Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 44.25" x 54"
Flag Size (H x L): 31.25" x 41"
During the 19th century, very few flags with pieced-and-sewn construction were made in the sizes we find common today. Prior to 1890, sewn flags were typically 8 feet long and larger on the fly. Garrison flags were usually between 35 and 45 feet. A 6-foot flag was considered small. Anything smaller than that was unusual and the smaller they were the more rare they are today among surviving examples.

Flags needed to be large in order to serve their purpose as signals. Even decorative flags were large by tradition. Smaller decorative flags were produced, but since they were not expected to be signals and were intended for short-term use at parades, political events and rallies, these were typically printed on fabric.

When flags smaller than 5 feet were pieced-and-sewn from various lengths of cloth, a count of 13 stars was preferred by flag-makers. This followed U.S. Navy practice. The Navy preferred the 13 star count on small flags because at a distance a smaller number of stars was more easily discerned at a distance as individual objects. Because 13 was the number of stars on the very first American national flags, representing the 13 original colonies, Americans had a history with and were endeared to 13 star flags from their colonial roots and victory over Great Britain in the Revolutionary War.

A count of 37 stars, for example, on a flag that was just 3 or 4 feet long, would require stars that were very small and difficult to distinguish individually from any great distance. So while small sewn flags are unusual to begin with prior to 1890, those with the full star count are even more rare than their 13-star counterparts. And the smaller the flag is, the more unusual it is to have the full count, complimentary to the number of states we had at the time of manufacture.

Measuring just 31 x 41 inches, this one is especially tiny. Its 37 stars are configured into a whimsical rendition of what is known as the "Great Star," a large star made out of smaller stars, which ranks firmly among collectors as one of the most coveted of all 19th century geometric designs. Great Star patterns take on many forms. This particular one can be difficult to see, not only because of the crude early nature of the placement of the stars, but also because of the single star placed between each arm of the Great Star design. With careful observation, one can see that the 5 stars that bridge the outermost point of each arm are different in profile. While it is certainly possible that these were added at a later date to an earlier design of 32 stars, in order to update it to the 37 star count, these instead appear to be original. In either case, they were most certainly sewn by a different maker. Fatter in shape, they stand in contrast to the rest, which vary in size and shape and were stitched by a hand less skilled in appliqué work, which was (and remains today) a difficult skill. Note how they vary in both size and profile, with the arms of some bent this way and that with great movement and impact. The sort of variation seen here is a big plus among flag enthusiasts, because anything that adds beauty or visual interest can add substantially to desirability. This flag is an exceptional example of folk art in early flag-making, exhibiting the best kind of artistic measure with strong elements of both modern and folk art.

The 37th state, Nebraska, joined the Union on March 1st, 1867. The 37 star flag was official from that year until 1877, although it generally fell out of use in 1876 with the addition of Colorado. The 37 star-count is scarce in comparison to those that immediately preceded and followed it. This is due primarily to the lack of major patriotic events during the period when 37 star flags were generally used, which followed the Civil War yet preceded the 100-year anniversary of our nation's independence. While the 37 star flag was still official in 1876, it was well known that at least one more state would be joining the Union that year. This caused flag makers to cease production in favor of 38 and 39 star flags. For this reason, 37 star flags were seldom produced for our nation's centennial, where 38 and 39 star counts were preferred, along with 13 star examples to commemorate the original 13 colonies. Even so, some 37 star flags survive that, like this one, are known to have been made in the fanfare of our nation's 100-year anniversary. I have long presumed that some of those with more whimsical star configurations, such as this flag, were produced specifically for that purpose.

As mentioned earlier, it is possible that this flag was updated from a 32-star count. If that were the case, it would have likely been made between the years of 1858 and 1859, with the 32nd star representing the addition of Minnesota.

Construction: The stars of the flag are made of cotton, hand-sewn and double-appliquéd (meaning that they were applied to both sides). The stripes and canton were hand-sewn of wool bunting, with the exception of the seam between the 9th and 10th stripes, which were joined by hand but finished with 2 rows of treadle stitching. It would appear that the maker tried the pump treadle machine and disliked its operation or was unused to its operation. Singer mass-marketed the sewing machine in 1855 and it went into widespread use sewing the flat fell seams on flags in 1861 at the opening of the Civil War, though many seamstresses continues to hand-sew seams. There is a hand-sewn cotton binding along the hoist, where tacks were used to affix the flag to a staff instead of grommets, rope, or ties.

Provenance: This was perhaps the best sewn flag out of a large, long-time, and thoughtfully assembled Mid-West collection.

Mounting: The flag was hand-stitched to 100% silk organza for support on ever seam and throughout the star field. It was then hand-stitched to a background of 100% cotton twill, black in color. The black fabric 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 a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.

Condition: There is very minor mothing and minor soiling. There is an area of minor loss at the top corner of the hoist end where the binding meets the canton. There are very minor losses at the top corner of the fly end and in the center of the bottom red stripe. The flag was obviously flown for at least a short period, but it remains in an absolutely exceptional state of preservation for the period. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 37
Earliest Date of Origin: 1867
Latest Date of Origin: 1876
State/Affiliation: Nebraska
War Association: 1866-1890 Indian Wars
Price: SOLD

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