Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
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Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): 68" x 135"
Flag Size (H x L): 56" x 122"
American national flags with 28 stars, made at the time when Texas gained statehood, are among the most rare and desirable of the 19th century. Very few period examples exist in any form and most major collections of early flags that have been assembled over the years have not included one.

Part of the reason why 28 star flags are so rare is the early date. Another is the manner of use of the Stars & Stripes in this early period. And of equal importance is the fact that the star count was official for only one year.

Texas became the 28th state on December 29th, 1845. After the Third Flag Act (1818), stars were officially added to the American flag on the 4th of July following a state's addition. This meant that the 28th star would theoretically have been added on July 4th, 1846. Because the makers of flags both private and public cared little for the acts of Congress, however, the 28th star would have been added by most makers at the time of the addition of the state. Some may have perhaps even added it shortly beforehand, in anticipation of the event. The practice of making anticipatory flags was popular in early America, when the nation was eager for expansion.

Iowa became the 29th state just one day shy of a year following Texas' addition, on December 28th, 1846. While the 29th star was not officially added until July 4th, 1847, most flag-makers would have once again added it on or before Iowa's addition. So the production of 28 star flags had a window of approximately one year in length, which meant that it was one of the shortest lasting star counts in American history.

Another reason that 28 star flags are so scarce is that they were produced during a time before the Stars & Stripes was in widespread use. 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.

If rarity is one driver of desirability, relevance to a significant population of capable, patriotic collectors is another. Before 1836, Mexico considered Texas part of its own territory. In that year a revolution was launched that resulted in independence. For the next nine years the Republic of Texas was a nation unto itself and selected its own president.

Texas statehood, in 1845, was immediately followed by war with Mexico, which contested its ownership. The war was short, beginning in 1846, concluding in 1847, and consummated by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2nd, 1848.

In addition to being the largest body of land among the contiguous 48 states, the circumstance of Texas having been an independent entity was unique (until Hawaii joined the Union 114 years later) and is undoubtedly one reason why Texas patriotism has remained so keen. It is also a state where great wealth was amassed from American capitalism in land-driven enterprises such as ranching and oil. Success in these businesses and others played its own role in the development of independent-minded men and women, a significant portion of whom are proud to be Texans first and Americans second. Many are fascinated with the history of the Republic, its role as part of the American South, and the combined heritage of Texas and America together. All of the above plays a role in the desirability of Texas-related material.

The number of surviving 28 star flags is tiny, certainly fewer than 10. While the first, small, printed parade flags surfaced during the period when we had 26 states (1837-1844), just one printed flag is presently known in the 28 star count that may, in fact, date to the 1845-46 period. All other known examples made during this very brief time frame are of pieced-and-sewn construction.

The stars of the flag are painted on glazed cotton chintz, the royal blue color of which is simply beautiful. Painted stars are an unusual feature, seldom encountered in flags of the mid-19th century. Canted at a slight angle, so that one arm is directed in the 1:00 position when viewed on the obverse (front), these are arranged in 4 rows of 7.

All of the stitching throughout is by hand. The red, white, and blue stripes are an extraordinary feature. This is more commonly thought of as an 18th century trait, present in some of the earliest illustrations of American flags. Although it can be seen in illustrations throughout the Federal period through the 1850’s, almost nothing exists with this trait among actual, surviving examples. Note that the count of stripes is just 11 instead of the expected 13. While this could bear some meaning, it is more likely to reflect the mere scarcity of available fabric. The use of white paint for the stars and the inclusion of blue stripes both tend to support this hypothesis, as does the fact that 9 of the 11 stripes were pieced of multiple lengths of cloth, a clue to the fact that all three colors were in short supply.

The canton is pieced from four lengths of fabric, two of them narrow and two perhaps of the full width of the original bolt. Each of the three blue stripes are pieced from three lengths. The third white stripe is pieced from three lengths, with the first seamed in reverse. This may reflect a repair during its course of use as opposed to original construction. The last two white stripes are of two lengths. The third red stripe is pieced from two lengths of cotton and the last from three. It appears that a lack of red was the issue, as white was used between each of the blue and red.

There is a cotton binding along the hoist with eight brass rings stitched at regular intervals. This indicates that the flag was likely intended to be hand-carried. Although this would have been too long to carry on foot without an extremely long staff of significantly inconvenient and unwieldy length, the impracticality of the scale of the flag for ground use may have only become apparent after the flag was completed. Black cotton ties are affixed to the bottom and topmost rings.

In concise summary, this is one of the rarest 19th century flags that one may encounter, with one of the most desirable star counts, great colors, and reflecting the addition of a wealthy, large, and seriously patriotic state.

Provenance: Exhibited for approximately 15 years at the The Bullock Texas State History Museum, Austin; Illustrated in “A Grand Old Flag: A History of the United States Through its Flags” by Keim, Peter (2007, DK Adult, New York).

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 preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples.

The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% cotton twill, black in color, that has been washed and treated for colorfastness. The substantial, black-painted molding is mahogany, custom-made with extraordinary craftsmanship, with a beveled profile and Hicks-style corner blocking. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.

Condition: Losses at the fly end of the top and bottom stripes were turned back and hemmed as a means of repair. There is a long horizontal tear in the 2nd red stripe, running between 2/5 and 1/3 of the length from the fly end, with minor to modest breakdown and losses at the end of the same. There is a small, vertical, stitched repair in the bottom red stripe, about 1/3 of the distance from the fly end. There are a few extremely minor holes elsewhere in the striped field. There is a small tear in the canton, near the top center and a couple of tiny holes. There is breakdown in and adjacent to a few of the stars and minor losses in the stars, which are more brittle than the surrounding fabric due to the stiffness of the paint. There is minor to moderate water staining in the white fabrics. There is modest to moderate fading of the red stripes. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. The flag presents beautifully, and the extreme rarity warrants almost any condition.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 28
Earliest Date of Origin: 1845
Latest Date of Origin: 1846
State/Affiliation: Texas
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: SOLD

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