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  RARE 38 STAR ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG, MADE FOR THE 1880 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN OF JAMES GARFIELD & CHESTER ARTHUR, WITH STRONG COLORS AND WHIMSICAL, WESTERN STYLE LETTERING

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 20" x 25"
Flag Size (H x L): 10" x 14.75"
Description....:
38 star American national parade flag, printed on coarse, glazed cotton, made for the 1880 presidential campaign of James A. Garfield and Chester Arthur.

Note how the jointed characters that form the candidates' names add to its striking visual qualities. As with most campaign parade flags, the letters are is block-printed over the striped field. It can be difficult to determine the material employed to construct a 19th century print block, which could have been a letter press, made of engraved metal, or a simpler tool, made of carved wood, possibly with applied felt or leather. In this instance, the folk style font, with its distinctly Western style sensibility, was carved into wooden blocks by way of a simple, half-oval chisel. The same style of lettering is seen on a much larger flag that I previously acquired and sold 28” x 43”), that resides in a private collection. That example is basically the same, though it has count of just 34 stars, presumably to reference Garfield’s Civil War, military service as Union Army general. It is of interest to note that the use of the 34 star count is also seen on a flag made for the campaign of opposing Democrat candidate Winfield Scott Hancock, who had an illustrious Civil War military career. Hancock used this platform to appeal to the primary voting audience in the North, that was predominantly comprised of Union Army veterans. Garfield and/or his supporters may have chosen 34 star flags as one method of counterbalance.

Colorado became the 38th state in 1876. The 38 star flag technically became official the following year, on July 4th, 1877, and remained so until July 3rd, 1890, following the addition of 4 more states

A flag in the same approximate size and style as this 38 star example is documented as item #486 in “Threads of History”, by Herbert Ridgeway Collins (Smithsonian Press, 1979), p. 224. Collins served as curator of political history at the Smithsonian and his book serves as the most complete reference on surviving political campaign textiles.

Note the beautiful, royal blue canton and how it contrasts with the bold, chromatic, burnt orange color of the red stripes. This is a product of the pigment employed in the printing of the many parade flags during the mid-late 19th century. Tinted with cochineal, their hue is both peculiar and attractive, as well as substantially different from that seen in their modern counterparts. Note also how the stars point in various directions on their vertical axis, which adds to the overall presentation.

The 1880 election, its candidates, and the unfortunate event that followed made for one of the most interesting campaigns and presidencies. While the campaign platforms were relatively uninteresting, because they were so similar, the election results would become one of the most unusual in American presidential politics. Garfield and Hancock nearly tied in the popular vote, tallying 4,446,158 and 4,444,260, respectively. This represented approximately 48.3% for each candidate. Garfield won the electoral vote, however, 214 to 155. The margin between the two candidates in the popular vote remains the smallest ever in U.S. history.

On July 2nd, 1881, Garfield became the second U.S. president to be assassinated, when he was shot twice in a train station in Washington by Charles J. Guiteau, a disgruntled and mentally unstable office-seeker. The President lived until September 19th, when he died as a result of his wounds. Chester Arthur succeeded him and served out the remainder of the term.

Having the names of two presidents on one flag is a desirable feature on political campaign items cloth and is unusual simply because the Vice President so rarely gained the White House.

Some Facts About James Garfield & Chester Arthur:
James Abraham Garfield was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in 1831. Fatherless at two, he would eventually drive canal boat teams from the Erie Canal to the Ohio River. He could not swim, and though he fell in the water many times, he managed to survive. Saving carefully through this and other work, he paid for college, graduating from Williams College (Massachusetts), he moved back to Ohio to accept a professorship at what is now Hiram College. Here, at age 25, he was selected to fill the role of president of the school just one year into his employment. This was 1856. He then read for the bar and was accepted, and also became an ordained minister. Just three years later, in 1859, he was running for election to the Ohio State Senate, where he won a seat.

Always up for a challenge, in 1862, at a weak point in the war for the Union Army, he successfully led a brigade against Confederate forces in Kentucky, was promoted twice, and achieved the rank of Major General. Simultaneously, in 1862, he was elected to the United States Congress, where he served for 18 years.

Though successful would be an accurate description of Garfield’s military career, it was brief and unlike that of the much-celebrated Hancock. Lincoln pulled him from the field in 1864, not for any lack of accomplishment, but because his skills were very much needed in Congress.

In 1876 became the Republican floor leader. In that same year he was appointed to the highly controversial Electoral Commission that put Rutherford B. Hayes in the White House despite his loss of the popular vote. In 1880 he ran for president and won, though he served less than four months in office—a total of just 200 days, before his assassination.

Like many Vice Presidents, Arthur was chosen for political advantage, to placate his faction, rather than for skills or loyalty to his running mate. He is an interesting figure in political history for several reasons, among them the fact that he may not have been a U.S. Citizen. Arthur’s parents were Irish immigrants to Canada and lived just 80 miles from the Vermont border before moving to the U.S.. Arthur claimed to have been born in 1829 in the town of Fairfield, Vermont, though no birth record has ever been found and he artfully avoided the question of his possible birth on Canadian soil. On at least one occasion he reported the date of his birth as 1830 instead of 1829, and there seems ample reason to be suspect of the information he provided.

Whatever the case may be, Arthur was a member of the Stalwarts of the Republican Party, a faction the opposed Civil Service reform and was less moderate than the politics of the supporters of Rutherford B. Hayes. Before Charles Guiteau surrendered to authorities he shouted: “I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts...Arthur is president now!”, which resulted in no lack of further controversy and questioning. As a result, Arthur laid low after the shooting, retiring to his home in New York. He rarely appeared publicly and effectively left the nation fumbling, without a leader, until Garfield’s passing.

Before politics, Arthur practiced law and was a strong supporter of equal rights for blacks. During the Civil War he served as both quartermaster general and inspector general, with the eventual rank of brigadier general. He returned to law after the war and, in 1871, was appointed by President Ulysses Grant as Collector of the Port of New York, a powerful and lucrative position that he served until 1878. After the presidency he returned to New York and died the next year from a cerebral hemorrhage. He was interred at Menands, New York.

Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed within our own conservation department, which is led by expert trained staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples.

The solid walnut frame, with exceptional, early surface, dates to the period between the 1860’s and the 1880’s, has ebonized trim, and retains its original gilded liner with silhouetted, resist decoration. The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color, that has been washed and treated for colorfastness. Spacers keep the textile away from the glass, which is U.V. protective. Feel free to contact us for more details.

Condition: There is a very tiny hole in the canton, between the 2nd and 3rd rows, on the fly-end side, accompanied by a few pinprick-sized holes elsewhere. There are a few tiny tack holes along the hoist, where the flag was once affixed to a wooden staff. There is minor foxing and soiling along the fly end.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Parade flag
Star Count: 38
Earliest Date of Origin: 1880
Latest Date of Origin: 1880
State/Affiliation: Colorado
War Association: 1866-1890 Indian Wars
Price: SOLD
 

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