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  38 STARS IN A NOTCHED, CROSSHATCH PATTERN ON AN ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG MADE BY THE U.S. BUNTING COMPANY IN LOWELL, MASSACHUSETTS, SIGNED "TORREY," REFLECTS THE ERA OF COLORADO STATEHOOD, CIRCA 1876-1889

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 50.5" x 78"
Flag Size (H x L): 38.5" x 65.75"
Description....:
38 star American national flag, press-dyed on wool bunting. The stars are configured in what is known as a "notched" pattern, in which four spaces were left open in anticipation that more Western Territories would soon be added.

The flag is made of three panels of fabric that have been pieced and joined with hand-stitching. Both the top, bottom, and fly edges of the flag have been hemmed by hand. There is a twill cotton binding along the hoist, at the top and bottom of which are three brass grommets. Through the topmost of these is a small remnant of braided cotton cord. The binding was applied with treadle stitching. Near the top, on the obverse, the following text is stenciled in black: “Patented April 26. 1870. 6 - FT." The flag was made by the U.S. Bunting Co., in Lowell, Massachusetts and was likely intended for nautical use. Versions of this stencil are seen on other known U.S. Bunting Co. examples, some of which include the words "American Ensign." The 1870 patent, secured by John Holt, relates to the use of the clamp-dying process for flag production. The U.S. Navy was in the habit of using 13 star flags on its small boats during the second half of the 19th century, not flags with the full star count, like this one, but there were probably exceptions to that rule. The U.S. Bunting Company was owned in part by Civil War General Benjamin Butler, who had a great deal of both political and military clout and is known to have sought and obtained Naval contracts. It is certainly no accident that, at 38.5 x 72 inches, the original proportions of the flag would have matched U.S. Navy Regulations for a No. 13 small boat ensign between 1870 and 1882, overlapping within a significant portion of the era in which there were 38 states (1876-1889).

Some of the known flags with resist-dyed cantons may also have made for foreign ships that sailed into American ports, hence the inclusion of the word “American” on the sleeve, which would have been obvious to any U.S. resident. Thought not unknown, such identification is generally excluded on American flags. This in no way precludes American use. This flag was found in the States and almost certainly flown here. To an American purchaser, the "American Ensign" and size designation simply allowed for quick identification when the flag was folded and placed among others of various sorts and, potentially, various nationalities.

This particular star configuration is unusual among known U.S. Bunting Co. examples in this star count, most of which display two notches, typically along the hoist end, or with a single notch at either end of the center row. Here there are two at either end, which results in an interesting, crosshatch pattern, the presentation of which is both visually unusual and attractive. It is also academically intriguing, through its allowance for the easy addition of more states.

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. But the 39th state would not join the Union for another 13 years, when the Dakota Territory entered as two states (numbers 39 and 40) on the same day, November 2nd, 1889.

The name "Torrey" is inscribed in pencil on the reverse of the binding. This would either have been the name of a former owner, or perhaps a ship. While no U.S. Navy boats bore this name, five private ships did that operated during the 38-star period, two of which had captains by the same name. One, the M.E. Torrey, a schooner out of Sedgwick, Maine, appears in ship registers between 1871 and 1877. Owned by W.J. Sargent, it was captained by J. (James) Torrey. Another schooner, the Harriet Torrey, out of Essex, Massachusetts, was registered to Jno. (Jonathan) M. McLean and, between 1881-1882, was captained by someone listed simply by the surname "Torrey." Between 1889 and 1893, it continued to sail with two different captains, identified as "Lord" and "Aug. (Augustus) Fogh." Three other possibilities are the Anna (sic. Ann) D. Torrey, a brig out of Boston, owned by S.G. Haskell, which appears between 1858-1879, the Annie Torrey, a bark out of Richmond, Maine, owned by Thurlow, Elwell, & O., which appears between 1870-1897, and the David Torrey, a schooner out of Portland, Maine, owned by Charles Sawyer, which appears between 1874-1878. A sixth vessel, the Birchard & Torrey (sic. Torry), a schooner out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, owned by V. Blaisdell, that appears between 1872-1879, seems unlikely due to the lack of the Birchard name.

