Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
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  27 STARS IN A DOUBLE-WREATH PATTERN ON AN ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG; A HOMEMADE EXAMPLE WITH A BEAUTIFUL, ROYAL BLUE CANTON, WITH AN EXTREMELY RARE STAR COUNT THAT REFLECTS FLORIDA STATEHOOD, OFFICIAL FOR ONLY ONE YEAR, 1845-46

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 41.5" x 60"
Flag Size (H x L): 29.5" x 48"
Description....:
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.

This beautiful, homemade flag, with its striking, royal blue canton, is made entirely of cotton. The 27 stars are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides) in a double-wreath form of what is known as a medallion configuration. This consists of a large center star, surrounded by two rings of smaller stars, with another large star flanking the design in each corner. The striped field, to which the canton is sewn, is of “make-do” fashion. This was conscripted from one of the earliest known varieties of printed cotton parade flags. Made either for either the 1844 presidential campaign of Whig Party candidates Henry Clay & Theodore Frelinghuysen, or, less-likely, from that of Democrats James Polk & George Dallas, the size, color, and texture are readily known to me, from having handled a number of the identified examples that survive in private hands. The names of the candidates, once present in two of the white stripes, were clipped from the field. Cotton fabric, of similar weave and coloration, was stitched in its place. This is something I have encountered previously in mid-19th century campaign flags. In some, but not all instances, the name(s) of other candidates were added in their place. In this case, the flag was evidently made for general, patriotic function. Because the Clay and Polk flags were what are called “portrait” examples, with images of the candidates in the canton, surrounded by 26 stars, the updated, 27 star field, had to be constructed by hand. Three, tint, hand-stitched grommets were added along the hoist. In two of these, lengths of braided cotton twine are knotted.

Note how the large stars in each corner were positioned so that their arms reach into the outermost wreath. While the large, center star is what we might called right-side-up by modern standards, note how the orientation of the stars in the wreaths is random throughout, and how each of the large, flaking corner stars is slightly canted, so that one point tips slightly toward the center. The combination of all of the above adds a nice folk quality to the presentation.

The flag displays various signs of long-term use. The red stripes have weathered in an especially attractive fashion and contrast well with the blue cotton fabric. Modest soiling and water staining actually add to its appearance, rather than detract.

In addition to an almost unknown star count, wonderful wear, intriguing colors, a wonderful star pattern, the size of the flag is especially nice. At approximately 2.5 x 4 feet, the length is far smaller than the average sewn flag of the 19th century, most of which were 8 feet long and larger. Neither too large or too small, this is a perfect balance of bold presentation and manageable scale, ideal for both collectors and most one-time buyers alike.

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: There is a tear in the top-most grommet, with associated breakdown in the surrounding fabric. There is a small-horizontal tear and there is some separation in the seam on the fly-end side of the white fabric patch in the 3rd white stripe. This extends into the red stripe below it, where there are also some very minor tears. There is minor to modest soiling and staining throughout. There is modest to significant fading in the red stripes. 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: 1846
State/Affiliation: Florida
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: SOLD
 

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