Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Antique Flags > American Flags


Web ID: 31j-849
Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 63" x 82"
Flag Size (H x L): 51" x 79.25"
31 star American national flag, entirely hand-sewn and with an array of interesting and desirable features. The most obvious of these can be seen in the configuration of the stars, which are arranged in the form of one big star. This is what is termed the "Great Star" or "Great Luminary" pattern, coveted by collectors and generally considered the Rolls Royce of geometric designs.

Less obvious, but of no less significance; is the fact that the blue canton is resting on a red stripe. When this condition occurs, some flag historians have referred to this as the “blood stripe” or the “war stripe”, suggesting the flag was constructed in this fashion when the nation was at war. In actuality, the placement probably occurred more often by accident. Not everyone knew where the canton was traditionally positioned, and because there was no official specification until 1912, there was no regulation with regard to this aspect. Whatever the case may be, the war stripe feature is both scarce and highly coveted by collectors.

California became the 31st state in 1850, ushered in on the heels of the 1849 Gold Rush. The 31 star flag became official the following year, on July 4th, 1851 and remained so until July 3rd, 1858, following the addition of Minnesota as the 32nd state.

Flags made prior to the Civil War comprise less than one percent of 19th century flags that exist in the 21st century. Prior to the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, the Stars & Stripes was simply not used for most of the same purposes we employ it in today. Private individuals did not typically display the flag in their yards and on their porches. Parade flags didn't often fly from carriages and horses. Places of business rarely hung flags in their windows. In general, the only regular non-military use of the flag on land between 1840 and 1861 was for political campaigning. Private use of the national flag rose swiftly during the patriotism that accompanied the Civil War, then exploded in 1876 during the centennial of American independence.

Even the military did not use the flag in a manner that most people might think. The primary purpose before the Civil War, both governmental and civilian, was to mark ships on the open seas. While the flag was used to mark some garrisons, the flags of ground troops were often limited to the flag of their own regiment, with a design peculiar unto itself, and perhaps a standard that featured the numeric designation on a painted or embroidered streamer, on a solid buff yellow or blue ground. Most people are surprised to learn that ground forces were not authorized to carry the Stars & Stripes until it was assigned to artillery regiments in 1834. Infantry was afforded the privilege in 1841, just prior to the Mexican War (1846-1848), while cavalry regiments were not authorized until the second year of the Civil War, in 1862.

The intent of this particular flag could have been to be carried on foot. The open sleeve would have served well for that function, with a wooden staff fed all the way through and tacked into place. Most military flags of this nature, however, were silk, which was much lighter and easier to carry for an extended period. This is a commercially-made flag, sewn in what was probably a cottage industry setting. Wool bunting was a commercial fabric that was only employed in the making of flags and banners. The sewn on rope likely represents a conversion--possibly at the time of sale or immediately thereafter--which made it better suited to be raised on a flag pole or hoisted for maritime use.

Construction: The stars of the flag are made of cotton and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). The canton and stripes are made of wool bunting. Because blue wool bunting was generally available in a width of 18 inches, two lengths of fabric were used to construct the canton. There is a linen binding along the hoist, in the form of an open sleeve, through which a braided cotton rope, looped at the top, was passed and hand-stitched into position. The rectangular piece of fabric in the lower, hoist-end corner, called a gusset, appears to be original to the flag's construction (included for support). Patches at the top and bottom of the fly end were added as a means of repair, as were the white cotton patch running vertically at the top of the hoist binding and the small length of white cotton running horizontally at the bottom from the binding and across the gusset.

More Information About the Great Star Pattern:
Although conceptualized as early as 1782 and depicted in that year on the first die cut of the newly adopted Great Seal of the United States, the popularity of arranging the stars in the form of one big star seems to have spread shortly after the War of 1812, when Congressman Peter Wendover of New York, requested that Captain Samuel Reid, a War of 1812 naval hero, be charged with the creation of a new design that would become the third official format of the Stars & Stripes. A recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, Reid became harbor master of New York following the war. During his lifetime, he created many innovations in signal use, including a system that could actually send messages from New York to New Orleans by sea in just two hours.

Use as a Naval signal had been the primary reason for the initial creation of an American national flag in 1777, but since there was no official star design, the appearance of our flag varied greatly. Reid and Wendover’s primary concerns centered on both consistency and ease of recognition. Their hope was that as more and more states joined the Union, and more and more stars were thus added to the flag, that it would remain easy to identify its design on the open seas. In 1818, Reid suggested to Congress that the number of stripes permanently return to 13, (their count having been increased to 15 in 1795 with the Second Flag Act, which added two more stars for the newest States of Vermont and Kentucky,) and that the stars be grouped into the shape of one large star.

Reid’s proposal would have kept the star constellation in roughly the same format, in a pattern that could be quickly identified through at a distance as the number of states grew. His concept for the stripes was ultimately accepted, but his advice on the star pattern was rejected by President James Monroe, due to the increased cost of arranging the stars in what would become known as the “Great Star”, “Great Flower”, or “Great Luminary” pattern. Monroe probably didn’t wish to impose this cost on either the government or civilians, so he suggested a simple pattern of justified rows. Never-the-less, the Great Star was produced by anyone willing to make it and its rarity today, along with its beauty, has driven the desirability of American flags with this configuration.

Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% silk organza for support on every seam and throughout the star field. It was then hand-stitched to a background of 100% cotton, black in color, that 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 black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective Plexiglas.

Condition: Patches discussed above were used to repair tears and losses and/or to strengthen the fabric in each corner. There is minor to moderate soiling in the striped field and some of the stars, a bit of which was professionally minimized with reversible pigments that rest on top of the fibers. This was executed sparingly and in a most non-aggressive fashion. There are minor to modest tears with associated loss in the stripes, the most significant of which are located in the 6th, 7th, and 8th stripes below the canton, immediately next to the canton in the 5th stripe, and in the lower half of the flag at the extreme fly end. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 31
Earliest Date of Origin: 1850
Latest Date of Origin: 1858
State/Affiliation: California
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281

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