|35 STARS, PROBABLY A CIVIL WAR CAMP COLORS, WEST VIRGINIA STATEHOOD, 1863-1865, ONE OF A TINY HANDFUL OF PRESS-DYED WOOL FLAGS WITH A RANDOM CONFIGURATION OF STARS
|Frame Size (H x L):
|27.5" x 43.5"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|18.5" x 34"
|35 star American national flag, press-dyed on wool bunting, with a plain weave cotton binding hand-sewn along the hoist. The stars are arranged in a random scatter, clustered about one large star in the very center of the canton. This sort of configuration is very rare among 19th century examples. While it is not uncommon for 19th century flags to have stars that are seemingly random in their vertical alignment, spun in various directions on their vertical axis (one point up, two points up, canted to the left or right, etc.), it is, however, very rare for them to not be arranged as a group in any particular pattern.
In the world of antique American flags there are nearly countless designs. Because there was no official star configuration until 1912, their placement before that time was left to the whims of the maker. Most structured their stars in lineal rows or columns. A smaller number of flag-makers chose medallion designs that employ two or three consecutive wreaths, usually surrounding a large center star and with a flanking star in each corner, outside the circular field. Substantially further down the rarity scale is the "Great Star" pattern, in which the smaller stars are arranged in the profile of one large star. This pattern is highly coveted and visually powerful, but there are rarer configurations still. Among these are circles within squares, pentagons, ovals, diamonds, starbursts, shields and snowflakes. Then there are flags where the stars actually spell something with alphabetic or numeric characters. Random patterns fall among the most rare.
Other small flags like this, made of press-dyed wool, have been positively identified as Union Army camp colors, marking tents in Union encampments and used for drilling within the camp. These are also thought to have rendered service as flank-markers, especially in states such as New York, which raised so many regiments so quickly that they were very difficult to outfit.
This variety is longer than the traditional press-dyed camp colors, and has a different star arrangement, but more likely than not, it served the same function. Most printed cotton and silk flags of this period were parade flags, intended for one day’s use at a parade or rally in the hands of private citizens. At this time in early America, however, flag-makers were experimenting with small scale, resist-dyed, wool flags for military use. Because wool sheds water, it was the choice for all maritime flags produced during the 19th century and prior, as well as for most flags that flew over garrisons and other structures. The idea was to adapt the fabric to small dyed flags that would be relatively quick to produce and last for an extended period. But the process wasn't particularly easy and because so few have survived, one may accurately assume that they were either produced in small numbers or often discarded at some later date. In either event, today they are a rarity among Civil War relics.
Another known variation of this same flag is known to exist with 36 stars instead of 35. Obviously produced by the same maker, it is exactly like this flag except that one additional star was added along the fly end side of the canton, adjacent to the stripe field. Collectively, across both star counts, there are five or fewer flags in this style that I have ever encountered, all of which I have had the privilege to own.
West Virginia broke off from Virginia and was admitted into the Union as the 35th state (a Free State) on June 20th, 1863, a few days before the battle of Gettysburg. The 35th star was officially added on July 4th, and the flag was used during the closing years of the war. Production would have generally ceased the following year, however, with the addition of Nevada as the 36th state on October 31st, 1864.
In summary, this is a very rare flag of the Civil War period with suspected military purpose, with an extraordinary star configuration and in a great small size. Due to its unusual features, presentation and function, the flag would be a great addition to any flag or Civil War collection.
Some Notes on Press-Dyed Flags:
Press-dyed wool flags are far more scarce than those printed on cotton and silk. The earliest examples were produced by Edward Brierly, a textile manufacturer in Lowell, Massachusetts, who received the first patent for the process in 1849. From this time until the Civil War period (1861-65), most of the flags produced in this fashion appear to have served a military purpose, either as camp colors or perhaps as flank markers when need arose.
By contrast, most small decorative flags were instead printed on cotton or silk. Called parade flags or hand-wavers, these were intended for one day’s use only at a specific parade, rally, or other patriotic event. Cotton and silk were ill-suited for exposure to moisture. Because wool sheds water, it was more appropriate extended outdoor use. In 1876, the Centennial International Exposition, a six-month-long World's Fair held in Philadelphia, required many small decorative flags that could withstand long-term exposure to the elements. The Horstmann Company appears to have made and sold many for this function.
Previous to this time the flag-maker Annin in New York is suspected of playing a role in the production of printed or press-dyed flags with wool content. Annin may have made press-dyed and sold them to both outfitters and the Depots. While some sources that record makers of military goods lack reference to specific military contracts with Annin, the firm's Wikipedia entry might explain why. The listing states: "…the U.S. Signal Corps requisitioned all its wartime flags from Annin Flagmakers for the Civil War. An undated newspaper article in Annin’s archives from the 1860's states: “Without going through forms of contract, Annin supplied the government direct…as the war progressed, orders came pouring in from every state and city that was loyal to the Union, so that by the beginning of 1864, there was not a single battlefield, a brigade or a division that did not use Annin flags.”
Flag-makers such as Annin (New York) or Horstmann (Philadelphia) would have produced whatever was asked of them, within reason, to fulfill special requests.
I have a specific appreciation for printed wool flags due to their scarcity as well as their superior texture over most of their cotton and silk counterparts. Dyed wool bunting usually holds its colors well. That is certainly the case here, where attractive shades of navy blue and scarlet provide for pleasant contrast with the ivory white stripes.
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 substantial and highly unusual double-beveled profile frame is mahogany veneered and dates to the period between 1830 and 1850. The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% natural fabrics for both support and masking purposes throughout. The flag was then hand-stitched to a background of 100% hemp fabric or a hemp and cotton blend (we use both interchangeably). The glazing is U.V. protective.
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|Earliest Date of Origin:
|Latest Date of Origin:
|1861-1865 Civil War
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