|40 CANTED STARS IN AN ORDERLY PHALANX, ON AN ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG WITH A RARE STAR COUNT, ACCURATE FOR JUST SIX DAYS AND NEVER OFFICIAL, REFLECTING SOUTH DAKOTA’S ADMISSION TO THE UNION
|Frame Size (H x L):||Approx. 46.5" x 72"|
|Flag Size (H x L):||34" x 59.5"|
|40 star American national flag, clamp-dyed on wool bunting, with a wide binding along the hoist in the form of an open sleeve. Probably made of blended flax and hemp, this was sewn and bound with hand stitching to the body of the flag, which was rolled over so that it could be doubled-up along the hem for strength. This method also provided extra fabric in case repairs were necessary.
Per the Flag Act of 1818, stars were officially added to the flag on Independence Day for any new state that came in over the course of the preceding “flag year.” This was the date bracket over which a new official star count was calculated.
In 1889 there were 38 states, Colorado having been the last to join the Union 13 years prior, in 1876. Beginning at least as early as that year, during which our nation was celebrating its 100th anniversary, the forthcoming entry of the Dakota Territory was anticipated. Thought to be comprised of a single state, it eventually became clear, for reasons both financial and political, that it would be divided into two.
Across the list of remaining Western Territories, there was a great deal of maneuvering to see which state would come first. Continually wishing for there to be a reason to sell new flags, many, if not all commercial and cottage industry flag makers seem to have partook in speculation when calculating the number of stars necessary to update the next flag. This led to the production of anticipatory designs, which added stars to the flag before the respective states were even in. Makers of homemade flags would have certainly calculated the total as they saw fit, and all makers, commercial or private, could be expected to update the count once the admission of a state had actually occurred. Following a course of what was practical, as well as patriotic with regard to the consummation of manifest destiny, no one seems to have been especially interested in what the 3rd Flag Act regarded as the official star count. Perhaps the best illustration of this is the 39 star flag, which was produced both in 1876, in anticipation of the addition of two states, when only one entered in that year, and for a second time in 1889, when the admission of the Dakota Territory once again loomed on the horizon.
The 40 star flag was made to commemorate both North and South Dakota, our 39th and 40th states, which were admitted on the same day of November 2nd, 1889, reflecting the territorial split. Because Montana was admitted on November 8th, just six days later, the 40 star flag became inaccurate almost as soon as it was made. This was followed by Washington State on November 11th. In fact, a total of 5 states entered the Union over the course of the flag year, which proceeded from July 4th, 1889 to July 3rd, 1890. Curiously enough, while Idaho, which entered as the 43rd state on the last possible day, caused the official count to be updated to 43 for the period of a year, this star count is actually one of the most rare. Because Wyoming followed closely on its heels, and everyone seems to have been aware of the forthcoming event, flag-makers effectively skipped over the 43 star count in favor of 44.
Though the exact circumstances of the reasoning behind the production of 40 star flags remains unknown, due to the 6-day period in which the 40 star count was accurate, and the seemingly narrow window during which the prospect of the division of the Dakotas seems to have been speculated, most flag-makers probably never even considered producing the 40 star flags.
With regard to the particular 40 star flag that is the subject of this narrative, note how the shades of red and blue are especially attractive, especially in combination with the texture of the fabric. This is often the case with press-dyed flags, which I find to be extremely attractive as a rule. Also note how the ranks of stars, which are especially large with respect to the available space, are canted at an angle consistently throughout, so that one point is directed toward eleven o’clock. This presents like a militaristic phalanx of marching men. In some cases lineal patterns can be bland among 19th century examples, but in this instance, due to the size of the stars, their tilted position, the color of the canton and the stripes that appear between each row (a result of the clamps used in its construction), the arrangement is visually compelling. Their design takes on modernistic qualities, which is something I like to encounter in a 19th century object, because of the way it can elevate artistic impact.
This particular style of clamp-dyed flag has been identified in two sizes. At just less than 3 feet on the hoist by approximately 5 feet on the fly, this is the smaller of the two. The other is twice this length. Both varieties have canted stars. Both were evidently produced by the same maker, yet none are signed, so the identity is not known. Because exceptionally few makers signed flags during the 19th century, this is expected. The only marking, present along the hoist, near the bottom, on the obverse [front], is an initial “K,” inscribed with a dip pen. This may denote the surname of a former owner (common, though usually a full name), or may be the alphabetic designation of a military company of soldiers (less common). Whatever the case may be, the size is generally difficult to obtain in a 19th century flag. Because most printed parade flags or hand-wavers measured 3 feet long or less, while most flags with pieced-and-sewn construction measured 8 feet long or larger, far fewer flags of this era measured between 3 and 5 feet on the fly. Because this is a rather desirable size among to collectors and one-time buyers alike, due to the balance between manageable scale and visual impact for indoor display, this is an especially desirable feature.
Some Notes on the Press-Dying Process:
A form of resist-dying, the press or clamp-dying process was first patented in 1849, and 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-sewing 80 stars (40 on each side). In reality, however, the result must have been less efficient. 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 that would have the same effect. 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.
Wool was a preferred fabric because it sheds water. This made it the fabric of choice for all maritime flags and most examples produced by professional flag-makers for long-term outdoor use. Printing on wool, however, is notably 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.
Press-dying of wool flags was primarily employed during the Centennial-era by the U.S. Bunting Company of Lowell, Massachusetts, which began making flags by this method 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 and in slightly varying sizes. It is likely that this resulted in lost product and wasted time, from flags with bleeding or misprint issues that 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 demonstrate early production methods, but also because they lend the sort of folk qualities that make early flags more interesting to look at.
Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed within our own conservation department, which is led by expert trained staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples.
The black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed molding is Italian. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic. Feel free to contact us for more details.
Condition: There are tiny tack holes, associated rust stains, and minor associated loss, where the flag was once affixed to a wooden staff. There is minor mothing in limited areas, most of it towards the fly end, where there is also modest soiling. There are modest to moderate stains on two of the stars. There are 5 small holes in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 6th stripes. There is a more significant area of loss at the fly end of the 12th and 13th stripes, probably from wind shear. Period fabrics of similar weave and coloration were placed behind these small holes and loss during the mounting process.
|Collector Level:||Intermediate-Level Collectors and Special Gifts|
|Flag Type:||Sewn flag|
|Earliest Date of Origin:||1889|
|Latest Date of Origin:||1889|
|War Association:||1866-1890 Indian Wars|
|Price:||Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281|