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  19TH CENTURY EXAMPLE OF THE FLAG OF THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS, MADE ca 1878-1895, ONE OF THE EARLIEST EXAMPLES KNOWN TO SURVIVE, MADE IN HOUSTON BY REPSDORPH BROTHERS, WITH A STENCILED MAKER'S MARK, HANDED DOWN THROUGH THE FAMILY OF MARY JANE HARRIS BRISCOE (1819-1903), FOUNDER OF THE DAUGHTERS OF THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS, THE WIFE OF ANDREW BRISCOE (1810-1849), WHO ORGANIZED THE TEXAS REVOLUTION AND SIGNED ITS DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 61.25" x 102"
Flag Size (H x L): 50.25" x 91"
Description....:
Surviving, 19th century examples of the Flag of the Republic of Texas, which was to eventually become its flag as a state, are so few in modern America that you can count them on one hand. I am aware of just three in institutional collections, including one with provenance to 1839, among the holdings of The Star of the Republic Museum at Washington-on-the-Brazos, Texas, a Civil War period flag at the Texas Memorial Museum at the University of Texas at Austin, and a Civil War period example at the Texas State Library & Archives, also in Austin. Others have been claimed to be original, and by this I mean early or otherwise antique, but sadly, while I have seen many over the years, their common denominator is forgery. This is typical in some areas of collecting, especially where the face of great scarcity is met with steep demand, and when the legendary patriotism of Texans enters the equation, the bar is raised for the enticement of forgers to produce fakes. A key example of this is a flag pictured in an otherwise excellent book by Robert Mayberry, Jr., produced in conjunction with his 2001 exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, entitled "Texas Flags, 1836-1943" (2001, Texas A&M Press & The MFA, Houston), p. 139. Just after the book went to press, the lack of authenticity of this example. While I recognized the tell-tale signs before I read the accompanying correction, only someone who has dedicated nigh upon countless hours to this specific field could be expected to notice the error.

The flag that is the subject of this narrative is the only 19th century example in the Republic of Texas / State of Texas design that I have ever had the opportunity to acquire. Signed along the hoist, it was, quite remarkably, actually made in Texas, in Houston by Repsdorph Brothers, a business begun in 1878 by Danish immigrant John. H. Repsdorph. Previous to the discovery of this flag, I was unaware that there were Texas-based flag makers in this period. The Repsdorph maker's mark is of a stenciled variety that sometimes -- although very rarely -- can be encountered in flags of the mid-late 19th century. In an arched format, rendered in black pigment, the text reads: " Repsdorph Bros; Makers; Houston. Tex." Note the small, fanciful design above the word "Makers" and the odd use of punctuation typical of late 19th century advertising. I have never seen this style of mark on a 20th century flag and it is most indicative of what I would expect to see in the 1850-1870 era.

Measuring approximately 7 feet on the fly, made off wool bunting, with a gigantic cotton lone star, the flag's construction is typical of a latter 1870's - early 1890's date of manufacture. The piecework was accomplished with lineal, treadle stitching and the star, double-appliquéd (applied to both sides), was applied by the same method. The hoist binding is constructed of sailcloth canvas, stitched in the same manner, and there are two brass grommets, one each at the top and bottom. A length of hemp or jute twine, knotted in the upper grommet, is probably original to the period in which it was initially displayed.

Note, in particular, the position of the star, which is neither centered to the left and right, practically hugging the fly-end margin, nor has a single point facing upwards. Canted at an angle, its orientation follows suit with most American national flags produced before 1890, on which the stars were seldom regimented in this regard, instead arranged so that their arms pointed in various directions.

The flag has wonderful provenance. A hand-written, paper note, inscribed with a dip pen, is hand-stitched to the binding, adjacent to the maker's mark. This reads: "Mrs Jessie B. Howe; 620 Crawford St.; Houston." Another inscription, in black ink, near the bottom grommet, reads "Mr. M. G. Howe; 918 Austin St." Milton Grosvenor Howe (1834-1902), was the husband of Jessie Wade Briscoe Howe (1845-1920), and the couple resided at this address.

Born in Massachusetts, Milton was a Dartmouth-trained engineer who worked on the railways in IL before becoming chief engineer of the Texas Central Railroad. On March 1st, 1862, at the age of 27, he enlisted as a Private with the Confederate Army and mustered into Company L of the 26th Texas Cavalry.

