Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Antique Flags > American Flags


Web ID: 29j-816
Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 80" x 130"
Flag Size (H x L): 67.5" x 117.5"
Across all early American national flags with pieced-and-sewn construction, one of the very rarest is the 29 star flag, made between 1846 and 1848, during the Mexican War, and which reflects the addition of Iowa as the most recently added state. Presently, among identified examples, there are two in private collections. This is the only other one known and the only I have had the honor to acquire despite 20 years of aggressive searching.

All three of the above mentioned flags have spectacular star patterns and all are very different. One, in the collection of Peter Keim, is illustrated in his book, "A Grand Old Flag" (DK Publishing, New York, 2007), p. 98, displays the stars in a traditional double wreath, neatly arrange so that 13 of the stars are positioned into a saltire, like the Southern Cross or the Cross of St. Andrew. Another, in the Zaricor Collection, displays a variant of an exceptionally rare diamond pattern and bears similarities to the Fort Sumter flag (flying at the fort when it was fired upon by Confederate forces in South Carolina in 1861, the act that began the American Civil War). No less spectacular, and perhaps even moreso, is the flag that is the focus of this narrative, which arranges the stars in a variant of what one might call the "Trumbull pattern" if it were a 13 star flag. This is comprised of a rectangular perimeter of stars, inside which are 4 stars of the same scale, placed one in each corner, in the middle of which, on a wide open expanse of unoccupied blue field, is a huge center star.

Entirely hand-sewn, the stripes and canton of the flag are made of wool bunting. There is a homespun linen binding along the hoist, in the form of an open sleeve, through which a braided, hemp rope was inserted, looped at the top and bottom, and stitched into position. A length of jute is knotted at the top.

The stars are made of cotton and are single-appliquéd. This means that they were applied to one side of the canton, then the blue fabric was cut from behind each star, folded over, and under-hemmed, so that one star could be viewed on both sides of the flag. I always find single-appliquéd stars more interesting, not only because they are evidence of a more difficult level of seam-work and stitching, but also because they are more visually intriguing. Both the sewing itself and stretching of the fabrics over time results in stars that have irregular shapes and interesting presentation, which is certainly the case here. Note the wonderful graphic qualities present throughout this configuration, in which many of the closely grouped smaller stars, tipped this way and that to fit into one-another's orbital space, have especially pointy arms bent at various angles.

The two visible rows of hand-stitching in this form of appliqué work emphasize the hand-sewn construction. In addition to their more primitive appearance, this is why flags with single-appliquéd stars often appeal to connoisseurs of early American textiles. While some flag enthusiasts have pointed to this method 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 it to have been a byproduct of both objectives. Whatever the case may be, this combination of stitching, star pattern, and scale make this a staggeringly beautiful example as well as a rare one.

The 29th state, Iowa, entered the Union on December 28th, 1846. The 29 star flag was official from 1846-1848. This was the period in which the United States went to war with Mexico, in the wake of the annexation of Mexico and during a heightened state of westward expansion. Because very few flags survive that can be accurately dated to e narrow window of the Mexican War (1846-48), this flag is an exceptional rarity and an excellent addition to any collection.

Flags made prior to the Civil War comprise less than one percent of 19th century flags that have survived into 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 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. The primary purpose before the Civil War 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 would be 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.

Provenance: The flag was found on Cape Cod, with a group of early nautical flags, and its use was undoubtedly maritime.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 29
Earliest Date of Origin: 1846
Latest Date of Origin: 1848
State/Affiliation: Iowa
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281

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