Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 59.75" x 80"
Flag Size (H x L): 48" x 67"
31 star American national flag, made entirely of silk, with a number of especially interesting features. Note how the stars, which are loosely arranged in justified lineal rows of 6-6-7-6-6, are oriented in various directions on their vertical axis. The combination of these factors contributes a healthy amount of folk quality to the overall presentation, as does the series of red, white, and blue silk ties along the hoist, which are threaded through tiny, whip-stitched grommets. This manner of affixing the flag to a staff provides evidence that it was very likely hand-carried. The selection of fabric and the size of flag are also congruent with this manner of use. Military, ground-use flags were often silk, so that they could be large enough to be effective as signals, but at the same time light in weight.

Note also that the blue canton is resting on a red stripe. When this condition occurs, some flag historians have referred to this as the “blood stripe” or the “war stripe”, suggesting the flag was constructed in this fashion when the nation was at war. In actuality, the placement probably occurred more often by accident. Not everyone knew where the canton was traditionally positioned, and because there was no official specification until 1912, there was no regulation with regard to this aspect. Whatever the case may be, the war stripe feature is both scarce and highly coveted by collectors.

Prior to the 1850's, when this flag was made, there was scant use of the Stars & Stripes outside military and government function. For this reason, flags made prior to the Civil War comprise less than one percent of 19th century flags that exist in the 21st century. Even within the U.S. Army, display of the American flag was not commonplace until well into the second quarter of the 19th century. While it had been used to mark garrisons from the latter 18th century onward, many people are surprised to learn that ground forces were not authorized to carry the flag until it was assigned to artillery regiments in 1834. Infantry was afforded the privilege in 1841, just prior to the Mexican War (1846-1848), while cavalry regiments were not authorized until the second year of the Civil War, in 1862.

California became the 31st state in 1850, ushered in on the heels of the 1849 Gold Rush. The 31 star flag became official the following year, on July 4th, 1851 and remained so until July 3rd, 1858, following the addition of Minnesota as the 32nd state. Because this period was between wars, there was very little in the way of flag production. In addition, while there was a Regular Army at this time, it was small and widely dispersed, primarily engaged in the American West at scattered outposts. In December of 1860, there were just 10 infantry, 4 artillery, and 5 mounted regiments, divided into 197 companies, only 18 of which were stationed east of the Mississippi River. In total there were just 16,367 commissioned officers and men, including 19 colonels at an average age of 63, some of whom were in their 80's.

While there were few regulars, there were many regiments of state and local volunteer militia. Approved by an act of the United States Congress, these could apply to be chartered through their respective state and local governments. This method of organization was part of the very concept of a republican democracy, within which a large, standing army, maintained during peacetime and acting at the hand of a centralized government, should be considered a potential threat to the liberties of the states and individuals that it was supposed to protect. In the place of a regular army, volunteer militia units assisted local law enforcement, provided troops for ceremonies and parades, and frequently served as social clubs for young men. These groups, of company size, were typically outfitted through their own monetary contributions.

While this particular 31 star flag could certainly have seen function in the far-flung reaches of the west, it was more likely commissioned and carried by local militia. The pattern of wear in the striped field, as well as along the hoist, accompanied by expected oxidation and soiling, provide evidence that the flag was extensively flown. When the Civil War broke out, in 1861, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to defend against further action. At this time, many militia units enlisted and became their own companies. While many were assigned flags, others would have carried their own colors as a way of retaining their own identity. That was probably the case in this instance.

The silk stars of the flag are single-appliquéd. This means that they were applied to one side of the canton, then the blue fabric was cut from behind, so that one star could be viewed on both sides of the flag. On this particular flag, the sewing of the stars was done in an unusual manner, by way of an overlapping blanket stitch. Seldom do I encounter this prior to the second half of the 20th century, let alone 90 years prior. In the rare case that it is present, however, it does tend to surface on the stars of silk flags.

Adding to this flags general interest is its manageable size. At approximately 4 feet by 5 feet 9 inches, this is a small example among its counterparts of the period with pieced-and-sewn construction. Prior to 1890, lengths of 8-feet and longer are thus common. Garrison flags were 35 feet on the fly, sometimes larger. Even infantry battle flags measured six-by-six-and-a-half feet. Collectors and one-time buyers alike typically prefer flags like this one, which can more easily be framed and displayed in a modern, indoor setting.

In summary, this is a great early flag, with both rare and beautiful elements, reflecting the addition of a particularly important state during the period of the American Gold Rush. Probable military use and hand-sewn, silk construction increase its level of interest, as does the small scale.

Mounting: This is a pressure mount between 100% cotton twill, black in color, and U.V. protective acrylic. 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 black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding.

Condition: There is moderate to significant breakdown in the silk fabric, with associated loss, throughout the striped field, increasing in intensity towards the fly end. There is moderate to significant loss along the hoist end. Two of the original ties are absent and there is significant fabric breakdown in the top two. There is some fabric loss in the stars, where there is also minor to moderate foxing and staining, accompanied by more significant staining in one star. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind the flag, for making purposes, during the mounting process. An iridescent silk fabric was selected for use behind the white stripes. This had the best color tone. It does appear quite differently from different angles, being darker and more gold from some and lighter and more ivory/tan from others, though attractive and interesting from all perspectives. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. Further, the great rarity of sewn flags in the 31 star count, especially in this size, warrants practically any condition.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 31
Earliest Date of Origin: 1850
Latest Date of Origin: 1858
State/Affiliation: California
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: SOLD

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