Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Antique Flags > American Flags


Web ID: 38j-1096
Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 64" x 97.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 51.5" x 85"
38 star American national flag, press-dyed on wool bunting. The stars are configured in what is known as a "notched" pattern, in which two spaces were left open along the hoist end in anticipation of the addition of two more Western Territories.

The flag is pieced from three panels of fabric which have been joined together by hand-stitching. At the hoist end, the wool was rolled over, bound by hand, and left partially exposed beneath a heavy canvas binding, along which there are 3 brass grommets. A black stencil along the obverse, near the top, reads “American Ensign 7 ft.”

The flag was made by the U.S. Bunting Co., in Lowell, Massachusetts and was probably intended for nautical use. Versions of this stencil are seen on other known U.S. Bunting Co. examples, some of which include the name and a patent date of 1870, which related to the clamp-dying process with regard to its use in flag production. The U.S. Navy was in the habit of using 13 star flags on its small boats during the second half of the 19th century, not flags with the full star count, like this one, but there were probably exceptions to that rule. The U.S. Bunting Company was owned in part by Civil War General Benjamin Butler, who had a great deal of both political and military clout and is known to have sought and obtained Naval contracts.

These press-dyed flags may also have made for foreign ships that sailed into American ports, hence the inclusion of the word “American” on the sleeve, which would have been obvious to any U.S. resident. Thought not unknown, such identification is generally excluded on American flags.

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 (numbers 39 and 40) on the same day, November 2nd, 1889.

The name "Cram" is penciled along the binding, near the bottom. This would represent the name of a former owner and it was common to mark flags in this fashion during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Cram is a Scottish surname, but nothing further is known about the flag's specific history.

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 they were positioned would be left white. For flags with press-dyed stripes, the same task was repeated with different clamps.

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. Press-dying on wool was primarily used during the Centennial-era by the U.S. Bunting Company of Lowell, Massachusetts, which began making examples of this sort for the U.S. military in 1869, as well as 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. 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.*

* 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 within our own conservation department, which is led by masters degree trained staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples.

The background is 100% hemp fabric or a hemp and cotton blend (we use both interchageably). The black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed molding is Italian. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass. Feel free to contact us for more details.

Condition: There is a small tear with associated loss in the upper, hoist-end corner of the canton, and another beneath the first star in the second row, and a small, closed tear above the 7th star in the 1st row, accompanied by a scattering of small holes in a number of the stars themselves. There is a small hole near the center of the 5th white stripe and there are more minor losses elsewhere throughout. There is minor soiling and oxidation throughout and a few modest stains in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 8th, and 10th stripes. The overall condition is very good for the period. 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: Sewn flag
Star Count: 38
Earliest Date of Origin: 1876
Latest Date of Origin: 1889
State/Affiliation: Colorado
War Association: 1866-1890 Indian Wars
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281

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