Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 55" x 85"
Flag Size (H x L): 42.25" x 71"
32 star American national flags are rare. This is largely because they were only official for one year (1858-59), but it is also a result of the fact that this time frame occurred prior to the American Civil War (1861-65), in an era when use of the Stars & Stripes on land in the private sector fell somewhere between slim and non-existent.

Minnesota joined the Union as the 32nd state on May 11th, 1858. The 32 star flag became official less than two months later, on July 4th, and remained so until July 3rd, 1859. In the meantime, Oregon was admitted as the 33rd state.

According to legislation enacted by Congress on April 4, 1818, stars were to be added on Independence Day each year, following the addition of any incoming states. C¬¬ommercial flag makers paid little heed to such requirements, however, because it made little in the way of practical sense. On one hand, flag-makers favored reasons to produce new flags, in order that they have something new to sell, while not out-paced by their competitors.

At the same time, potential buyers of flags would not want to acquire them with a smaller number of stars than the actual number of states, since the impeding addition of the respective stars was inevitable.

Flag-makers would have instead added stars as soon as a state was in, or in some cases even beforehand, in anticipation of future statehood status. The same would have been true in homemade flags, where, in addition to being practical, legislation surrounding the official date for the addition of stars was probably not common knowledge. Almost no one knows this today, for example, unless they are intimately involved in Vexillology.

For the above reasons, production of 32 star flags would have ceased with the addition of Oregon on February 14th, 1859, well before July 4th. This meant that the 32-star count would have only seen use for about 9 months, making it one of the shortest lived flags in early America.

Small in scale and with great colors, this particular 32 star example is entirely hand-sewn throughout. The canton and stripes are made of wool bunting, which is typical for long-term, outdoor use. Due to the limited width of this fabric, the canton was pieced in two sections. The fact that it rests on a red stripe is a very rare trait. Some flag historians refer to this as the “blood stripe” or the “war stripe”, suggesting the flag was sometimes constructed in this manner when the nation was at war. There is evidence that the Navy used this design feature on at least some of its flags made during the mid-19th century, and sometimes the placement was merely by accident, which would seem to be true in this instance. Whatever the case may be, this scarce feature is extremely desirable among collectors.

The stars are made of cotton twill, possibly with some wool content. Arranged in 4 lineal rows of 8, note how these are placed in seemingly random positions on their vertical axis, tipping this way and that, which lends nice folk qualities to the overall design.

The stars are hand-stitched and are single-appliquéd, meaning that they were applied to one side, then the blue fabric was cut from behind each star, folded over and under-hemmed, so that one appliquéd star could be viewed on both sides. While some flag enthusiasts have pointed to this as a means of conserving fabric, (not having to cut and sew another star to the other side), others suggest that the real purpose was to make the flag lighter in weight. I believe that it may have served both functions. Whatever the case may be, I always find single-appliquéd stars more interesting, both because they are evidence of a more difficult level of seam-work and stitchery, and because with two rows of stitching instead of one, they naturally appear earlier and more hand-made than their double-appliquéd counterparts. Both the sewing itself and stretching of the fabrics over time has results in stars that have irregular shapes and more interesting graphic qualities. This method of construction appeals to connoisseurs of early American textiles, who appreciate the texture and homemade qualities of single-appliqué work. Although on rare occasion the technique can be seen on flags made on as late as the turn-of-the-20th-century, it tends to be most prevalent in flags of the Civil War (1861-65) and prior, and is the method of choice on the very earliest American flags with appliquéd stars.

Made in a traditional, nautical style, a linen sleeve binds the hoist. Through this a braided hemp rope, with a loop at the top, was inserted and stitched into place. Three different markings were inscribed along the hoist, each in a different hand. These include the measurements of "2yds 1yd/5 ins.," before which appear the word "American," to designate the ensign, and the name "Burnfoot." The latter would typically denote the name of a former owner and it was common mark flags in this manner during the 19th century to indicate ownership. It may sometimes alternatively note the name of a ship. Burnfoot is a distinctly Irish name. It is the given name of two Irish villages, both in the northern region, one being within Northern Ireland specifically. It is, however, either a very unusual or completely non-existent surname. I could also find no instance of it among registered ship names in the U.S. or the U.K./Ireland.

I could only find two instances of the name with relation to a ship and America. One was on an 1850 passenger ship log from Londonderry, Ireland, to Philadelphia, on which two individuals claimed residence in "Burnfoot." The general time period is correct, but there is no obvious relation.

The second was a mere curiosity, beyond the desired date parameters. This concerned a British officer by the name of Colonel Thomas Brown[e] (b. 1750, d. 1825),who had been placed in charge of mustering the Creek and Cherokee Indians during the Revolutionary War. Captured by colonists and set on fire during interrogations, his foot was badly burned, an injury from which he never fully recovered. Brown received the subsequent nickname "Burnfoot." He received large land grants in the Bahamas, but passed before the flag in question here was made. His father was purported to be a ship builder, but that is the extent of what appears to be non-relevance.

Flags made prior to the Civil War are rare, comprising 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. Private use of the national flag rose swiftly following the attack on Ft. Sumter, during the patriotism that accompanied the Civil War, then exploded in 1876.

Even the military did not use the flag in a manner that most people might think. Most people would be surprised to learn that the infantry wasn’t authorized to carry the Stars & Stripes until the 1830’s, and even then did not often exercise the right, because it was neither required nor customary. The primary purpose before the Mexican War (1846-48) was to mark ships on the open seas. While the flag was used to mark garrisons and government buildings, the flags of ground troops were often limited to the flag of their own regiment and a federal standard.

The small scale of the flag is a very desirable trait. For most of the 19th century, flags with pieced-and-sewn construction were generally eight feet long or larger. This is because they needed to be seen from a distance to be effective in their purpose as signals, where today their use is more often decorative and the general display of patriotism. A six-foot example, like this one, is small among flags of those that pre-date 1890. Because 19th century pieced-and-sewn flags can be cumbersome to frame and display, many flag enthusiasts prefer small examples, like this one.

I am aware of about 10 known examples of 32 star flags with pieced-and-sewn construction, among which this is one. In addition to its rarity, small size, its canton resting on the war stripe, and its single-appliquéd stars with scattered orientation, the flag has wonderful color and a bold presentation. The sum of these facts comprise a gem for any collection of early Stars & Stripes.

Mounting: The banner was mounted and framed within our own conservation department, which is led by expert staff. We take great care in the mounting and presentation of flags and have preserved thousands of examples.

The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color. The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding with a wide, ogee profile. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass. Feel free to contact us for more details.

Condition: The flag was obviously flown for an extended period, as evidenced by losses along the hoist binding and in the upper and lower corners of the fly end. There is a replaced length of bunting at the fly end in the 1st stripe, where there is also a patch, applied with treadle stitching. There are also treadle-sewn patches adjacent o the fly end in the 2nd and 13th stripes, accompanied by a tear at the fly end of the 12th stripe. There are tears and losses all along the hoist binding and there is a patch with a darning repair in the upper, hoist end corner of the canton. There are tiny holes elsewhere and tiny spots of bleaching, neither of which are hardly worth mention, and there is extremely minor soiling. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. Overall condition is remarkable for the period.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 32
Earliest Date of Origin: 1858
Latest Date of Origin: 1859
State/Affiliation: Minnesota
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: SOLD

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