Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 31.5" x 44.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 20.5" x 33"
American national flags with 27 stars, made at the time when Florida gained statehood, are among the rarest of all 19th century examples of the Stars & Stripes. Very few period examples exist and most major collections of early flags that have been assembled over the years have not included one.

Part of the reason why 27 star flags are so rare is that the star count was official for only one year. Florida became the 27th state on March 3rd, 1845. After the Third Flag Act (1818), stars were officially added to the national flag on the 4th of July following a state's addition. This meant that the 27th star would theoretically have been added on July 4th, 1845. Because the makers of flags, both private and public, seem to have cared little for the acts of Congress, however, or were perhaps completely ignorant of the pertinent legislation, the 27th star would have been added by most makers at the time of the addition of the state. Sometimes it would have even occurred beforehand, in hopeful anticipation. The practice of adding stars in an anticipatory fashion became quite popular in the mid-late 19th century, accurately capturing the spirit of a nation in eager pursuit of Manifest Destiny. In the 1840's, nowhere is this more profoundly illustrated than in a rare type of printed cotton flag, produced for the 1844 political campaign of James Polk, which bears an expected count of 26 white stars, arranged in a double-wreath style medallion within the blue canton, plus a 27th blue star just outside it, in the first white stripe, to promote Polk's support of the addition of Texas. At the time of their manufacture, it was apparently unknown that Florida would arrive first.

Texas entered the Union as the 28th state on December 29th, 1845, approximately 9.5 months after the addition of Florida. While the 28th star was not officially added until July 4th, 1846, most flag-makers would have once again added it on or before Texas' addition. For this reason, production of 27 star flags had a realistic window of approximately just 9-10 months, which meant that it would be one of the shortest lasting star counts in American history.

Another reason why 27 star flags are so scarce is that they were produced at a time before the Stars & Stripes was in widespread use. Flags made prior to the Civil War (1861-1865) are extremely scarce, comprising less than one percent of 19th century flags that have survived into 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.

Homemade and entirely hand-sewn throughout, this exceptional little flag is an exception to the rule. Small in scale, the wide swath of fabric along the hoist is typical of flags that would be affixed by wrapping this section around a staff, before stitching it into place. A series of small metal tacks were typically then added, so that the resulting sleeve would not slip from the pole. This manner of hoist, on a flag of these dimensions, strongly suggests that it was employed as a flank-marker (guidon) or camp colors. The latter marked an encampment of soldiers and was employed in military drilling. Guidons were placed to the left and right of an assembled company of men, so that the commander could keep track of their position. These could be mounted on a staff that went down the barrel of a gun, if not hand-carried. The somewhat "squarish" profile is common to both varieties and typical of infantry purposes in general.

Military, ground-use flags were generally silk, with either embroidered or gilt-painted stars and elements. Silk, however, was an extravagance. Wool bunting was also used, but this was a was a specialty fabric with scant availability. This flag is made of plain weave cotton throughout. While not ideal for long-term, outdoor use, because it absorbed water, became heavy, and was subject rot, it was nonetheless the fabric of choice for homemade flags. Cotton was inexpensive and widely available. During the antebellum, there were few regular army regiments. Most available military men were members of state militia and were outfitted by whatever means possible. The flags of local militia units might be ordered from commercial makers, but were just as likely to have been produced by soldiers' wives and/or daughters. That was very likely the case with this particular flag.

The count of 27 stars is arranged in what might be best described as a broken or irregular medallion. This is comprised of a large center star, surrounded by 10 smaller stars, that together form a star-shaped perimeter. Beyond this are 12 additional stars, in no particular formation. 4 more, larger, yet smaller than the center star, are placed one in each corner. The resulting pattern has a crude, yet endearing presentation that is both whimsical and artistically compelling. The design is singular, unique to this flag.

The stars are single-appliquéd. This means that they were applied to one side of the canton, then the blue fabric was cut from behind each star, folded over, and under-hemmed, so that one star could be viewed on both sides. I always find single-appliquéd stars more desirable, not only because they are evidence of a more difficult level of seam-work and stitching, but also because they are more visually intriguing. Both the sewing itself and stretching of the fabrics over time result in stars that have irregular shapes, which is certainly the case here. Flags with single-appliquéd stars are often more appealing to connoisseurs of early American textiles. The two visible rows of hand-stitching emphasize their hand-sewn construction and their starfish-like profiles have great folk qualities.

It is of interest to note that one of the stars (adjacent to and just above the center star, towards the hoist end), is backwards with respect to all of the others. Here the applied fabric shows through a window on the reverse, instead of the other way around.

The flag displays many signs of long-term use in the field. Moderate losses at the top and bottom of the hoist, and adjacent to the 4th white stripe, suggest where tacks once held the flag in place and caused wear. These points would have received the most stress when the flag was flown. The colors have aged in an especially attractive fashion. Note how the interesting shade of seafoam blue contrasts beautifully with the red of its stripes. Numerous darning repairs in the canton were completed to extend its term of service. Many of my clients prefer this sort of presentation, which conveys both the age of the flag and its purpose. Losses and imperfections can be desirable traits. The flag’s small size makes it versatile to display, drawing the attention of both collectors and one-time buyers alike.

In addition to wonderful wear, intriguing colors, military function, and small scale, the list of key features is very strong. The bold configuration of stars, in three different sizes, provides strong graphics for such a rare, Mexican War example. The wide hoist area is complemented by the well-executed hand-stitching. All of these things serve to enhance its relationship to Florida, a significant state for which practically no early flags survive. To the best of my knowledge, the state itself does not own an original 27 star flag. The existence of this terrific example provides an especially exciting opportunity to an audience interested in Florida history.

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 staff. We take great care in the mounting and presentation of flags and have preserved thousands of examples.

The black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed molding is Italian. The background fabric is 100% cotton twill, black in color. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass. Feel free to contact us for more details.

Condition: In addition to what is described above in the body of the text, there is modest oxidation throughout, accompanied by minor to moderate soiling. There are two extremely small holes with dark staining in the top center of the canton and two of the same near the center of the last white stripe. There is a series of tiny holes along the top edge of the canton, just below the seam. There are pinprick-sized holes elsewhere throughout. There is some fraying and previously unmentioned loss along the hoist end. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind the hoist binding during the mounting process. Many of my clients prefer early flags to display their age and history of use. The flag displays beautifully and its extreme rarity well-warrants any condition issues.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 27
Earliest Date of Origin: 1845
Latest Date of Origin: 1856
State/Affiliation: Florida
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: SOLD

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