|38 STARS IN A RARE CIRCLE-IN-A-SQUARE MEDALLION WITH A HUGE CENTER STAR, ON AN ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG MADE FOR THE 1876 CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION BY HORSTMANN BROS. OF PHILADELPHIA
|Frame Size (H x L):||Approx. 29.5" x 40"|
|Flag Size (H x L):||19" x 30"|
|38 star American national flag, press-dyed on wool bunting. The stars are arranged in what is known as a circle-in-a-square medallion. This consists of a huge center star, surrounded by a circular wreath of stars, with a square of stars around the perimeter.
Because there was no official way to configure the stars on the American flag until 1912, the design was left up to the maker. Most flags had stars arranged rather predictably, in some form of rows or columns. A much smaller number displayed them in a circular medallion, consisting of consecutive wreaths, typically with a star in the center and a star in each corner, beyond the outermost ring. Considerably fewer positioned them so that they formed one big star. Known as the "Great Star" or "Great Luminary" pattern, this can accurately be considered the Rolls Royce of geometric designs among flag enthusiasts, though there are rarer patterns still. Among these is the dynamic circle-in-a-square, which is so scarce that examples of it have eluded many major collectors. Boleslaw Mastai wrote the first major text on flag collecting in the 1970's and accumulated more than 600 antique flags and related patriotic objects. Although he collected in the 1970's and prior, when he had little-to-no competition and material was plentiful, he didn't own one in any star count.
This flag was made by Horstmann Brothers Company of Philadelphia (a.k.a., Horstmann & Sons), which was established in 1816, but is best known for the significant role it played in the outfitting of Civil War soldiers. Following the war, due to their location and expertise, Horstmann was a natural choice to supply flags for the Centennial International Exposition. Held in Philadelphia in 1876, this was our nation's first World's Fair and served as the nucleus of the celebration of our nation's 100-year anniversary of Independence. Many fantastic star patterns were made in the patriotism that accompanied the related fanfare, and this is among the best of all examples.
Horstmann is known to have produced press-dyed wool designs. Among the known, signed examples, a group of flags representing various nations turned up in the greater Philadelphia area, all of which were marked along the hoist binding with the Horstmann name. Among these were two American national flags with 38 stars, in known styles that I previously suspected to have been made in 1876 specifically. Their discovery with the with the array of international flags lent significant proof to that theory.
Colorado joined the Union as our 38th state on August 1st, 1876. 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. Caring little about official star counts, they producing what they felt would best appeal to potential flag buyers. America was bent on Westward Expansion. Adding stars before states had even joined was commonplace. Adding them after the state had come in, but before the official change, made sense because the addition was inevitable anyway. 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. Although the 39th state would not join the Union for another 13 years, flags with 39, 38, and 13 stars (to represent the original 13 colonies) can all be seen at the Centennial Exposition.
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 resist solution, 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, the method often resulted in crude characteristics, such as stripes with irregular lines, in various widths, and stars with inconsistent shapes, in slightly varying sizes, all of which can be seen on this example. Collectors find these irregularities interesting, not only because they demonstrate early production methods, but also because they lend the sort of folk qualities that make early flags more interesting to look at.
The process probably resulted in some lost product and wasted time from bleeding and misprinting, resulting in flags were of too poor quality to sell. This may perhaps explain why it never became a become a popular method of flag production. Whatever the case may be, printing on wool remains 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 spite of difficulties in dyeing, wool was excellent for flag-making. Because wool sheds water, it was the fabric of choice for all maritime flags, as well as most examples produced by professional flag-makers for long-term outdoor use. Smaller, printed flags, made for short-term use at parades and political rallies, were typically made of cotton or silk. Because the Centennial Expo lasted for six months, printing small, decorative flags on wool was a logical alternative for this unusually long event.
* Chen, W., Wang, G., & Bai, Y., “Best for Wool Fabric Printing…,” (Textile Asia, 2002, v.33 (12)), pp. 37-39.
Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed in our own conservation department, which is led by expert staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples.
The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color. The black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed molding is Italian. The glazing is U.V. protective Plexiglas.
Condition: There is moderate fabric loss throughout from a combination of mothing and use, primarily located at the fly end, accompanied by moderate soiling. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind 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.
|Collector Level:||Intermediate-Level Collectors and Special Gifts|
|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|