Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Antique Flags > American Flags



Web ID: 33j-856
Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 61.5" x 83.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 49" x 71.25"
33 star American national flag with a wonderful blend of both academically interesting and visually compelling features. The stars are arranged in what appears to be a lineal fashion, beginning with an approximate row of 6, then quickly disintegrating into what is most likely just a random scattering without reason. While there are lots of hidden message in Civil War flags, it can be tricky to discern the intentional from the accidental. In some places, on this particular flag, large groups of stars can be drawn into intriguing whirlpools. While these seem to be purposeful on the outset, they never consume all 33, nor develop into what could be termed an obvious pattern.

A large "U," presumably for "Union" when arranged purposefully during this period, can be seen when the flag is turned vertical. This too seems accidental, however, on closer inspection.

Whatever the case may be, the stars have especially pointy arms, bent in various directions, and are situated this way and that on their vertical axis. The visual aspects of these conditions emphasize their hand-cut and hand-sewn construction. Random star patterns are unusual in their own right and aesthetically interesting.

Note that the flag has just 11 stripes. After May of 1861, when Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina joined 8 other states that had officially seceded from the Union, this count may have conveyed Southern Sympathies. Some flag historians have suggested that flags such as this may have been displayed in the North, or the in Border States of Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland, to convey hidden meaning, marking a spot where Southern-leaning parties could find a meeting place, preferential treatment, a safe house, or some other advantage. Many New Yorkers, for example, had significant monetary investment in Southern cotton and wartime communications with one-another may have sometimes demanded considerable use of discretion.

While hidden meaning might be the reason, the realities of the mid-19th century were that a count of 11 stripes, particularly in a homemade flag, might just as well have reflected fabric scarcity.

Another interesting trait can be seen in the fact that the canton rests on a red stripe. When this scarce condition occurs, some flag historians have referred to it as the “blood stripe” or the “war stripe”, suggesting the flag was constructed in this manner when the nation was at war. In actuality, the placement probably occurred more often by accident. Not everyone knew where the canton was traditionally placed, and, because there was no official specification until 1912, there was no official standard. Whatever the case may be with regarding the reason, the war stripe feature is highly coveted by collectors and the stripe count of 11 adds an interesting dimension. Both add wartime aspects of educational interest and value.

Oregon entered the Union as the 33rd state on February 14th (Valentines Day), 1859. The 33 star flag was official from 1859-1861, and was thus still the official flag when Ft. Sumter was fired upon on April 12th of that year. This event marked the beginning of the Civil War, and a 33 star flag was flying at Ft. Sumter during the attack. Because the 34th state, Kansas, had already acquired statehood on January 29th, 1861, the 34 star flag was to become official on July 4th. For this reason, 33 star flags were not generally not produced for the war, which would last until 1865, and 33 star flags were generally made pre-war. It is for this reason that 33 star examples are far-and-away more scarce than their 34, 35, and 36-star counterparts.

Flags made prior to the Civil War are extremely rare, comprising less than one percent of 19th century flags that exist in the 21st century. Prior to the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in 1861, 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 didn’t regularly hang flags in their windows. The only consistent private use prior to 1861 seems to have accompanied 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 was to mark ships on the open seas. While flags were used to mark garrisons and government buildings, those of ground troops were often limited to the flag of their own regiment, with a design peculiar unto itself, plus flank markers bearing the unit’s numeric / alphabetic designations (usually on a buff yellow or blue ground), and perhaps a federal standard (also blue or buff yellow) bearing the arms of the United States.

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 issued their iconic, swallowtail, Stars & Stripes format guidons until the second year of the Civil War, in 1862, and even then were not formally authorized to carry the national flag until long afterward, in the 1890’s. The first actual war in which the Stars & Stripes was officially carried was thus the Mexican War (1846-48). In more than 20 years of aggressive buying and research, I have encountered almost no American national flags produced in an obvious, land-use, military style that are of the Mexican War period.

The canton, stars, and stripes of the flag are made of cotton. The stars are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides) and are hand-sewn. The stripes were pieced and joined by treadle stitching. While unusual in 33 star examples, I have encountered this previously during this period. Due to the limitations of the width of the blue cotton employed, the canton was constructed of three lengths of fabric, one full width and the other two pieced from smaller remnants. An open, cotton sleeve binds the hoist, along which the word "Oregon" and the numeral "33" were inscribed in pencil by a previous owner.

Because cotton absorbs water, it was not the ideal fabric for flag-making until great advancements were made in its manufacture. It was however, widely available, inexpensive, and therefore often the fabric of choice for homemade flags, such as this one.

While the size of the flag might seem large by today's standards, this isn't true of the mid-19th century. Prior to 1890, most pieced-and-sewn examples were 8 feet long and larger. This is because size was important to their function as signals, often needing to be seen and recognized from great distance. A 6 foot flag was considered small and production of flags smaller than this length was extremely limited. Even infantry battle flags were approximately 6 x 6.5 feet, slightly smaller than an average quilt of the same period. Because many collectors and one-time buyers alike prefer smaller flags, due to greater ease of framing and display, this is an especially positive trait.

Mounting: Conservation mounting and framing by our expert textile conservation staff is included.

Condition: The flag was evidently flown for an extended period, as evidenced by losses in the upper and lower corners of the sleeve and, to a lesser degree, at and near to the fly end in the top and bottom stripes. There is minor soiling and oxidation throughout, and minor stains. There are minor holes in the 3rd, 4th, and last red stripes. There is moderate, though attractive fading of the blue canton. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. Further, the great rarity of 33 star pieced-and-sewn examples warrants practically an condition.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 33
Earliest Date of Origin: 1859
Latest Date of Origin: 1861
State/Affiliation: Oregon
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281