (another name for the process). Whatever the case may be, printing on wool is costly and difficult. Even today, only about 1% of wool fabric is printed*, because it generally needs to be washed afterward and wool cannot easily be treated with water.
In regard to wool flags, press-dying was primarily used during the Centennial-era by the U.S. Bunting Company of Lowell, Massachusetts, which began making press-dyed flags for the U.S. military in 1869, and by Horstmann Brothers of Philadelphia. The U.S. Bunting Co. was one of the first flag-makers to successfully produce high quality wool bunting fabric in the States, and while its owners worked diligently to master the press-dyeing process, it seems quite obvious today that it was actually more costly than expected, because it never become a popular method of flag production. This inexact art of reverse-dyeing would often add crude characteristics, such as stripes with irregular lines, in various widths, and stars with inconsistent shapes, in slightly varying sizes. It is likely that this resulted in lost product and wasted time, from flags that had bleeding or misprint issues and were of too poor quality to sell. But within those flags that survived, today’s collectors today find the irregularities interesting, not only because they demonstrates early production methods, but also because they lends the sort of folk qualities that make early flags more interesting to look at.
* Chen, W., Wang, G., & Bai, Y., “Best for Wool Fabric Printing…,” (Textile Asia, 2002, v.33 (12)), pp. 37-39.
Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% natural fabric throughout for support. The flag was then hand-stitched to a background of 100% cotton twill, black in color, which was washed to reduce 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 substantial, hand-gilded French molding with a classic early American profile. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.
Condition: There is minor foxing and staining. There is very minor mothing. Fabric of similar coloration was used to back the flag to mask losses and to strengthen its color against the black background. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. The extreme desirability of this example well-warrants the condition.
|Collector Level:||Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings|
|Flag Type:||Parade flag|
|Earliest Date of Origin:||1876|
|Latest Date of Origin:||1876|
|War Association:||1866-1890 Indian Wars|
|Price:||Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281|