|38 STAR ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG OF THE INDIAN WARS PERIOD, A U.S. ARMY REGULATION BATTLE FLAG, ENTIRELY HAND-SEWN, 1876-1889, SIGNED "VARRELL." MADE IN THE ERA WHEN COLORADO WAS THE MOST RECENT STATE TO JOIN THE UNION
|Frame Size (H x L):||Approx. 83.5" x 88.5"|
|Flag Size (H x L):||71" x 75.75"|
|38 star American flag with a number of both academic and visually interesting traits. This is a United States Army battle colors of the Indian Wars period, with regulation measurements, examples of which are extremely scarce, not only in the private market, but also in institutional collections, where they may even be more rare. A lack of focus on American flags in general has long been present in museums.
Entirely hand-sewn, the stars are arranged in lineal rows of 6-7-6-6-7-6, which, while not unknown, is certainly unusual among surviving 38 star flags. Made of cotton, these are double appliquéd, meaning that they are applied to both sides of the blue canton. Because there was no official way to arrange the stars on the American flag until 1912, the design was either contrived by the flag-maker or dictated by the party that ordered one. Significant variation can thus be expected in this feature. The same was true of a flag's proportions, position of the canton on the striped field, shades of red and blue, and the number of points on the stars.
At approximately 6 x 6.5 feet, note how the proportions of the flag are near-to-square. These were the regulation measurements for infantry and artillery regiments. This sort of design was favorable for ground use, because it allowed the flag to be as large as possible, in order to effective as a signal, yet at the same time not drag on the ground. When raised on a staff, it is the measurement on the bias that matters. This shape maximized the surface area of the textile when carried by hand. Also note how the canton is slightly taller than it is wide. This aspect was commonly encountered in Stars & Stripes battle flags of the 19th century. Both of the above add visual interest to the flag's design.
The canton and stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting. The small, rectangular patches in the upper and lower corners of the hoist end are called gussets and are original to the flag's construction. These were included for reinforcement at points where the flag was likely to receive the most wear. There is a narrow binding along the hoist, made of either hemp or a hemp and flax blended fabric, golden tan in color, with an even distribution of tiny, hand-sewn, whip-stitched grommets. Through these, lengths of twine or ribbon would be threaded, so that the flag could be tied to a staff at many points. Although there were other methods of affixing a flag that was to be hand-carried, this method was typical of that function.
Colorado became the 38th state on August 1st, 1876. This was the year of our nation’s 100-year anniversary of independence. Per the Third Flag Act of 1818, stars were not officially added until the 4th of July following a state's addition. For this reason, 37 was the official star count for the American flag in 1876. Flag-making was a competitive venture, however, and few flag-makers would have been continuing to produce 37 star flags when their competitors were making 38’s. It is for this reason that 38 and 13 stars (to represent the original 13 colonies) are more often seen at the Centennial International Exposition, the six-month long World’s Fair held in Philadelphia in honor of the event. Some flag-makers would have been adding a star for the 38th state even before it entered the Union, in the early part of 1876 or even prior. In fact, many makers of parade flags were actually producing 39 star flags, in hopeful anticipation of the addition of two more Western Territories instead of one. The 39th state would not join the Union for another 13 years, however, when the Dakota Territory entered as two states on the same day. The 38 star flag became official on July 4th, 1877 and was generally used until the addition of the Dakotas in 1889.
The name "Varrell" is written on the reverse of the hoist binding. This was an unusual name in early America. Of Irish origin, according to the 1840 census, the location of the Varrell family in the States was limited to Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. Civil War records indicate that between 1861-1865, just eight men who served that bore this surname, including four from Massachusetts, one from New Hampshire, one with residence unlisted, but born in Maine and served in a New Hampshire unit, one from Wisconsin, and one from Kansas. The last of these, Henry L. Varrell of Upstate New York, enlisted in the Regular Army on March 5th, 1864 and was assigned to ordinance department. Claiming his place of birth as Ossipee, New Hampshire, at the time of his enlistment, Henry was employed as a weaver and was living in Watertown, NY.
All of these men held the rank of private during wartime, so none--if any-- stand out as a clear choice for the probable owner of the flag. That said, less because of his employment as a weaver, and more because he was Regular Army and enlisted late war, Henry Varrell seems most likely among them to have had some association with the flag. Born in August of 1840 (according to the 1900 census--grave stone says 1841), he seems to have returned to New Hampshire post war and married one Mary J. Marden (b. 1849, d. 1935) in 1867 or 1868, with whom he had two children, Emma Varrell Ward (b. 1878, d. 1968) and Bessie M. Varrell (b. 1883, d. 1954). According to the 1900 census, he was employed as a fisherman. Henry passed in 1901 and is buried in the town of Rye at Rye Central Cemetery, Rockingham County, New Hampshire. More research is needed to further uncover more about Henry Varrell's extended military duty, if any, participation in veteran's organizations, or in patriotic events between 1864 and 1901. It would also be prudent to further study other Varrells, both within and outside the remaining seven Civil War soldiers.
Mounting: The flag was stitched to 100% silk organza on every seam and throughout the star field for support. It was then sewn to a background of 100% cotton twill, black in color, which was washed to remove excess dye. An acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye and the fabric was heat-treated for the same purpose. The mount was then placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective Plexiglas.
Condition: There is minor mothing in the white wool stripes, below the canton, and there is minor to modest soiling in the white fabrics in limited areas. The overall condition is excellent for a wool flag of this period.
|Collector Level:||Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything|
|Flag Type:||Sewn flag|
|Earliest Date of Origin:||1876|
|Latest Date of Origin:||1889|
|War Association:||1866-1890 Indian Wars|
|Price:||Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281|