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  20 STARS AND 11 STRIPES ON AN ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG OF THE CIVIL WAR PERIOD, HOMEMADE AND ENTIRELY-HAND-SEWN, WITH ITS LIGHT BLUE CANTON RESTING ON THE WAR STRIPE; PROBABLY MADE TO COMMEMORATE THE DECEMBER 10TH, 1817 ADDITION OF MISSISSIPPI AS THE 20TH STATE, AND THE COUNT OF 11 STATES THAT SECEDED FROM THE UNION BETWEEN DECEMBER OF 1860 AND JUNE OF 1861

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 50.5" x 90"
Flag Size (H x L): 38.5" x 68.25"
Description....:
One of the things that makes 19th century American flags so interesting is the individualism and expression put forth in homemade examples, especially during the emotionally driven fervor of wartime. Hidden symbolism is abundant in American national flags of the Civil War era and variants thereof. Messages appear in both the count of the stripes and the stars, as well as their placement. At these points in American history, characteristics of flag design, made official or customary by any entity, generally went out the window. For example, while President Lincoln pleaded with Northerners to keep the full complement of stars on the flag, representing both Union and Confederate States, some ignored him and created “Southern exclusionary” flags, removing the number of stars that represented Southern States.

However unlikely it may seem, there was actually limited wartime production of Stars & Stripes variants in the South. Here the opposite sometimes occurred. During the search for Confederate banners and battle colors, flags were sometimes produced that instead removed the stars representing Northern States.

Other flags glorified particular states, reflecting either their original order of addition to the Union, or else their secession, by displaying the appropriate number of stars. Louisiana, for example, became the 18th state in the year 1812. Some 18 star flags are known, made later on during the 19th century, that probably commemorate this fact. In 1861, Louisiana became the 6th state to secede. At least three Stars & Stripes variants exist with just 6 stars that are thought to instead glorify the state’s status in this regard.

In some cases, the number of stripes on exclusionary flags was likewise altered. 7-stripe flags exist, for example, that are thought to reference the number of states accepted into the Confederate States of America when its provisional constitution was adopted on February 7th, 1861.

This particular flag’s 20 stars would reflect the admission of Mississippi as the 20th state. The complement of 11 stripes illustrates a different sort of Southern reference, paying respect to the 11 states that seceded through formal vote of their respective legilslative bodies. This concluded between May and July of 1861, depending on how the precise method resulting in the formality of secession is determined. Because the Border States of Missouri and Kentucky were accepted into the Confederacy in November and December of that year, the flag would most likely have been made in the war’s opening year.

One alternative theory is that it was instead made in 1867 specifically. Mississippi entered the Union on December 10th, 1817, which means that this year marked the 50-year anniversary of Mississippi statehood. Either way, the 11-stripe count suggests Southern solidarity.

Note how 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. The fact that this flag has only 11 stripes certainly complicates the matter. Whatever the case may be, the war stripe feature is both scarce and highly coveted by collectors.

The flag is made entirely of plain weave cotton and is entirely hand-sewn. The stars, left raw along the edges, were sewn with a whip stitch and carefully double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). Neither these or the stripes were stitched by someone with great skill, possibly a child, or perhaps two children with slightly varying skill levels, who were unable to make formal, flat fell seams and probably had no expertise in appliqué work. The canton appears to have been joined to the stripes by two different hands. The hoist end was rolled over to create a tight sleeve around lengths of braided cotton twine. This was stitched into place. 12 small brass rings were affixed along the outer edge. Raw cut lengths of canvas were formed into loops and stitched into place at the extreme top and bottom of the hoist.

This method of affixing the flag to a staff was preferred for flags that were to be hand-carried. It is clear from the flag’s state of preservation, with various repairs, replacements, and reinforcements at the most fragile points, that it was extensively flown.

Note how the stars vary in position on their vertical axis, against the beautiful, cornflower blue canton. Also note how they vary in form, not only in their hand-made nature, but also from a degree of stretching over time. The crude method of joinery lends to its hand-made character.

Some Facts about Flags with 20 Stars:
Among surviving flags, 20 is an unusual count. Very few examples are known to exist from the one-year period in which there were 20 states (1818-1819) , but a slightly greater number survive that date to the second half of the 19th century.

In addition to flags made to in one way or another commemorate Mississippi as the 20th state, some 20 star flags were likely made by the U.S. Navy, to be flown on small boats, both as a matter of practicality and possibly as a Southern-exclusionary number (excluding the Southern States). It was easier to discern the individual stars at a distance, which was more difficult on small flags, with necessarily smaller stars. This is why lower star counts were preferred on smaller flags. A count of 13 was basically universal on U.S. Navy small boat ensigns made between the Civil War and 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson wrote an executive order that terminated their use.

Other low star counts were also employed, with 12, 16, 24, and possibly 15 stars. Most of these lower star counts attributed to the Navy have stars that are arrange in a simple, lineal fashion.

All-in-all, this 20-star, 11-stripe flag is a rare homemade example of the Civil War era and a beautiful relic of the time.

Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed within 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.

The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color, that has been washed and treated to reduce and set the dye. The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The cove-shaped molding has a textured surface, a rope style inner lip, and a very dark brown surface, nearly black, with reddish highlights and undertones. To this a flat profile molding with a finish like old gunmetal was added as a liner. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass. Feel free to inquire for more details. Condition: There are various minor tears and losses in all of the red stripes. There are significant, patched repairs in the top and bottom corners at the fly end. There is a long, horizontal tear near the fly end of the top red stripe, adjacent to the patch and there is a small, patched repair in the same stripe, near the canton. The bottom stripe has a gusset along the hoist end that may have been added after the flag was made. There is a repaired vertical tear not far beyond, towards the fly, which has partly unraveled. There are a few tiny tears in the blue canton and a tiny one near the hoist, in the 5th white stripe. There is moderate fading of the red stripes and there is minor staining in the white stripes. The small loops of canvas at the top and bottom of the hoist would have been added after the flag was made. 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: 20
Earliest Date of Origin: 1861
Latest Date of Origin: 1867
State/Affiliation: Mississippi
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: SOLD
 

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