Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
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  44 STARS IN AN INTERESTING, NOTCHED CONFIGURATION, ON AN ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG MADE BY THE U.S. BUNTING COMPANY IN LOWELL, MASSACHUSETTS, REFLECTS THE ERA WHEN WYOMING WAS THE MOST RECENT STATE TO JOIN THE UNION, 1890-1896

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 51" x 77.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 38.5" x 65"
Description....:
44 star American national flag, press-dyed on wool bunting. The stars are configured in what is known as a "notched" pattern, in which four spaces were left open along the left edge, in anticipation that more Western Territories would soon be added. This particular star configuration, with stars in the 2nd and 5th rows only, along the hoist end, is a highly unusual one within the 44 star count. Most 44 star flags display stars in some assemblage of staggered rows, offset from one-another, as opposed to justified. While other 44 star flags with justified stars in notched designs are known, the most often encountered variants display a star in just the first and last rows, along the hoist, with 4 open spaces in between, or with a single star “absent” in all four corners.

Wyoming became the 44th state on July 10th, 1890. Even though the 44 star flag was not official until July 4th, 1891, most flag-makers would have begun to add a 44th star to their flags as soon as Wyoming declared statehood, or perhaps even before the state was actually added. Because flag-making was a competitive venture, flag-makers did not want to be producing 43 star flags, for example, when their competitors were selling 44’s. The 44 star flag would have generally seen use until the addition of Utah in 1896.

The flag is made of three panels of fabric that have been pieced and joined with treadle stitching. There is a sailcloth, canvas binding along the hoist, with three brass grommets. The binding was applied with treadle stitching and the fly end was hemmed by the same method. Near the top, on the obverse, the following text is stenciled in black: “Patented April 26. 1870. American Ensign. 5 ft." The flag was made by the U.S. Bunting Co., in Lowell, Massachusetts and was likely intended for nautical use. Versions of this stencil are seen on other known U.S. Bunting Co. examples. The 1870 patent, secured by John Holt, relates to the use of the clamp-dying process for flag production. The U.S. Navy was in the habit of using 13 star flags on its small boats during the second half of the 19th century, not flags with the full star count, like this one, but there were probably exceptions to that rule. The U.S. Bunting Company was owned in part by Civil War General Benjamin Butler, who had a great deal of both political and military clout and is known to have sought and obtained Naval contracts. At approximately 5.5 feet, the length of the flag would have matched U.S. Navy Regulations for a No. 7 small boat ensign between 1889 and 1912, which encompassed the period when there were 44 states (1890-1896). Though the height of the flag is inaccurate, at approximately 3.2 feet—an odd measurement—it does happen to match 1870-1882 regulations for a No. 13 small boat flag. Regulations do not seem to have been adhered to very strictly. Probably the hoist requirement was ignored by the firm, or by the quartermaster, to get a better price. This was outside wartime, and it is likely that pre-dyed fabric that was on hand, and/or the apparatus to make it, dictated this measurement. Unlike the hoist measurement, which was determined by the width of the stripes, the fly specifications could be easily achieved by clipping the striped fabric at the appropriate length.

When a ship sailed into a foreign port, it would hoist a small, national flag of whatever nation the port belonged to. U.S. Bunting Co. was a for-profit and opportunistic maker, would have sold to anyone in need of a flag, including an international audience. The reason for the inclusion of the word “American” on the stencil would have been for quick identification of the flag, among others, within the stores of foreign ships, sailing into American ports.

The name "McGlint" or “McClint” is inscribed in pencil on the reverse of the binding, near the bottom. This would have been the name of a former owner, or perhaps—though much less likely—a ship. It was particularly common to mark flags for personal ownership, in this fashion, between the 19th and early 20th centuries.

At just 5.5 feet in length, the scale is actually very small among most flags of this nature, made from multiple pieces of fabric, for long-term, outdoor use. All-in-all, this is a great example within the 44 star count, by an identified maker, in an unusual star pattern, and in a bold yet manageable scale to frame and display.

Some Notes on the Press-Dying Process:
First patented in 1849, the press-dying process was thought to be a novel idea that would improve flag-making efficiency. In this case, for example, it could potentially alleviate the chore of hand-appliquéing 88 stars (44 on each side). In reality, however, the result must have been less efficient than sewing. To achieve white stars, for example, metal plates in the shape of stars had to be clamped to either side of a length of woolen fabric, in the desired configuration, so they were back-to-back. These may have been lightly brushed beforehand with a solution that would resist dye, or perhaps with a thin coat of wax. The stars were clamped together tightly, the bunting was dyed blue, and the areas where the metal stars were positioned would be left white. For flags with press-dyed stripes, the same task was repeated with different clamps.

A form of resist-dyeing, this method often resulted in crude characteristics, such as stripes with irregular lines, in various widths, and stars with inconsistent shapes, in slightly varying sizes. It is likely that this resulted in some lost product and wasted time, from flags that had bleeding or misprint issues and were of too poor quality to sell. Within those flags that survived, today’s collectors today find the irregularities interesting, not only because they demonstrate early production methods, but also because they lend the sort of folk qualities that make early flags more interesting to look at.

Wool was preferred because it sheds water, making it the fabric of choice for all maritime flags and, in fact, most flags produced by professional flag-makers for long-term outdoor use. Whatever the case may be, printing on wool is costly and difficult. Even today, only about 1% of wool fabric is printed*, because it generally needs to be washed afterward and wool cannot easily be treated with water.

Press-dying was primarily used during the Centennial-era by the U.S. Bunting Company of Lowell, Massachusetts, which began making press-dyed flags for the U.S. military in 1869, and by Horstmann Brothers. The U.S. Bunting Co. was one of the first flag-makers to successfully produce high quality wool bunting fabric in the States, and while its owners worked diligently to master the press-dyeing process, it seems quite obvious today that it was actually more costly than anticipated. This would explain why it never became a popular method of flag production.

* Chen, W., Wang, G., & Bai, Y., “Best for Wool Fabric Printing…,” (Textile Asia, 2002, v.33 (12)), pp. 37-39.

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

Condition: There is moderate loss at the fly end of the first red stripe, accompanied by two modest holes, one bridging from the first red stripe into the white stripe below, and the other entirely in that same white stripe. There are very minor holes elsewhere, in limited areas. There is minor to modest water staining in the 3rd and 4th white stripes, and minor oxidation elsewhere throughout. Pentagons with pie cut lines were penciled within the center of the bottom two stars in the last column, toward the hoist. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 44
Earliest Date of Origin: 1890
Latest Date of Origin: 1896
State/Affiliation: Wyoming
War Association: 1866-1890 Indian Wars
Price: SOLD
 

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