Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 63" x 114.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 52.25" x 105.5"
Numerous flags appeared with unofficial star counts in early America, some of them produced by flag-makers in large quantity in anticipation of the addition of more states. Interestingly enough, other flags were officially adopted by the United States Congress, but for all practical purposes were never produced. Among these is the 43 star flag, which reflects the addition of Idaho. A tiny handful of flags with this star count are known, but they are among the most rare of all examples throughout American history. To understand why, one may turn back the clock to the 1876 and examine flag production from that year until the addition of the 44th state.

After the Flag Act of 1818, the official “flag year” began every July 4th. So on Independence Day, all states having been added to the Union over the previous year were officially given a star. Makers of flags, however, did not wait for July 4th and official star counts. Flag-making was a competitive industry and many manufacturers added stars before new states were actually added, wishing to create a reason for consumers to buy new flags and one-up each other in sales.

In 1876 the 37 star flag was official, but on August 1st we received our 38th state. Many flag-makers abandoned the 37 star flag when production began for the Centennial International Exposition, a six-month long World's Fair held in Philadelphia as the first of its kind in America, which served as the nucleus for celebrations of our 100-year anniversary of independence from Britain. In that year 38 stars was a common choice, but other flag-makers actually skipped past 38 all-together, choosing to instead produce 39 star flags, anticipating the addition of the Dakota Territory as one state.

Seeing that Dakota wasn't coming, production after 1876 seems to have reverted to the 38 star count. Then in 1889, thirteen years later, 39 star flags were once again manufactured with the anticipation of Dakota's statehood. On November 2nd of that year, a surprise was lay in store for the makers of 39 star flags, when the Dakotas arrived as two different states, which forever rendered 39 star flags both inaccurate and unofficial. Just a few days later, on November 8th, Montana entered the Union as the 41st state, followed by Washington State as number 42 just three days hence on November 11th.

40 star flags were made in limited quantity, reflecting the Dakotas entry. This count is extremely scarce, but not exceptionally rare. Perhaps this is because some flag-makers anticipated the number correctly, and so some of the 40's are anticipatory flags.

41 star flags, by contrast, are among the rarest that exist in 19th century America. This was a 3-day flag and an increase ending in a count of 41seems to not have been guessed.

In stark contrast, 42 star flags are common. These reflect the four new states that arrived in that week-and-a-half period between November 2nd and the 11th. For the next seven-eight months flag-makers seem to have favored this star count, producing many of them, probably with great enthusiasm for a reason to make new flags.

Just one day before the 42 star flag would have become official, on July 3rd, 1990, Idaho snuck in as the 43rd state, which rendered all of the 42 star flags forever unofficial. The 43 star flag became official on July 4th, but flag-makers basically skipped over the 43 star count entirely. This is because on July 10th, just 7 days after Idaho gained statehood, Wyoming was admitted. Practically all flag-makers seem to have predicted this and 43 star flags, while official for one year, were overlooked in favor of those with a count of 44 to add Wyoming as well. For all practical purposes, 43 star flags were not made. Only a tiny handful survive, perhaps ten or so at the most. Of these, three are printed parade flags (a.k.a., "hand-wavers"), while the remainder are larger, pieced-and-sewn examples. I have been privileged to own approximately half of these.

Among the surviving sewn flags with 43 stars, this is the most visually dynamic. A masterpiece of 19th century flag-making, the star configuration places it among a rare group that I have categorized as “starburst medallions.” The common theme in these interesting examples is that they seem to explode from the center like some sort of complex firework. The pattern on this unique 43 star flag consists of a large center star, surrounded by a circular wreath of 10 stars, that is flanked by more stars in groups of 3. The trio to either side are arranged triangles that each point outward, while those above and below are in a simple arch that hugs the wreath. Groups of 5 stars in each corner are arranged so that a semi-circle of 4 smaller stars fences in a much larger star, similar in scale to the centermost star in the overall design.

This is a homemade flag. The stars, canton, and stripes of the flag are all made of plain weave cotton. The stars are double-appliqued (applied to both sides) with lineal, treadle stitching. The stripes and canton are joined by the same method. There is a plain weave cotton binding along the hoist, also applied with treadle stitching, to which 7 tabs were affixed of the same fabric. These would have been used to affix the flag around a wooden staff. Even though this would have been too long to carry on foot without an extremely long staff of significantly inconvenient and unwieldy length, this may have been the intended use. The impracticality of the scale of the flag for ground use may have only become apparent after the flag was completed. It may also have been made to be draped vertically on a rod, but I suspect not. An open sleeve or use of tacks along the binding itself would have been more likely in that event. While the flag does appear to have been tacked in this manner at some point, I expect that occurred much later, long after its manufacture.

In summary, this is one of the rarest star counts that there is among antique American flags, on a stunning, homemade flag with one of the best star configurations that anyone could ever expect to encounter.

Provenance: This flag was exhibited from June 12th – September 6th, 2021 at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, in an exhibit entitled “Flags & Founding Documents.” The flag portion of this, curated by Jeff Bridgman, featured 43 flags that span American history as we progressed from 13 to 50 stars, with a particular focus on not only flags that display the anticipated and/or actual addition of states, but the subtraction of both Union and Slave States during the Antebellum and the Civil War periods.

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 a small, repaired, L-shaped tear along the top edge of the canton, near the center, accompanied by a small hole in the canton, in the crux of the arms of one star in the central wreath, and there are a small number of very tiny holes elsewhere in the canton. There is moderate oxidation of the white cotton used to make the stars, which was obviously taken from two different lots, as it has a slightly different weave and survives in a different state, and there is some minor staining elsewhere, mostly in the white fabrics. There is minor fading and water staining in the canton. 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: 43
Earliest Date of Origin: 1890
Latest Date of Origin: 1891
State/Affiliation: Idaho
War Association: 1866-1890 Indian Wars
Price: SOLD

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