Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
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Frame Size (H x L):
Flag Size (H x L): 29.5" x 31"
In early America it was considered in poor taste for presidential candidates to campaign for public office. Various objects were created to show support for Andrew Jackson in both 1828 and 1832, and there are rare exceptions for other political figures, but the material produced for 1840 Whig nominee William Henry Harrison is generally the earliest to have been rendered in any significant quantity for campaign advertising.

The Whig Party drew on nicknames and memorable slogans, as well as strong visual symbols, to promote their candidate as a war hero and man of the people. The largest and most colorful objects were generally in the form of banners, kerchiefs and flags. Banners were generally hand-painted, while kerchiefs and flags were commercially printed in a cottage industry setting. Commonly referred to as parade flags or hand-wavers, and designed in the form of the Stars & Stripes, the flags made for Harrison's groundbreaking campaign are actually the very first printed versions of our national colors known to exist. While others of the same era are known without campaign advertising (having 26 stars, accurate from 1837-1844), Harrison's 1840 examples are the earliest that can be dated to a specific year.

Printed on silk, he flag's 13 stars are configured in a circular version of what is known as the "3rd Maryland" pattern. This beautiful and desirable design consists of a wreath of 12 stars, with a large star in the very center. The star count pays homage to the American Revolution, our struggle for freedom and the founding of our nation. All known varieties of Harrison flags have 13 stars except one, which has either 25 or 26 stars, depending on how they are counted, there being 2 stars in the center, one large, white star, with a smaller blue one inside it. The correct count of the latter flag is probably meant to be 26, because 1840 fell squarely within the 26 star period (1837-1845).

Harrison’s honorary title, “Hero of Tippecanoe”, is printed in black pigment in the 14th and 16th stripes. Our nation's 9th president had a successful military career and is most famous for overcoming a feared confederacy of American Indian tribes--the first and only of its kind during the 19th century, organized by American Indian chief, Tecumseh and his brother, Tenskwatawa. Fending off a surprise attack, launched when he arrived for peace talks at the Native American city of Prophetstown, on the banks of the Tippecanoe River, Harrison and his troops went on to destroy the encampment, which served as the primary base for the combined Indian forces. After this he gained the nickname “Old Tippicanoe”. Campaign slogans are present on approximately 10% of all known presidential campaign parade flags, and this small percentage are among the most scarce. In other words, slogans are not only rare on parade flags, but those styles that do have slogans are often one-of-a-kind or one of a scant few in that exact form.

The flag's most important feature, however, can be found within the open oval window in the striped field. This contains an bust portrait of the general, governor, congressman, senator, and soon-to-be president, dressed in military garb. The image appears beneath arched letters announcing his name and title, "Gen. Wm. H. Harrison," and 13 stars, placed 6 to the left and 7 to the right. A wreath of laurel leaves surrounds the portrait and text, with a whimsical bow at the bottom center.

The most unusual thing about the portrait on this particular style of flag is a generous use of additional colors. While the entire outline is executed in black, Harrison's uniform is brightly overprinted in cheddar yellow and violet, with his scarf in a lighter version of the latter hue. The wreath is particularly wonderful, in alternating use of the two colors. No other campaign flags, besides Harrison's in 1840, contain portraits that are multi-colored; and while one other colored Harrison portrait variety is known in a different style, no copies of that flag are known in which the colors are still vibrant.

Beyond 1840, use of 6 colors (including the white of the fabric) on a portrait or word flag made for presidential campaigning is unknown. The nearest instance is a 5-color variety. Made for the 1876 presidential run of Rutherford B. Hayes, this features a portrait of Lady Columbia, flanked by an eagle and a federal shield. Only one copy of that flag is known.

The colorful center of this particular Harrison flag is complemented by striking shades of royal blue and scarlet red in the canton and stripes, which are equally remarkable. The large star is canted at an angle, which adds a nice folk quality and movement to the design. Also note how the flag's proportion are nearer to square than many examples. Flags in this basic style were produced for both the 1840 and 1844 campaigns. The square format may have served so that the flag could be just as easily flown on a staff or tied like a kerchief. In any event, many of the earliest examples bear this square profile, which mimicked the shape of ground force military colors.

Another aspect of interest in this particular flag is its size. Most Harrison flags are rather large, but this one is especially so. Of the 10 examples illustrated in "Threads of History: Americana Recorded on Cloth, 1775 to the Present", by Herbert Ridgeway Collins (1979, Smithsonian Press), the leading text on political textiles, only one (a "word" flag that I had the privilege to own about 12-15 years ago) is larger.

