Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 67.5" x 92"
Flag Size (H x L): 55" x 79.5"
Wisconsin joined the Union as the 30th state on May 29th, 1848. Because it was followed less than two-and-a-half years later by California (September 9th, 1850), the 30 star flag had a very short lifespan. Flag production was very low at this point in American history, when use of the Stars & Stripes was primarily limited to ships, government and military landmarks. The first war in which the national flag was authorized to be carried by ground forces was the Mexican War (1846-48). This ended in February, before Wisconsin's admission, and very little military production occurred without urgent need. Even within the Mexican War time frame, which included flags in both the 28 and 29 star counts, exceptionally few examples are known to survive. Pieced-and-sewn flags in these two star counts are among the most rare in American history. This changed just slightly in the period between 1848 and 1860, but it was not until the onset of the Civil War, in 1861, that flag production took a dramatic upward turn.

While surviving examples of American national flags with 30 stars are rare that were made within the 1848-50 era, flags produced outside this period are sometimes encountered in the 30 star count. Constructed entirely of plain weave cotton, this particular example, with its beautiful graphic qualities and manageable size, was made sometime during the last quarter of the 19th century. The most probable reason to create such a flag would be with an intent to commemorate the 1848-50 period specifically, and/or celebrate Wisconsin statehood.

One specific use for a flag of this sort was at World's Fairs, where historical displays objectified state-associated patriotism and told the story of the growth of America. During the period in which this flag was made, there were a number of such events, two of which were massive in scale. In 1876, our nation's first successful World's Fair took place in the City of Philadelphia. Held over a 6-month period, to celebrate 100 years of American independence, more than 200 structures were erected in Fairmount Park to accommodate exhibitions. The largest of these enclosed more than 20 acres. Many bore cathedraled expanses that were ideal for the display of flags.

25 states, including Wisconsin, had exhibits housed within their own, independent structures. The square, neoclassical house built for Wisconsin featured a wrap-around porch and a gabled turret, on the top of which was a flag pole. A flag of relatively similar size to the one in question here is shown flying on the pole in period illustrations. While this exact flag may not have been flown on the Wisconsin building, of course, it was, however, obviously flown for an extended period, as evidenced by repairs and losses in the upper and lower corners at the fly end. In addition, it is exactly the sort of flag that one might expect to find in such a setting. While cotton, which absorbs water, was not a good choice for the canton and stripes of a flag made for long-term outdoor use, I would be in no way surprised a cotton flag being flown in this capacity. A state committee responsible for selecting such a flag might not have a proper understanding of the appropriate fabrics, especially if it was their first experience with a 6-month-long outdoor event.

In 1893, Wisconsin erected another house, grander in scale, at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Even larger than the Philadelphia expo, the premise of the Chicago World's Fair was the 400th anniversary of the 1892 landing of Christopher Columbus. A dedication occurred in October of that year, but the opening was delayed until 1893 due to the extensive demands of its construction. The exposition covered more than 600 acres and featured just under 200 buildings, at the center of which was a huge, manmade lake that was included to represent Columbus's crossing of the Atlantic. 46 nations participated and more than 27 million people attended. The scale and grandeur of the World Columbia Expo far exceeded the other world's fairs and became a icon of the emerging notion of American exceptionalism. By this time photography had advanced many more photos exist from the event than from its 1876 counterpart. A period photo seems to document a flag being flown on the structure. The flag is prominently in the image, though it almost appears as if it was somehow added by a photographer or artist. If it is, in fact, an actual flag, I would estimate the size at upwards of 2 - 3 times that of the 30 star example discussed in this write-up, and while the entire canton isn't visible, the flag on the Wisconsin House almost certainly contains more stars.

Another possibility regarding the origin of this 30 star flag is that it was produced for display at a more local level, within Wisconsin itself, for example, when events were held in honor of the state's admission. From June 7th-9th, 1898, Wisconsin's official semi-centennial celebration was held in Madison. While not of Word's Fair proportions, parades and functions of various sorts, on a smaller scale, would have occurred throughout the state in that year, as well as in 1876 for the nation's 100th anniversary. At both times, flags in the 30 star count might have been produced for parades, theatrical productions, and various patriotic festivities.

The stars of the flag are single-appliquéd, meaning that they were applied to one side only, then a cutout was made on the reverse, so that one star would be visible on both sides of the flag. This manner of construction is generally seen in the earlier periods, through the Civil War. It can still be encountered in the centennial era, and conceivably afterwards, but its generally an earlier trait. All of the piece and appliqué work is accomplished with lineal, treadle stitching. Sewing of the stars in this manner is most often seen in the brief period between 1890 and 1895, which would correlate precisely with the Columbian Exposition, but single appliquéd stars with lineal treadle stitching more often appear in centennial era flags.

The flag's canton displays a striking shade of royal blue, which contrasts beautifully with its scarlet red stripes. Note how the profiles of the stars vary greatly. Oriented this way and that on their vertical axis, with narrow arms, some bent and contorted, terminating in points that are especially sharp, they appear to almost dance across the canton. Some of the arms are touching or are nearly so, which adds to the dramatic effect.

There is a treadle-sewn, cotton binding along the hoist, where 7 sets of cotton ties are hand-stitched at regular intervals. The name "Bostwick" is inscribed along the hoist with a dip pen, near the bottom, in a 19th century hand. This would be the name of a former owner and it was common to mark flags in this fashion during the 19th and early 20th centuries to indicate ownership.

The stars lend a wonderful visual feature to the overall design, which has strong, whimsical, folk art qualities, while the ties add their own element of movement to the presentation. The size of the flag might appear large by modern terms, the scale is relatively small among its counterparts of the 19th century, when most pieced-and-sewn examples were 8 feet long and larger. This adds a level of desirability for both collectors and one-time buyers alike, who wish to be able to more easily mount and frame a flag for display in an indoor setting. When these facts are combined with the vivid colors and the unusual and desirable star count, the result is an excellent example of the period in which it was made.

Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% silk organza for support on every seam and throughout the star field. It was then hand-stitched to a background of 100% cotton, black in color, that was washed to reduce 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 black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective Plexiglas.

Condition: There are stitched repairs to tears in the last stripe, in the bottom, fly end corner, accompanied by small losses in the extreme corner at both the top and bottom of the fly end. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind the losses for masking purposes. There is minor to modest soiling and oxidation, the most significant of which occurs in the 1st red and the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th white stripes, toward the fly end. There are small stains in other areas and there are two minor bleach spots in the white stripe below the canton. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 30
Earliest Date of Origin: 1876
Latest Date of Origin: 1898
State/Affiliation: Wisconsin
War Association:
Price: SOLD

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