Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 45.25" x 55.25"
Flag Size (H x L): 33.25" x 40.5"
This exceptional American national flag is extraordinary for several reasons. Chief among these is its construction, which is of fine silk, with 33 gilt-painted stars and near-to-square proportions, in a traditional military style. The stripes are made of ribbon with a decorative edge, alternating in an especially attractive salmon red and ivory white.

The stars are arranged in a variant of what is known as the Great Star or Great Luminary configuration, a large star made out of smaller stars. With no official star pattern before 1912, their design was left up to the artistic liberties of the flag-maker. Strikingly beautiful, the Great Star is both scarce and coveted by collectors.

Note how the profile of the Great Star is inverted on this particular flag, positioned so that it has two points up instead of one. Also note how the stars appear in three distinctly different sizes. The center of the pattern consists of a large star, surrounded by 10 smaller stars. Outside this there are five triangles, each comprised of 3 stars of the same size, some of which have smaller stars intertwined.

The pattern seems to have been crafted by way of an old stencil that was originally used to produce 26 star flags. The 7 smaller stars appear to have been added separately. Executed in the same gilt paint, note how the share qualities that are more crude than the rest.

Oregon entered the Union as the 33rd state on February 14th (Valentines Day), 1859. The 33 star flag was official from 1859-1861, and was thus still the official flag when Ft. Sumter was fired upon on April 12th of that year. This event marked the beginning of the Civil War, and a 33 star flag was flying at Ft. Sumter during the attack. Because the 34th state, Kansas, had already acquired statehood on January 29th, 1861, the 34 star flag was to become official on July 4th. For this reason, 33 star flags were not generally not produced for the war, which would last until 1865, and 33 star flags were generally made pre-war. It is for this reason that 33 star examples are far-and-away more scarce than their 34, 35, and 36-star counterparts.

Flags made prior to the Civil War are extremely rare, comprising less than one percent of 19th century flags that exist in the 21st century. Prior to the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in 1861, the Stars & Stripes was simply not used for most of the same purposes we employ it in today. Private individuals did not typically display the flag in their yards and on their porches. Parade flags didn't often fly from carriages and horses. Places of business rarely hung flags in their windows. The only consistent private use prior to 1861 seems to have accompanied political campaigning.

Even the military did not use the national flag in a manner that most people might think. Most people are surprised to learn that the infantry wasn't authorized to carry the Stars & Stripes until well into the 19th century. The foremost purpose before the Civil War (1861-65) was to identify ships on the open seas. While the flag was used to mark garrisons and government buildings, the flags of ground forces were limited to the those of their own regiment and a perhaps a federal standard (a blue or buff yellow flag bearing the arms of the United States). Artillery units were the first to be afforded the privilege in 1834. Infantry followed in 1841, but cavalry not until 1862. The first actual war in which the Stars & Stripes was officially carried was thus the Mexican War (1846-48). In more than 20 years of aggressive buying and research, I have encountered almost no American national flags produced in an obvious military style that are of the Mexican War period.

In early America, between wars, there were few enlisted troops. In these periods, local militia units comprised most of the (albeit loosely) organized military men. These groups served a popular social function that was fraternal in nature. They practiced drills and marched in parades. Flags and signals were a necessary part of their regalia. This particular flag was probably made for a militia unit under contract with a professional flag-maker. Design and materials were subject to both maker's preferences and the personal tastes of those who ordered their manufacture, but the square format was typical of flags that were mean to be carried by American military on land, as was the silk construction. Square flags could be made larger without dragging on the ground, and the light weight of silk, easily embellished with paint, was practical for the physical demands of both long marches and battle.

During the Civil War, which occurred at the end of this flag's window of possible origin, variation from one flag to the next was ramped, even within a single state, let alone across states. This was due to the wide variety of makers, the militia-oriented history of the American military, the cumbersome nature of mustering volunteer units and equipping them, and the general availability of materials, not to mention the lack of any real practical need to maintain perfect consistency. Men fought with and without shoes. These were different times.

