|EXTRAORDINARILY RARE ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG WITH A TWO-COLOR IMAGE IN THE CANTON THAT CONSISTS OF A TREMENDOUS, WARLIKE EAGLE, PERCHED ON A FEDERAL SHIELD, SET WITHIN A RING OF STARS; MADE IN THE CIVIL WAR PERIOD (1861-65), THIS IS THE ONLY KNOWN EXAMPLE IN THIS STYLE AND THE LARGEST OF ALL KNOWN RECORDED PARADE FLAGS WITH AN EAGLE AS THE PRIMARY IMAGE
|Frame Size (H x L):
|48" x 64.75"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|36" x 53"
|This exceptional Civil War parade flag can easily be filed among the best I have ever encountered. Presidential campaign flags aside, it is an easy winner in this auspicious category. Even if the flags of the 1864 campaigns of Abraham Lincoln and George McLellan are included, it’s difficult not to present the title to this example.
Flags with eagles that serve as the primary image in their cantons are rare in general, surviving more in early illustrations than they do “in the cloth,” so-to-speak. Among printed parade flags, the total is somewhere in the realm of 15 -17 examples, most of which I have had the great privilege to own at one time or another. The canton of this flag features a device that is different from any of its scarce counterparts. This consists of a warlike eagle, on the offensive, standing upon a federal shield, with neck outstretched, above 6 arrows, all aimed in the same direction, with the olive branch trailing behind. To the upper left is a stand of flags, with the Stars & Stripes positioned between two others. All of the above elements are superimposed upon a single wreath of 14 stars.
One of the most distinctive characteristics is the use of a third color in the canton. While one known example, that I presently own, has the entire canton printed in red (highly unusual), just two other parade flags with eagles incorporate ad additional color past blue and white. One, with 34 stars in a single wreath, with 4 outliers, I sold to collector Richard Pierce many years ago, featured in his book, "The Stars & The Stripes: Fabric of the American Spirit" by J. Richard Pierce (2005, J. Richard Pierce), p. 62. The other, with 32 stars (30 + 2 outliers), I acquired and sold recently.
But the most obvious trait is the size of the flag when compared to its counterparts. Most of the surviving parade flags with eagles are less than two feet in length, and a fair number less than 12 inches. At 36 x 53 inches, this is the largest example that I am aware of, for which I know the measurements. One, in the Smithsonian’s Division of Political History, measuring 33 x 47 inches, is documented in “Threads of History” by Herbert Ridgeway Collins, (Smithsonian Press, 1979) as plate # 435 on page 206 [misdated 1876—should be 1863-65]. Another, that I acquired and sold many years ago, is a fraction of an inch taller, but not as long, at 36.75” x 47” (includes a two-inch, applied banner). The last, in a private collection, is a unrecorded flag that I have images of, and is definitely large, but for which I cannot determine the exact scale.
Block-printed on cotton, or a cotton-flax blended fabric, the additional white, present below and above the array of 13 stripes, is simply a result of the differential between the size of the blocks and the cloth available to the printer.. Often this would be present on a bolt, above and below, included to separate one flag from the next, but here there is selvedge top and bottom, so the bolt would have continued to the left and/or right.
Several aspects of the image of the device are worthy of comment. One, while the eagle facing the arrows cannot be consistently counted upon to reference wartime production, here it can safely said to reflect just that, as it would be difficult to convey a more meaningful message. Sometimes earlier artwork, or perhaps an earlier engraving, might be referenced or copied to create a new one, but I tend to doubt that that was the case here.
Probably the star count was intended to be 13, but their total got lost in the shuffle, possibly because it was obscured by the remainder of the imagery. While one might logically suggest that it was included to subtly reference Vermont as the nation’s 14th state, I think that is most unlikely in this instance. Vermont was not a mecca of flag production. Another possibility, worthy of consideration, would be that 14 referenced the number of non-Slave States. On paper, this would place the date between 1845-1848, following the addition of Florida and Iowa as the 14th Slave and Non-Save States (the latter came in in 1846 officially, but its admission was agreed to in 1845). This was a heated time politically, as Texas had just joined the Union as the 15th Slave State, unbalancing the scales, at the tail end of 1845. This was worked out by Southern and Northern factions, by the agreement to admit Wisconsin, though this didn’t actually happen until 1848. By way of the printing and fabric, this could, theoretically, be a Mexican War era flag, but both of these traits are more indicative of the Civil War, and there was so much going on at the time with regard to the addition of states, and the Mexican War was so short, only lasting about a year and 4 months, that it seems very unlikely. Private use of the flag during the Mexican War was almost non-existent outside political campaigning, and U.S. infantry had only been authorized to carry the Stars & Stripes since 1841. It seems unusual to find it in the array above the eagle at such an early date. In addition, trying to convey subtle messages through star counts, obscured by huge eagles, does not seem worthwhile or effective.
Whatever the case may be, this extraordinary example survives as nothing short of a masterpiece of early American 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 presentation of flags and have preserved thousands of examples.
The background fabric is 100% cotton twill, black in color, that has been washed and treated for colorfastness. The black-painted and hand-gilded molding, with its substantial, shaped profile, is Italian. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic (Plexiglas.) Feel free to contact us for more details.
Condition: Please contact me for a full report.
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|Earliest Date of Origin:
|Latest Date of Origin:
|1861-1865 Civil War
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