|34 UPSIDE-DOWN, HAND-SEWN STARS IN A NOTCHED CONFIGURATION, ON AN ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG OF THE CIVIL WAR PERIOD, WITH A BEAUTIFUL AND HIGHLY UNUSUAL JACQUARD WEAVE BINDING, AND IN A TINY SCALE AMONG ITS COUNTERPARTS, REFLECTS THE ADDITION OF KANSAS AS THE 34TH STATE, 1861-1863
|Frame Size (H x L):
|48" x 59.5"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|36.25" x 48.5"
|34 star American national flag with a number of interesting and desirable features. Chief among these is the scale of the flag among counterparts of the period. At just three by four feet, its size is absolutely tiny among those with pieced-and-sewn construction. During the 19th century, sewn flags (as opposed to those that were printed on cloth) 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, carried on foot, were approximately six by six and-one-half feet, about the size of an average quilt of the same period. It wasn't until the 1890’s that manufacturers began to produce smaller sewn flags in great quantity.
The stars of the flag are arranged in justified lineal rows, the first of which contains one fewer star. This results in what I call a “notched” design, leaving one space open for the addition of another star. The blank space leaves little doubt that the maker of the flag assumed that another Western Territory would soon acquire statehood, or that West Virginia might soon break free from Virginia, which occurred in June of 1863.
Note how the stars are oriented so that they are upside-down on their vertical axis, with two points up instead of one. No one knows if this positioning bore any particular meaning. Both modern notions of the correct orientation of a star, and the present official design of the American flag, dictate that the stars are supposed to have one point up. Since there was no official design for the flag until 1912, however, it may simply be that the maker of the flag did not consider any particular position to be right-side-up or upside-down. In the mid-19th century, it was not uncommon to see stars pointing any which way, varied throughout whatever arrangement was chosen. Whatever the case may be, the feature present on this particular flag is unusual to the eye and notable in terms of its presentation.
Made of cotton, the stars are hand-sewn and double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). The canton and stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting. Because blue wool bunting generally came in a width of 18", the canton was pieced from two lengths of fabric, joined by hand-stitching. The canton is joined to the striped field by hand-stitching. The stripes are pieced and hemmed by treadle stitching.
Made of heavy, polished, jacquard weave linen, the binding of the flag is both exceptional from a textile connoisseur’s perspective and highly unusual. This is joined to the flag by treadle stitching. There are two brass grommets, one each at the top and bottom of the hoist, which are likewise especially unusual, in that they are both heavier than normal and intentionally hammered flat. I have seen this on only one other occasion in a Civil War flag that was certainly constructed by the same maker. Though it lacked the jacquard weave hoist, the size, proportions, star count, configuration, and upside-down orientation of the stars throughout were identical. The mix of hand and treadle stitching differed only slightly. Found hanging in the rafters of a barn near the town of Newport, Pennsylvania, north of Harrisburg, in rural, Perry County, I suspect that both it, and the flag that is the subject of this narrative, were made in a small, cottage industry setting.
The initials “J.D.” or “J.B.,” followed by the name “Hawkins” or “Hawkens,” is written along the hoist with a dip pen. This would be the name of a former owner. It was common to mark flags in this manner during the 19th and early 20th centuries, to indicate ownership. Because the last name of “Hawkins” is rather common, and because most men didn’t list a middle initial, it is very difficult to tie this name to a particular soldier without more information. When researching the possibilities of the men with that surname, given the circumstances of the other flag having been found in rural Pennsylvania, and the use of a middle initial on the flag, I was keenly alert to regiments from that state. There was a James B. Harkins of Philadelphia, age 22, who enlisted as a volunteer at the rank of private on August 15th, 1862, into Company "K" of the 119th Pennsylvania Infantry. He was wounded on December 13th of that year at Fredericksburg, after which his left leg was amputated. He survived the war, having been discharged on March 19th, 1863, but passed on May 19th, 1867. Though his term of service was brief, he was the only volunteer with that surname, and a first name that began with the letter “J,” who listed a middle initial of either “B” or “D.”
Kansas was admitted into the Union as the 34th state on January 29th, 1861, about 2½ months before the Confederate assault on Fort Sumter that marked the beginning of the Civil War. The 34th star was officially added on July 4th of that year, but most flag makers would have added a 34th star with the addition of Kansas in January. The star count remained official until July 4th, 1863, and 34 star flags would have been produced until the addition of West Virginia in June of that year.
Due to the combination of the flag’s size, the unusual jacquard weave binding, it’s small scale, the notched star pattern, upside-down stars, and unusual, hand-made grommets, this is an exceptional example of Civil War flag-making.
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, that has been washed and treated for colorfastness. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic (Plexiglas).
Condition: There is minor mothing throughout, accompanied by modest occurrences of the same in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th stripes. There is a moderate tear with associated loss in the 1st stripe, and a small hole with some bleaching in the canton, in the bottom center. There is modest to moderate soiling in the striped field, beyond the canton, and minor soiling and oxidation elsewhere. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
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|Earliest Date of Origin:
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|1861-1865 Civil War
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