|35 STAR ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG OF THE CIVIL WAR PERIOD, IN A DESIRABLE SMALL SCALE AMONG ITS COUNTERPARTS, WITH A RARE AND BEAUTIFUL "SNOWBALL MEDALLION"; LIKELY MADE IN BALTIMORE BY SAILMAKER JABEZ LOANE; REFLECTS THE TIME WHEN WEST VIRGINIA WAS THE MOST RECENT STATE TO JOIN THE UNION, 1863-1865
|Frame Size (H x L):
|52.75" x 70"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|41.25" x 58.5"
|35 star American national flag, in an unusual, small size and with beautiful graphics; likely produced by an identified maker. The stars of the flag are arranged in what is known as a medallion configuration. This particular variety can be considered a double-wreath, due to its two concentric rings of stars. Many flags in this basic design have a large star in the very center, but here there is a small star, instead, which is the same size as the remaining 34.
Far more unusual is the lack of a single star in each corner of the blue canton, beyond the outer wreath. Among flags with star counts greater than 13, circular and oval arrangements almost always include these. In my opinion, the very rare instances where what I call "flanking corner stars" are absent, are even more visually attractive than their respective counterparts, because the simpler design is more pleasing to the eye. I have termed these completely circular designs "snowball medallions" and they represent my all-time favorite patterns in flag collecting.
Interestingly enough, while flanking corner stars are not present in this instance, the flag is directly related to two other 35 star examples where they are present. One of these I formerly owned. Both reside in private collections and appear to be linked to a Baltimore sail and flag-maker by the name of Jabez W. Loane.
Loane was in business with as early as 1859 under the name Loane and Graffin at 10 Bolby’s Wharf. He was alone between 1863 and 65 (the basic time at which this flag was made) with an address of 2 Bolby’s Wharf, listed as: “Sailmaker, Marine, National & Fancy Mfgrs. At 2 Bolby’s and U.S. Flag Store, 67 W. Pratt [Street]”. In 1865 he was advertising in the Baltimore City Directory as “U.S. Flag Depot” and listed as having: “…On hand muslin, merino, silk, and bunting flags…for decoration of parlors, public halls, public buildings, ships, steam boats. Also a veried assortment of flag staffs and ornaments such as spears, eagles, gilt and painted balls, acorns, etc.” Records of his business continue until 1910, but were no longer listed in 1915.*
Seldom do we know who made any given flag during the 19th century. Few makers marked their flags, and few photos can tie a flag to a particular manufacturer. This particular flag, however, unlike most others, has a couple of clues that aid in its identification. Flag expert and museum curator Howard Madaus, had extensive records on Civil War period flags. Drawing on his research across known examples, he attributed a flag in the Zaricor Collection to Loane, documented in his co-authored book: “The American Flag: Two Centuries of Conflict and Conduct,” Madaus, H.M. & Smith, W. (1996, VZ Publications, Santa Cruz, CA), p. 73. The Madaus/Smith attribution is actually made by way of its comparison to other, later flags, specifically identifiable to Loane.
The flag that is the subject of this narrative is effectively the same as the flag in the Madaus/Smith illustration (part of the Zaricor Collection), less the corner stars. It shares the same, unusually narrow hoist binding with grommets at top and bottom. While the measurement on the fly is about ten inches longer, that of the hoist is very close.
The flag that I previously owned provides more clues to the association. It reportedly remained in the possession of the same family since the time it was official (1863-65), during the Civil War, until I acquired it from the great-granddaughter of a physician by the name of Charles F. McEwen*, who was married in Maryland and was either a Pennsylvania or a Maryland resident during the war. It employs the same narrow binding and grommets, and displays the same number of stars in each wreath, arranged in the same fashion, all with a single point facing inward. Even possibly more telling is the unusual inclusion of a length of hemp rope, set within the hem, along the fly end. I have seen rope before, sewn on the fly, but it is very unusual and I don’t recall ever seeing it actually sewn inside the hem. The flag in the Madaus/Smith text (also documented elsewhere) appears to have a piece of rope protruding from the hem on the last white stripe. While the two flags are different in length, at 57.5 inches for the McEwen example versus 67.5 inches for the Madaus/Smith flag, the height of each flag is the same at 40 inches. 3 feet 4 inches is an odd measurement and, based on the facts already outlined above, is probably no coincidence.
