|CALIFORNIA "BEAR" FLAG, MADE IN OR AROUND THE TIME THAT THE DESIGN WAS OFFICIALLY ADOPTED AS THE CALIFORNIA STATE FLAG, in 1911, OR POSSIBLY PRIOR, SIGNED “SADLER”, circa 1899-1915
|Frame Size (H x L):||29.25" x 41.75"|
|Flag Size (H x L):||21.5" x 33.75"|
|California State parade flag, printed on cotton. The bear in this example is very finely executed, with a copperplate engraving, the artwork almost stippled in nature. The words “California Republic” are rendered in the same manner. The red star is block-printed, and the red bar is made of a length of red cotton, applied by machine. The seam between the bar and field is not rolled over, with the edge of the white fabric left raw. The left, right, and bottom edges are properly hemmed with machine stitching, while the upper edge of the white fabric has selvage.
Absent is the familiar green grass seen on modern examples. In its place is a barren surface, within which is a small, open window, just behind the back-most foot, which includes the signature of either the maker or the engraver: “Sadler.” The overall design and presentation bears close similarity to two other flags that I acquired and sold, in the same scale, and with a similar bear, each signed “D&M Co.” One of these bore a 1912 inscription from a chapter of the N.S.G.W. (Native Sons of the Golden West) fraternal organization. Working simply from memory, the Sadler & D&C flags seemed nearly identical to me, signed in the same odd place. In reality, when I was able to compare the images, I immediately discovered that the manner in which the bear was executed was very different, the signature, of course, was different, and the stripe is sewn on the Sadler example, while printed on the D&C flag. In addition, the star was both oriented and centered differently on the white field, being both significantly lower and closer to the hoist on the “Sadler” flag, which is also a couple of inches smaller in both directions. Because there seems to have been wide variation across the board in all manner of state devices, regardless of the state, none of these differences are in any way earth-shattering. In fact, as a rule, the earlier the examples, the more deviation there is.
Due to the superior quality of the Sadler engraving, which is much more beautiful than the D&C example and looks to be earlier, with much more of a 19th century sensibility and overall appearance, I lean toward dating the flag pre-1911, and possibly even pre-1900. The NSGW was formed in 1875 in San Francisco and very active there in the last quarter of the 19th century, and especially involved in celebrations of California Admission Day (September 9th) and Bear Flag celebrations. There is a listing for a firm called Sadler & Co (estate of Caleb Sadler) wholesale notions, stationery, toys, etc., 537 Market , tel Black 1081, in the 1899 San Francisco Crocker-Langley Business Directory (p.1504). As a stationer, Sadler & Co. seems a likely source for the engraved image and, very likely, the flags. Given this information, I would set the most probable window of origin between 1899 and 1915, the latter date representing the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition (The San Francisco World’s Fair), in 1915, an event that would require a massive amount of celebratory, patriotic material and much involvement of the NSGW.
Early state flags fall between very scarce and extraordinarily rare in the antiques marketplace. One primary reason for this is that most states, even if they existed during the 18th or 19th century, didn’t actually adopt flags until the early 20th century. The Maryland State Legislature, for example, didn’t find need for a state banner until 1904, in spite of the fact that Maryland was one of the original 13 colonies. Other states had crests or symbols that were tied to the state legislature in some way, or to local patriotism, but didn't accept an official design until many years following statehood.
The bear flag did not become the official California state flag until it was adopted by the California State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Hiram Johnson in 1911. States were regularly participating in World’s Fair events by this time—popular between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries—and were probably compelled to create state banners because other states were doing so. Fair committees were no doubt requesting that states submit the official designs for their seal and flag, and anyone not doing so would be left out of displays where all were shown, etc.
In the case of California, the "Bear Flag," as all California state flags and variations thereof are often called, is based on a significant early example. The eldest of these is thought to date to the 1846 “Bear Flag Revolt,” which occurred when Major John Fremont arrived in the state on a so-called mission to reach the Pacific and encouraged an uprising against Mexican rule in the territory. Fremont claimed himself military governor of the California Republic and was brought up on charges of treason for his actions, but was pardoned by President James Polk. Polk was an expansionist and Fremont’s actions brought California to statehood in 1850, immediately following the 1849 Gold Rush.
The original Bear Flag was designed and made by William L. Todd, a first cousin to Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd. Painted on cotton, it had a white field with a red stripe along the bottom, just the like modern design. The star image was taken from what was known as the “California Lone Star Flag”, flown during California's previous, 1836 revolt. Like the modern California flag, the red star appeared the upper hoist-end corner, but the bear was placed next to the star. On a later version, designed by a man named Peter Storm in 1870, the bear was fierce and walking. On the modern design it is black and brown, centered on the field, prominently huge, and walking.
The bear on the first bear flag and other early bear flags more closely resembles the more common American black bear than a grizzly, seen in the lack of shoulder hump and narrower muzzle. The bear on Storm’s 1870 version closely resembles the coat of arms of Bern, Switzerland, its capital city. The coat of arms displays a black bear walking toward the left with fierce claws and a protruding tongue. It is of interest to note that Switzerland was the home country of John Sutter, who established Sutter's Fort, in the area which would spawn the California Gold Rush and eventually become Sacramento, California's state capital.
On Todd’s 1846 flag, the words “California Republic” were likewise in black, but the letters spanned the width of the star and bear images and were placed immediately below them. Today they are underneath the large bear, just above the red bar. Unfortunately, Todd’s flag was destroyed in the fires following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, but an image of it survives in a photograph, taken in 1890.
Mounting: For 20 years we have operated our own textile conservation business, where we have carefully mounted, preserved, and restored thousands of flags.
The mount was placed in a two-part frame that consists of a scooped profile molding, The two-part frame consists of a mahogany-like, woodgrain molding with a dark finish, nearly black, and a scooped profile, to which a flat, gold molding was added as a liner. This particular flag has been hand-stitched to 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 modest soiling and oxidation, particularly beyond the bear, towards the fly end, gravitating towards the upper corner, and along the hoist, where it is also darkest near the top. Some of this may be the result of bleeding, which is also present around the text with more obvious case and effect. There are tiny tack holes along the hoist and there is modest staining and fading at the fly end of the red bar. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
|Collector Level:||Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything|
|Earliest Date of Origin:||1899|
|Latest Date of Origin:||1915|
|Price:||Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281|