Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
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  28 STAR ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG, THE ONLY KNOWN EXAMPLE OF AN ANTIQUE, PRINTED PARADE FLAG IN THIS STAR COUNT IN ANY FORM; REFLECTS THE ADDITION OF TEXAS TO THE UNION AS THE 28TH STATE IN 1845; PROBABLY MADE TO GLORIFY TEXAS ON A PATRIOTIC OCCASION SOMETIME AFTERWARD, LIKELY AT THE 1876 CENTENNIAL OF OUR NATION’S INDEPENDENCE

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 10.25" x 13"
Flag Size (H x L): 4" x 7"
Description....:
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.

This particular 28 star example is a parade flag. Block-printed on glazed cotton, it presently survives as the only known example, not only in this form, but in this star count, across all printed flags of the 19th century.

I have had the great privilege to own thousands of printed, 19th century parade flags. They are one of my foremost interests in vexillology, and I have owned and viewed enough of them to make fairly sound judgments concerning date, based upon fabrics, type of printing, colors, size, comparison to other known examples, hand-written and commercially printed dates, datable events, and, of course, star count.

This is one of those cases where there simply isn’t enough information. In the antiques world, when you don’t know the answer, it’s best to simply say so. Although I am about to make an argument against that, I should recognize the fact that I could be wrong. This flag may have been made at the time that Texas entered the Union, in 1845-46. That early date, plus a 1-year star count, would certainly explain its rarity. Not only is it one-of-a-kind, in terms of being a 28 star parade flag, but it is otherwise atypical of the period in some of its most basic characteristics, including size, star pattern, and fabric. Among its known counterparts in star counts close to it, most flags are very dissimilar from this one. Pre-war parade flags often have a star configuration that is both folky and unusual, combined with other features not often present after 1861. Although examples exist that display a single center star, followed by 2 wreaths of stars, with a star in each corner of the blue canton, this is not an expected design. This traditional type of medallion pattern actually starts to emerge at precisely that time, in the mid-1840’s, but the use of such a generic form of it is one of the first “red flags,” if you will excuse the play on words.

Size is another indicator. While there are a couple of types of printed parade flags in this small scale that are pre-Civil war, they are, in general, very much the exception. At just 4” x 7”, this flag would be extraordinarily unusual for 1845, especially with a basic double-wreath formation. Other printed cotton flags exist from 1837 onward, with all star counts represented in one way or another, but this particular fabric, especially its coloration, and in particular, the white portion of the fabric, is not conducive to what one would expect to see at this time. For lack of better words, it is too white.

The level of glazing is also not typical. Each of these points can be argued, but together, to someone who has seen and physically handled perhaps more printed flags than anyone, the facts and the overall feel and presentation of the object suggest that it is later. I would suggest late Civil War at the earliest. The problem with this period would be the lack of good reason to make a 28 star flag at that time, say between 1864 or 1865, and 1875. Perhaps a Union supporter looking to gain a public office might contract with a flag-maker to simultaneously show federal support and Texas patriotism, by way of the 28 star count. That’s certainly a plausible explanation, it’s just that I don’t presently know of any other parade flags to survive that were made to serve that function, say with newspaper accounts, hand-inscribed or commercially printed messages and dates.

My very best guess, given the textile itself and the associated possibilities, is that it was made for America’s 1876 Centennial, perhaps within Texas itself, or possibly at the Centennial International Exposition, (the six-month-long World’s Fair—our nation’s first on American soil—held in Philadelphia to celebrate the event.)

If I felt that the flag dated to the 1880’s or 1890’s, there would be a couple of other theoretical possibilities, such as festivities surrounding the 50th anniversary of Texas Independence, in 1886, or the 50th anniversary of Texas statehood in 1895—also the year of the Cotton States and International Exposition, a Major World’s Fair, held in Atlanta and focusing on the South. But the color of the flag leans against this likelihood. Strong tomato reds can sometimes be seen in parade flags of the 1880’s - 1890, but were rapidly disappearing in the previous decade. By 1895, I would not expect a flag with the color and characteristics that this one has.

The fact that this flag was likely made in or around 1876, versus 1845-46, is no reason to set aside its significance. Texas-related American national flags of the 19th century, in any form, are simply off-the-charts rare. The number of surviving 28 star flags that actually date to that one year period when we had 28 states, is minuscule—certainly fewer than 10. Those that date to the late 19th century can be counted on one hand. Beyond the single, printed parade flag that is the subject of this narrative, I owned one pieced-and-sewn example, and have vague recollection of perhaps one other.

All-in-all, an absolutely exceptional addition to any flag collection.

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 solid walnut molding dates to the period between 1865 and the 1880’s. Carved to resemble tree trunks, it retains great, early, black-painted surface and its original, gilded liner. The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% cotton twill, black in color, that has been washed and treated for colorfastness. Spacers keep the textile away from the glazing, which is U.V. protective glass.

Condition: There was significant soiling along the hoist end, some running into the white stripes below the canton. This was cleaned, then was professionally minimized with reversible pigments. There is minor soiling elsewhere in limited areas. 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: Parade flag
Star Count: 28
Earliest Date of Origin: 1845
Latest Date of Origin: 1876
State/Affiliation: Texas
War Association:
Price: SOLD
 

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