|32 STARS IN A VERY UNUSUAL NOTCHED VERSION OF THE “GREAT STAR” PATTERN, WITH TWO STARS ABSENT AT THE EXTREME POINTS OF EACH ARM, MADE IN THE PERIOD WHEN MINNESOTA JOINED THE UNION AS THE 32nd STATE; A VERY RARE STAR COUNT, OFFICIAL FOR JUST ONE YEAR, AND ACCURATE FOR JUST NINE MONTHS, 1858-59
|Frame Size (H x L):
|Approx. 76.5" x 112"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|63.75" x 99.5"
|32 star American national flags are rare. This is largely because they were only official for one year (1858-59), but it is also a result of the fact that this time frame occurred prior to the American Civil War (1861-65), in an era when use of the Stars & Stripes on land in the private sector fell somewhere between slim and non-existent.
Minnesota joined the Union as the 32nd state on May 11th, 1858. The 32 star flag became official less than two months later, on July 4th, and remained so until July 3rd, 1859. In the meantime, Oregon was admitted as the 33rd state.
According to legislation enacted by Congress on April 4, 1818, stars were to be added on Independence Day each year, following the addition of any incoming states. Commercial flag makers paid little heed to such requirements, however, because it made little in the way of practical sense. On one hand, flag-makers sought reasons to produce new flags, in order that they have something new to sell. They also wanted to be a step ahead of their competitors. At the same time, potential buyers of flags would not want to acquire them with a smaller number of stars than the actual number of states at the time, since the impeding addition of the respective stars was inevitable. For these reasons, and in the spirit of American expansionism, especially popular during the settling of the American West that was under way, flag-makers would add stars as soon as a state was in, or in some cases even beforehand, in anticipation of impending statehood of another Western Territory. The same would have been true in homemade flags, where, in addition to being practical, legislation surrounding the official date for the addition of stars was probably not common knowledge. Almost no one knows this today, for example, unless they are intimately involved in Vexillology, and during the 19th century it may not have even been commonly known among most flag-makers, who were often cottage industry sailmakers or producers of tents and awnings, and probably unfamiliar with decades-old flag legislation.
For the above reasons, production of 32 star flags would have ceased with the addition of Oregon on February 14th, 1859, well before July 4th. This meant that the 32 star count would have only seen use for about 9 months, making it one of the shortest lived flags in early America.
This particular 32 star American national flag was found in the attic of a home in Minnesota when it passed to the new owners many years ago. With its strong colors and intriguing presentation of stars, is one of the few examples known to survive from this exceptionally narrow window of time. I am aware of about 10 known examples with pieced-and-sewn construction, among which this is one.
Made of cotton, hand-sewn, and double-appliquéd (applied to both sides), the stars of the flag are arranged in a variation of what is known as the “Great Star” pattern—one large star, made out of smaller ones. This particular version of the Great Star is highly unusual, because 2 of the stars that should be present in the canton, in the extreme position at the end of two of the arms, (directed at 12:00 and approximately 5:00,) are absent. This results in a feature that is referred to as a “notched” design, which allows space for the addition of more stars.
In some Great Star patterns, stars are present outside the primary design. For example, there might be a Great Star in the center, flanked by a single star in each corner of the blue canton. In rare instances, one might see this sort of pattern, but with only 2 stars outside the Great Star, in the upper and lower hoist-end corners, leaving two spaces open along the fly-end side.
Another method of leaving additional space is obvious gaps near the center of the star-shaped profile, but that is not present on the flag that is the subject of this narrative. Note that this flag displays a larger star in the center, surrounded by a rather tight wreath of 8 stars, which, on careful inspection, is flanked by 5 individual stars at evenly spaced intervals. This actually creates a Great Star pattern of its own, in a design that I call a “circle-star,” comprised of 14 stars in total. 18 more stars, placed around this neatly ordered pattern, form the incomplete star-shaped and bring the total to 32. Unique to this flag among known examples, I cannot recall ever having seen intentional notches at the end of the arms of a Great Star.
