|RARE, LARGE SCALE KERCHIEF WITH A BEAUTIFULLY ENGRAVED IMAGE OF JOHN TRUMBULL’S “DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE,” LIKELY MADE IN 1826 FOR OUR NATIONS SEMICENTENNIAL (50TH ANNIVERSARY); THE ONLY EXAMPLE I HAVE EVER SEEN OF THIS EXCEPTIONALLY RARE TEXTILE THAT RETAINS ITS ORIGINAL, RED COLORATION
|Frame Size (H x L):
|42.25" x 44.25"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|30.25" x 32.25"
|Printed on cotton, this extraordinarily detailed, large format kerchief pays respect to the Declaration of Independence through its depiction of the famous oil on canvas painting by John Trumbull, George Washington’s aide-de-camp and accomplished painter of historical views. Above the image is the following text: “Declaration of Independence of the United States Of America 4th July 1776.” Below is an accompanying legend that identifies each person by name in a generic script.
Many have mistakenly identified Trumbull’s painting as “The Signing of the Declaration of Independence.” Trumbull himself called it “The Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1776.” What it actually portrays, however, is the presentation of the original draft of the document to the Second Continental Congress, which took place six days prior, on June 28th. This is why the illustrated men represent only 42 of the 56 who would eventually sign, and 5 others who did not sign at all.
The draft was presented by “The Committee of Five,” prominently featured to the right of center. Led by Thomas Jefferson (Virginia), this group included John Adams (Massachusetts), Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania), Robert Livingston (New York), and Roger Sherman (Connecticut). They stand in Independence Hall before the desk of John Hancock, president of the governing body.
It is of interest to note that Congress revised the draft on July 2nd, and publicly declared American independence that day from Britain. The Declaration was formally adopted on July 4th, with 49 of delegates present in Philadelphia and 7 absent. The New York delegation had been specifically instructed not to sign. The physical document needed to be sent to an engraver and printed. 42 delegates signed about a month later, on August 2nd, 1776. The remaining 14 signed after. 7 of these were actually new members of Congress, added after July 4th. 7 of the men present on July 4th never signed at all.
Trumbull painted many of these men from life. He also visited Independence Hall, in order to get the elements of the interior correct. Trumbull was known for his accuracy of detail, so of notable interest is the rather ironic presence of crossed British flags on the wall in the background. His original painting now hangs in the Yale University Art Gallery, our nation’s first university museum, which Trumbull both designed and furnished, with 88 of his personal works, sold to Yale in 1831 in exchange for a $1,000 annuity. Most of the painting’s fame comes from the other copy of the work, a 12 x 18 version that was commissioned from Trumbull by Congress in 1817. This was installed in the United States Capitol Rotunda in 1826, the year of America’s 50th anniversary of independence, where it remains today.
An example of a closely related bandanna is documented as item 418 in “Threads of History” by Herbert Ridgeway Collins (Smithsonian Press, 1979), p. 200. Collins formerly served as the Smithsonian's curator of political history and his text is considered the definitive reference on American political textiles. He dates the illustrated kerchief to 1876, under the surmise that it was made in conjunction with the 100-year anniversary of our nation’s independence. This date is certainly incorrect. The very large format closely resembles those made between 1800 and the 1850’s. The known color variations and dyes provide the same confirmation. The hemming of the top and bottom provides additional clues. Hand-sewn with exceptional precision, it differs from most kerchiefs made in 1876 and later, the edges of which, without selvage, are more likely to be bound by treadle machine. Since none of these traits point to the latter 19th century, the kerchief was not made to celebrate 100 years of American Independence in 1876, but more likely 50 years of independence, in 1826 (our nation's semicentennial or quinquagenary). This would coincide with the hanging of Trumbull’s painting in the capitol rotunda, and would thus better explain not only its size, coloration, and construction, but also its purpose.
A seemingly reasonable alternative is that it was produced for our nation’s 75th anniversary, in 1851, but practically nothing seems to have been made for this event, in terms of patriotic and political cloth. Out of the 1,500 items depicted by Collins, for example, nothing is attributed to that exact year. Further, after more than 32 years in the antiques business, and about 24 years of aggressive buying of flags specifically, plus exhaustive research, I have not encountered anything in a commemorative, patriotic textile, flag, or banner, that I can positively date to any related event in precisely that year. Though I have occasionally asserted the possibility of 1851 manufacture, that year is notedly void of representation.
The Collins-documented kerchief was certainly produced by the same maker, and I suspect that the two variants to have been printed together, maybe even on the same bolt of fabric. The Collins version utilizes the same view of Independence Hall, except larger, with an expansive legend that identifies each man by way of a number and crude portrait, followed by facsimiles of their actual signatures.
Surviving examples of these kerchiefs are extremely rare. The style in question here, thus far undocumented in any text on the subject, is even more rare than the variety illustrated by Collins. I have discovered both versions exist in two colors. Until now, I thought these were blue and sepia, which faded to brown. Though I wondered if the brown may have actually been red originally, I could find no definite proof until I discovered this example. This is the only one I have ever seen that retains the original, oxblood red hue.
It is of interest to note that the kerchief illustrated by Collins actually differs slightly from all of the others I know to exist. Blue in color along the border, the word “Independence” is misspelled as “Independance”.
On the original painting, many have noted that Jefferson’s foot, which is pointed at a somewhat odd angle, is purposely stepping on that of Adams. The two men were political enemies, so it is supposed that this was done on purpose. Close inspection, however, revealed that their shoes were merely close to one-another. Trumbull widened the distance in the Rotunda copy and a clear separation of their feet can be seen in the reproduction of the image on the kerchiefs. A curious historical fact is that Jefferson and Adams both left this world on July 4th, 2026, 50 years to the day after the document was formally adopted.
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 background is 100% hemp fabric or a hemp and cotton blend, with a twill weave. The mount was then placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic (Plexiglas). Feel free to contact us for more details.
Condition: Exceptional among known examples, with but minor foxing and staining. As noted above, this is presently the only known example I know of to retain its original, red coloration.
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