Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 47" x 68"
Flag Size (H x L): 36" x 57"
32 star American flags are rare. This is largely because they were only official for one year (1858-59), but it is also because their period of use was prior to the Civil War, in an era when use of the Stars & Stripes in the private sector was slim-to-non-existent.

Minnesota joined the Union as the 32nd state on May 11th, 1858. The 32 star flag became official on July 4th of that year and remained so until July 3rd of 1859, but since Oregon joined the Union on February 14th (Valentines Day), 1859, production of 32 star flags probably ceased well before July. No one cared what was official, only what was practical, so as soon as there was a new state, (or even sometimes beforehand, in anticipation of the event,) an additional star might be added. Because this was effectively a one-year flag, surviving examples are extremely scarce.

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, and even then did not often exercise the right, because it was neither required nor customary. The foremost purpose before the Mexican War (1846-48) 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 war that it was officially carried in was the Mexican War (1846-48), but this was short-lived and the number of troops that participated was small. The population of America was small. When General Fremont entered California at about the same time to claim control of the territory, attempting to box out Mexico and Great Britain, did so very effectively with 100 men. With this tiny force he easily took Los Angeles and numerous other settlements. The total population of the entirety of Texas in 1848 was approximately 116,000, not counting slaves.

Because no wars were in progress in the period of Minnesota Statehood, between 1858 and 1859, there was very little need for flag production.

Some pre-Civil War star counts were reproduced after the Civil War for a myriad of purposes, including such things as World’s Fairs and anniversaries of statehood. For all practical purposes, however, 32 star flags were not. There is only one known, commercially-made style, and within that design, only 3 or 4 examples exist. This particular flag is one of them.

The flag was likely produced sometime between 1892 and 1926, for one of several possible purposes. Given its construction, the earliest viable theory is that it was made between 1892-93 for the Minnesota Pavillon at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (The World's Columbian Exposition). The zigzag stitch used to appliqué the stars was patented for use on flags in 1892. In itself this means relatively little in terms of dating the flag, as the zigzag stitch soon became the most popular method of applying stars to flags and it remained so until just after WWII. But the particular shade of indigo blue colored wool bunting and the hourglass star configuration are both suggestive of such a date. Both are seen with some frequently on 44 star examples, made between 1890 and 1896. With larger rows at the top and bottom, the star configuration does look like the hourglass pattern that was popular in flags of the 44 star count. This dusty blue coloration is also encountered in flags made at the tail end of the 38 star period (1876-1889), at the very beginning of the 45 star period (1896-1908), as well as in 13 star flags being made during the 1st half of the 1890's.

Some alternative theories are that the flag might have been made for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis (The Louisiana Purchase Exposition), or to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the addition of Minnesota in 1908, or for the Minnesota Pavillion at the U.S. Sesquicentennial Expo in Philadelphia in 1926 (our nation’s 150th anniversary of independence). Whatever the case may be, this particular variety remains undocumented in any text, but I own a remarkable postcard that dates sometime between the 1890's and the 1920's, that features a photo of one of these exact flags being hung at some kind of tented camp, perhaps during a Civil War or Spanish American War veteran's reunion. A digital copy of the image accompanies this flag.

The stars on this flag are configured in rows of 6-5-5-5-5-6, with the top and bottom rows offset so that they resemble a broad hourglass. This is an attractive pattern that stands out from more common lineal formations. The particular way that the rows are staggered resembles yet another odd type of lineal configuration that I call “Global Rows”, because of the way in which the stars resemble a two-dimensional representation of a world map. This is seen on a notable variety of 34 star parade flag (1861-63), but is rarely encountered on sewn examples of any period.

The canton and stripes of the flag are constructed of wool bunting that has been pieced by machine. The stars, which all point upward, are double appliquéd (applied to both sides of the blue canton), made of cotton, and machine-sewn with a zigzag stitch. There is a twill cotton binding along the hoist with two metal grommets, each a combination of brass and white metal. Near the top, on the obverse, “3 x 5” is inscribed in charcoal or pencil, to indicate size in feet.

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

Condition: There is very minor mothing, accompanied by minor foxing, but there are no significant condition issues.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 32
Earliest Date of Origin: 1892
Latest Date of Origin: 1926
State/Affiliation: Minnesota
War Association:
Price: SOLD

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