On the obverse (front), the large center star and one of the stars adjacent to it are hand-sewn. On the reverse, 21 of the stars, including the large center star, are hand-sewn. The remainder were appliqued with treadle stitching. The canton is made of fine merino wool. Due to the scale of the flag, this was pieced from two lengths of blue fabric, which were joined by hand-stitching. The stripes of the flag are made of cotton and are treadle-sewn. At the end of the 3rd white stripe, on the obverse, is a maker’s or merchant’s block-printed stamp with the numeral designation “533” surrounded by fanciful scrollwork. Rendered in red ink or pigment, this probably relates to the manufacturer or seller of the cloth and specified the yardage (or meters) on the particular bolt. Whatever the case may be, it is a very uncommon feature.
There is a coarse, sailcloth canvas binding along the hoist end. I suspect that this was taken off and then re-applied during a repair. The top of the canton was damaged near the hoist. Two patches were added at this time. One, made of dark blue, plain-weave cotton, is adjacent to the fly end and effectively acts as a gusset, (a reinforcement patch, typically original to the construction of a utilitarian textile,) though it does not connect with the top edge of the canton. The other patch, made of glazed blue cotton chintz, is slightly further down and reinforces a tear. The top edge of the canton was folded over and bound with a row of treadle stitching at the time. In the region from the hoist binding to the end of the second patch, the selvage along the top edge of the canton is absent, but it is present beyond that point. The fly end was bound with a length of red cotton, seemingly the same as was employed in the stripes. Applied bindings along the top, bottom, or fly are encountered in flags of this era, but they are not common. I suspect that this one may have been added during the repair, at which time the flag may have been shortened slightly. The amount does not appear to have been significant, perhaps consisting of about two to four inches. This was the proper and expected. There were no official proportions for the American national flag until 1912. The stitching of the hoist and fly ends and the top of the canton are executed with treadle stitching and I expect that the maker of the flag may have been responsible for its repairs, as evidenced by the same, tight stitching. The dark blue patch was certainly added after the first, as it is applied over the one made from cotton chintz.
There is a penciled inscription on the reverse of the hoist binding, near the bottom, which includes the initials “E.H.” followed by what appears to be “Husted,” followed by the letter “y” or the letter “r.” If the latter is true, the name may be “Husteder,” but the writing is loosely defined and very faint. Whatever the case, this would be the name of a former owner and it was common to mark flags in this manner during the 19th century. Initial research into this name turned up nothing of interest. Such circumstance is not uncommon with regard to names present on early flags. Although I have become rather good at deciphering the characters when poorly written or faded, the information is typically too vague to yield meaningful results.
Flags made prior to the Civil War (1861-1865) are extremely scarce, comprising less than one percent of 19th century flags that have survived into the 21st century. Prior to the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in 1861, 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. The only consistent private use prior to 1861 seems to have accompanied political campaigning.
Even the military did not use the national flag in a manner that most people might think. Most people are surprised to learn that the infantry wasn’t authorized to carry the Stars & Stripes until well into the 19th century, and even then did not often exercise the right, because it was neither required nor customary. The foremost purpose before the Mexican War (1846-48) was to identify ships on the open seas. While the flag was used to mark garrisons and government buildings, the flags of ground forces were limited to the those of their own regiment and a perhaps a federal standard (a blue or buff yellow flag bearing the arms of the United States). Artillery units were the first to be afforded the privilege in 1834. Infantry followed in 1841, but cavalry not until 1862.
Mounting: Conservation mounting and framing is included, to be complete by our own conservation department, which is led by expert staff. We take great care in the mounting and presentation of flags and have preserved thousands of examples.
Condition: In addition to the repairs mentioned above, there is a stitched repair in the top red stripe (which we will remove when mounting). A seam was added to repair a tear at the fly end of the last red stripe, in which there is also a modest hole near the fly end, in addition to some very minor ones elsewhere, and a tear along the bottom edge. There is very minor foxing and staining throughout. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
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