Since flags were far more commonly marked with a surname to indicate personal ownership, as opposed to being owned by a ship, the name is more likely that of an individual than a vessel. In this light, the first two ships, above, are far more likely sources. Because there were many captains with the surname Torrey in the 1870's and 80's, however, it's important to note that these are but two possibilities.

The fact that there are tack holes along the hoist raises the question of the flag having instead been carried on foot or flown in some manner from a fixed staff. Maritime flags were generally hoisted on ropes. Tacks were not commonly employed in nautical flags, since they rusted and were a poor means of securing fabric in a potentially wet and windswept environment. Of course, the flag may have seen one manner of use, then switched to another, and possibly tacked to a wall.

Whatever the case may be, due to the interesting star configuration, manufacture by an identified maker, and relationships to both Colorado and Massachusetts, this is an wonderful example of the period.

Some Notes on the Press-Dying Process:
First patented in 1849, the press-dying process was thought to be a novel idea that would improve flag-making efficiency. In this case, for example, it could potentially alleviate the chore of hand-appliquéing 76 stars (38 on each side). In reality, however, the result must have been less efficient than sewing. To achieve white stars, for example, metal plates in the shape of stars had to be clamped to either side of a length of woolen fabric, in the desired configuration, so they were back-to-back. These may have been lightly brushed beforehand with a solution that would resist dye, or perhaps with a thin coat of wax. The stars were clamped together tightly, the bunting was dyed blue, and the areas where the metal stars were positioned would be left white. For flags with press-dyed stripes, the same task was repeated with different clamps. John Holt obtained a patent for an improvement of the technique in 1867.

Wool was preferred for outdoor flags because it sheds water, making it the fabric of choice for all maritime flags and, in fact, most flags produced by professional flag-makers for long-term outdoor use. Printing on wool is costly, however, and difficult. Even today, only about 1% of wool fabric is printed, because it generally needs to be washed afterward and wool cannot easily be treated with water.*

In regard to wool flags, press-dying was primarily used during the Centennial-era by the U.S. Bunting Company of Lowell, Massachusetts, which began making press-dyed flags for the U.S. military in 1869, and by Horstmann Brothers of Philadelphia. The U.S. Bunting Co. was one of the first flag-makers to successfully produce high quality wool bunting fabric in the States, and while its owners worked diligently to master the press-dyeing process, it seems quite obvious today that it was actually more costly than expected, because it never become a popular method of flag production. This inexact art of reverse-dyeing would often add crude characteristics, such as stripes with irregular lines, in various widths, and stars with inconsistent shapes, in slightly varying sizes. It is likely that this resulted in lost product and wasted time, from flags that had bleeding or misprint issues and were of too poor quality to sell. But within those flags that survived, today’s collectors today find the irregularities interesting, not only because they demonstrates early production methods, but also because they lends the sort of folk qualities that make early flags more interesting to look at.

* Chen, W., Wang, G., & Bai, Y., “Best for Wool Fabric Printing…,” (Textile Asia, 2002, v.33 (12)), pp. 37-39.

Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed within our own conservation department, which is led by expert trained staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples.

The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color. The black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed molding is Italian. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass. Feel free to contact us for more details.

Condition: There is minor mothing throughout. There are small darning repairs between the 5th and 6th stripes, toward the fly end from center, and along the bottom edge of the last stripe, near the fly end. There are tack holes with associated rust spots along the binding, either from its having been affixed to a wooden staff or a fixed structure. The fly end was trimmed, turned back and re-hemmed at some point during its course of use, probably losing about six inches. This was a proper and common means of extending its use. Because there were no official proportions for the Stars & Stripes for government use until 1912, the measurements of early examples varied widely. The flag presents beautifully. 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:
Star Count: 38
Earliest Date of Origin: 1876
Latest Date of Origin: 1889
State/Affiliation: Colorado
War Association: 1866-1890 Indian Wars
Price: SOLD
 

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