Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Antique Flags > American Flags


Web ID: 34j-879
Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): 35.5" x 47.75"
Flag Size (H x L): 24.5" x 35"
Found in Rhode Island, this exceptional Civil War period flag offers many of the characteristics in its construction that a collector could hope to find. The stars are rendered in gold leaf, like those on most American military battle flags of this era. These are arranged in what is known as the “Great Star” or "Great Luminary" pattern, a star made out of stars, which is one of the most graphic and desired geometric designs.

Entirely hand-sewn with the greatest care and precision, the canton and stripes of the flag are made entirely of silk. Silk flags of the 19th century seldom survive in such remarkable condition and the extraordinarily small size is beyond ideal. Most flags with pieced-and-sewn construction of this period were eight feet long and larger. Even regulation infantry battle flags, carried on foot, measured six-by-six-and-one-half feet, making them difficult to frame and display in an indoor setting.

Though the purpose of the flag remains unknown, it was almost certainly made with military intent, for use as a guidon (marker flag), as camp colors (used within a military encampment), or as a presentation flag, gifted to a unit or to an officer as they left for war. The latter would have likely originated with an officer's wife, a local government official or business leader, who wished to display admiration and make a patriotic statement. Whatever the case may be, the source would have been someone of means, as the flag’s construction reflects the best quality materials of the day.

Equally remarkable is the flag’s state of preservation, which is nothing short of extraordinary. There is little question that the flag saw very little use, was carefully put away and stored, and that an unusual level of luck in avoiding humidity and temperature changes, acidity, and other agents, has been with it in spades for the past 150+ years. Without doubt this is the most pristine, mid-19th century, silk American flag, with pieced-and-sewn construction, that I have ever encountered.

The flag has a polished cotton sleeve at the hoist end, through which a length of twisted cotton cord was threaded and hand-stitched into place for hoisting. The rope is of a kind typically found on Civil War flags, but this grade of polished cotton, with a sheen not unlike silk, is seldom seen in flag-making. All of the sewing on the flag is exceptional, but the most extraordinary is that which binds the top and bottom of the hoist binding. This is the finest one can ever expect to see in flag manufacture and equivalent to the best I have ever seen in needlework of any kind.

Among flag collectors, the Great Star configuration is the most coveted of all 19th century geometric patterns. 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.

Kansas was admitted into the Union as the 34th state on January 29th, 1861, about 2 ½ months before the Confederate assault on Fort Sumter that marked the beginning of the Civil War. The 34th star was officially added on July 4th of that year, but most flag makers would have added a 34th star with the addition of Kansas in January. The star count remained official until July 4th, 1863, and 34 star flags would have been produced until the addition of West Virginia in June of that year.

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

The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass.

Condition: Exceptional. The best I have ever seen in this period.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 34
Earliest Date of Origin: 1861
Latest Date of Origin: 1863
State/Affiliation: Kansas
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281

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