The hoist binding on the flag that is the subject of this narrative is the same as the other two. While the manner of stitching of the hoist on the Madaus/Smith example is unknown to me, both the McEwen example and this one are bound with a distinctly odd and rather thick line of interlocking chain stitch. The McEwen example and this one are almost identical in size, with just an inch of variance each way, easily the result of shrinkage or slight human error. In addition, the hem of all three flags at the fly end appears to be approximately the same width, and all three are rolled toward the obverse (front) of the flag.
West Virginia broke off from Virginia and was admitted into the Union as the 35th state (a Free State) on June 20th, 1863. This took place in the midst of the Civil War, eleven days before the battle of Gettysburg, which occurred from July 1st-3rd. The 35th star was thus officially added on the following day, and the 35 star flag remained official until the July 4th, 1865, after the war’s close.
In the meantime, Nevada joined the Union as the 36th state on October 31st, 1864, a few days before Lincoln’s second election. Not wanting to produce flags that would soon be out-of-date, most flag-makers would have included a 36th star upon Nevada’s admission. This meant that 35 star flags were realistically produced for less than a year-and-a-half. Scarcity is one reason why 35 star flags are so interesting. Far fewer flags are known in this count than in the 34-star count that proceeded it. 34 star flags had been produced in surplus, with ramped up production upon the outbreak of war. Because the January, 1861 – June, 1863 term of the 34 star flag was so short, there was marginal need of replacement with a 35 star flag between mid-1863 and the fall of 1864. So demand for 35 star flags was rather low to begin with.
Adding to the flag's appeal is its small scale. During the 19th century, flags with pieced-and-sewn construction (as opposed to printed) 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 and thus practically the size of an average quilt of the same period. Measuring just 35 x 55.5 inches, this is extremely small among its surviving counterparts.
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 generally 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 small size of this example among its counterparts, and the fact that it contains the complete star count, add considerable interest to flag collectors, most of whom prefer smaller flags because they are more practical to frame and display.
The combination of small size, a beautiful star pattern, a probable, known maker, and a Civil War date, result in an exceptional flag for any collection.
Construction: The stars of the flag are made of cotton and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). The canton and stripes are made of wool bunting that has been pieced and joined with treadle stitching. The hoist is made of heavy cotton and applied with chain-style treadle stitching. This type of stitch saw very short-term use on flags made during the second half of the war, which is consistent with the star count. There are two brass grommets, one each at the top and bottom of the hoist.
* Information on Jabez Loane obtained from: Bazelon & McGuinn, “Military Goods Dealers and Makers, 1785-1915” (1999, Bazelon & McGuinn), p. 166. 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 and hand-gilded molding, with its broad, early American profile, is Italian. The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass.
Condition: There is minor loss with associated fraying on the three sides away from the staff. There are 2 small holes in the canton, each contained within one of the stars, and there are a couple of pinprick-sized holes elsewhere. There is minor oxidation and soiling. There is some pigment loss toward the fly end. There is some misprinting in the canton, one line of which extends into the 4th red stripe.
Condition: There is minor to modest loss in the upper, hoist end corner of the canton and there are two darning repairs in this quadrant. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind the canton during the mounting process. There is minor foxing and staining along the hoist binding and in the stars, accompanied by two, roughly circular stains in the 2nd and 3rd white stripes. There are minor losses in the striped field, accompanied by areas of modest loss in the upper, fly end corner and lower, hoist end corner. There is significant loss in the lower, fly end corner. The flag was obviously flown for a significant period.
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|1861-1865 Civil War
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