Note that the flag has 17 stripes. This is may simply be due to artist's liberty, but it might also convey some hidden message. It's difficult to be certain. Similar flags exist with the 17 stripes count. Others in this style, with different images inside the open center window, are known from both the Harrison campaign and the campaign of Whig Candidate Henry Clay in 1844. While stripe counts vary across the numerous styles, 13 (the proper count) and 17 seem to occur most often, and I have encountered 17 stripes in other types of flags made during this era, both political and otherwise. There could be Slave State-related politics in the use of this count. In 1840 there were 13 Slave States, 13 Free States, and 4 Western Territories. Although the jury is still out on the meaning of various star and stripe counts in pre-Civil War America, a push to add the current territories to either of these factions between that year and 1844 would result in the desired figure.

Another interesting fact about this flag is that it is the only documented example in this exact variety. I am aware of 5 very similar flags, one of which has a tiny canton with an oval of stars and 13 stripes. In that flag, the canton rests on the 4th stripe. The remaining 4 are alike, with small cantons, similar to the one with 13 stripes, but with circular star patterns and 17 stripes, like the flag that is the object of this narrative. The difference between those 4 and the flag in question here is that their cantons rest on the 6th stripe, and the canton of this flag is significantly larger, resting on the 8th stripe. This forces the portrait window to lay south of its position in the other 4 flags.

Examples of two of the flags discussed in the above paragraph are illustrated by Collins on p. 102. A flag with the same portrait, but with a different star count (discussed earlier) is illustrated on p. 103.

Having either owned or had the privilege to view the best Harrison examples that I know to survive, I can say with absolute certainty that I have never seen a one in person that is as stunning, or as colorful, or as large as this example with a portrait. I believe this to be the best looking across all known Harrison campaign flags presently known of any kind.

Brief Notes on William Henry Harrison and the 1840 Presidential Election:

William Henry Harrison (b. Feb. 9th, 1773) was the son of wealthy plantation owner Benjamin Harrison V, who had been a delegate to the second Continental Congress, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Governor of Virginia.

Following the death of his father, in 1791, at the age of 18, the former General Henry "Light Horse" Lee, convinced William to join the army. He was sent to Cincinnati and participated in the Indian War, where he achieved much success and reputation, was promoted to Lieutenant, then aide-de-camp. He signed the treaty to end the war and in 1799 was elected to the Sixth United States Congress, which met in Philadelphia from March 4 of that year until March 4, 1801. In 1799, at age 26, he was also selected as the first delegate representing the Northwest Territory. He served this position from 1799 to 1800, having no authority to vote on bills but was permitted to serve on a committee, submit legislation, and debate. In this capacity he successfully promoted the passage of the Harrison Land Act, which made it easier for the average settler to buy small parcels of land in the Northwest Territory. In 1800 the territory was split in two to become the Ohio and Indiana Territories. Without informing Harrison, President John Adams nominated him to become governor of the Indiana Territory (1802), based on his ties to the area and neutral political stances. Harrison was confirmed by the Senate the following day. Caught unaware, Harrison accepted the position, yet only after receiving assurances from the Jeffersonians that he would not be removed from office after they gained power in the upcoming elections.

Harrison's primary duties as territorial governor involved military action and negotiations with Native Americans. He continued to serve in the Northwest Territories during the War of 1812, then bought land in Ohio, where he became a United States Congressman (1816-1819), then an Ohio State Senator (1819-1821), then a U.S. Senator (1824-1828).

In 1840 the Whigs used various campaign tactics to portray Harrison as a commoner. His, opponent, incumbent President Martin Van Buren, was a New Yorker with an aristocratic air. This combined with an economic depression that included the devastating collapse of the Second National Bank of the United States, subsequently lost him the election.

Harrison was the last U.S. president to have been born under the British monarchy. At age 68, he was the oldest president elected to date, inspiring over 80% voter turnout. Today he is best remembered for serving the shortest term in the history of the American presidency. To prove he was not elderly and feeble, he gave a record-breaking hour-and-forty-five minute inauguration speech in freezing rain. Forgetting a topcoat, he then greeted guests and remained outdoors for a prolonged period. He subsequently caught pneumonia and died just 32 days after taking office. Vice President, John Tyler, was chosen for the ticket because he was a Southerner and thus balanced the interests of slave owners. Tyler finished out his 4-year term but was generally unsuccessful in the White House, unpopular, and did not seek reelection.

Election Results:
William Henry Harrison, Ohio (Whig) - 52.9% PV, 234 EV
Martin Van Buren, New York (D) - 46.8% PV, 60 EV
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Parade flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1840
Latest Date of Origin: 1840
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281

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