Jessie was the daughter of one of the most important men in Texas history, Andrew Briscoe (1810-1849), organizer of the Texas Revolution, signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, and the first Chief Justice of Harrisburg County (latter re-named Harris County), that encompasses Houston. Following his term as chief justice, Briscoe planned and developed the Texas rail system. His wife, Mary Jane Harris Briscoe* (1819-1903), Jessie's mother, was a founder of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and hosted the initial meeting at her home. She was the daughter of John Richardson Harris (1790-1829), an early Mexican Texas settler, from whom Harris County is named (and the great-great-granddaughter of Pennsylvanian John Harris, who founded Harrisburg in that state). The flag was acquired directly from the family, where it remained until 2021.

With such an integral and important relationship to the state, the flag may have been acquired by the family for a multitude of reasons. While apparently flown or at least, at some point, displayed, the condition of the textile suggests that it was likely received as a presentation gift and stored for safe-keeping, which is why it survives in such a remarkable state of preservation.

Brief History of the Flag of the Republic of Texas / Texas State Flag:

Although its designer remains unknown, this flag was introduced to the Congress of the Republic of Texas on December 28, 1838. Presented by Senator William H. Wharton, it was adopted on January 25, 1839 as the final national flag of the Republic of Texas. A man by the name of Dr. Charles B. Stewart is credited with the drawing accepted by the Third Congress of the republic when it enacted the legislation through which the flag was officially adopted.

Use of the "Lone Star" in Texas actually predates the design. Used to symbolize Texas solidarity in declaring independence from Mexico, a single, large star appeared on what is known as the "Burnet Flag," which served as the national flag of the Republic of Texas from 1836 until 1839. It also appeared on the flags designed by Stephen F. Austin in 1835 and Lorenzo de Zavala in 1836, the latter of which was allegedly adopted in the Convention of 1836 at Washington-on-the-Brazos. It is of interest to note that flag historians also cite the use of a single, large star decades beforehand in The Republic of West Florida, which existed in 1810 for a period of just over two and a half months.

It is of interest to note that, during the Civil War, the State Flag of Texas was sometimes married with that of the First Confederate National Flag (a.k.a., the Stars & Bars). The latter was very similar to the flag of Texas, instead displaying a blue canton in the upper, hoist-end corner, similar to the Stars & Stripes, on which were a number of white stars. These represented the count of Confederate States at any particular time, the number of which grew as more states were accepted to the Confederacy. The canton was paired with a field of three horizontal bars, in red-white-red. Texas patriotism during the war sometimes led to the combination of the two flags, which was accomplished by using just one lone star on a flag in the First National design (or sometimes in close variations thereof). Examples of this are just about as rare as 19th century examples of the Republic of Texas flag, though not quite. I have had the privilege to own two Civil War-period examples in this format, and know of at least three others in institutional collections. We know there were other instances where this occurred and other examples may be extant. These are, unfortunately, also the subject of forgeries.

Although design of the Flag of the Republic of Texas remained the de facto state flag from 1879 - 1933, there was technically no official state flag during this period. This is because, in 1879, all statutes not explicitly renewed by the state were repealed under something called the "Revised Civil Statutes of 1879." Since the statutes pertaining to the flag were not among those renewed in that year, Texas was formally flagless until the passage Texas Flag Code in 1933.

Brief History of Repsdorph Brothers:

Repsdorph Brothers was founded in 1878 by John H. Repsdorph (1835-1892), who, along with his wife, Laura, emigrated from Denmark. Upon his death, on may 23rd, 1892, the business was transferred to his sons, Bernhard (1855-1935) and Erich (1861-1907), the latter of whom was said to have a "life-long experience of the business.". In 1894 the firm was located at 706 and 708 Main Street, Houston, in a two-story building with a footprint of approximately 42 x 100 feet, and was listed as a "tents, tarpaulins, awnings, flags, horse, dray and wagon covers, etc." According to the owners, "a large variety of styles are made, as required, and all the products may, if desired, be made mildew proof, by a special process, only used by the firm, and which is certain and infallible in its application." It was also reported that "an interesting fact worthy of mention…is that they are authorized by the weather bureau at Washington to report the weather signals in this city, and each day they display the signal flags, according to telegraphic instructions received from the capital," and that "they thoroughly recognize the fact that in this class of work none but the very best of materials, and the most careful workmanship would withstand the strain of wind and weather, and they aim to entirely merit full appreciation and confidence. The prices will be found to be based upon a moderate scale, leading to a continuance of a trade connection once established." [Source: Isaacs, I. J., Ed. The Industrial Advantages of Houston, Texas, and Environs, Also a Series of Comprehensive Sketches of the City's Representative Business Enterprises. (Houston: Akehurst Publishing Co., 1894 ; Electronic version: Internet Archive, 2012), 72.]
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: Other
Earliest Date of Origin: 1878
Latest Date of Origin: 1895
State/Affiliation: Texas
War Association: 1866-1890 Indian Wars
Price: SOLD
 

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