Adding to the flag's appeal is its tiny scale among those with pieced-and-sewn construction. During the 19th century, sewn flags (as opposed to those that were printed on cloth) were typically eight feet long and larger. This is because they were important in their function as signals, meaning that they needed to be seen and recognized from great distance. A flag that was six feet in length was considered small and production of flags smaller than this was extremely limited. Even infantry battle flags were approximately six by six and-one-half feet, about the size of an average quilt of the same period.

As time passed, circumstances changed and sewn flags began to find more of a decorative purpose. It wasn't until the 1890's that manufacturers began to produce smaller sewn flags in great quantity. These had 13 stars, due to the greater ease in interpreting their shape at a distance on a small field (a practice long maintained by the U.S. Navy). Production of these continued into the 1920's, but during the same era, flags were not normally produced with pieced-and-sewn construction that bore the full complement of stars. The same was true prior to 1890, save in much smaller quantity. Flags smaller than five feet, when they were made at all, would usually have 13 stars. Those with a count that reflected the number of states at the time of manufacture were few and far between. Both of these circumstances, meaning a combination of the tiny size of this example (approximately thirty-three by forty inches) among its counterparts and the fact that it contains the complete star count, add considerable interest to flag collectors. Smaller flags are more scarce and far easier to frame and display.

Among flag collectors, the Great Star configuration is the most coveted of all 19th century geometric patterns. Although conceptualized as early as 1782 and depicted in that year on the first die cut of the newly adopted Great Seal of the United States, the popularity of arranging the stars in the form of one big star seems to have spread shortly after the War of 1812, when Congressman Peter Wendover of New York, requested that Captain Samuel Reid, a War of 1812 naval hero, be charged with the creation of a new design that would become the third official format of the Stars & Stripes. A recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, Reid became harbor master of New York following the war. During his lifetime, he created many innovations in signal use, including a system that could actually send messages from New York to New Orleans by sea in just two hours.

Use as a Naval signal had been the primary reason for the initial creation of an American national flag in 1777, but since there was no official star design, the appearance of our flag varied greatly. Reid and Wendover’s primary concerns centered on both consistency and ease of recognition. Their hope was that as more and more states joined the Union, and more and more stars were thus added to the flag, that it would remain easy to identify its design on the open seas. In 1818, Reid suggested to Congress that the number of stripes permanently return to 13, (their count having been increased to 15 in 1795 with the Second Flag Act, which added two more stars for the newest States of Vermont and Kentucky,) and that the stars be grouped into the shape of one large star.

Reid’s proposal would have kept the star constellation in roughly the same format, in a pattern that could be quickly identified through at a distance as the number of states grew. His concept for the stripes was ultimately accepted, but his advice on the star pattern was rejected by President James Monroe, due to the increased cost of arranging the stars in what would become known as the “Great Star”, “Great Flower”, or “Great Luminary” pattern. Monroe probably didn’t wish to impose this cost on either the government or civilians, so he suggested a simple pattern of justified rows. Never-the-less, the Great Star was produced by anyone willing to make it and its rarity today, along with its beauty, has driven the desirability of American flags with this configuration.

The combination of the beauty of this design, its rarity, small size, likely military origin and pre-Civil War through war-period manufacture, results in a flag of masterpiece quality and significance.

Construction: The blue taffeta canton and ribbon stripes were joined with treadle stitching. The stars are gilt-painted on both sides. The silk ties were affixed with hand-stitching.

Mounting: This is a sandwich mount between 100% cotton and U.V. protective acrylic. The black background fabric was washed to remove 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 contemporary Italian molding is black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed.

Condition: There is minor soiling and there is minor breakdown of the silk ties. The overall condition is excellent for the period and silk construction.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 33
Earliest Date of Origin: 1859
Latest Date of Origin: 1861
State/Affiliation: Oregon
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: SOLD

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