Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 36" x 46.25"
Flag Size (H x L): 24.5" x 34.75"
38 star American flag, press-dyed on wool bunting, identifiable to Horstmann Brothers, a Philadelphia-based military outfitter. The stars, which appear in lineal rows of 8-7-8-7-8, are especially crude. Note how those in the first two rows are significantly larger than in the next two that follow. The stars in the last row are, again, larger, but not quite as much as those at the top.

While the clamp dye process, used to make the flag, tends to produce rather irregular results—something I truly love about this method of manufacture—I have never seen the sort of disparity that appears here. The variation not only makes the presentation interesting from a visual perspective, but also conveys the age of the flag in a way that the viewer can quickly absorb.

This particular style of flag, from Horstmann, is exceedingly rare. Measuring approximately two by three feet, I have owned just a couple other examples that are similar to it. The first two I acquired around 20 years ago. I was not yet taking digital imagery, at the time, and cannot seem to locate them among my files of hard copy prints and negatives, but I believe they were in the same configuration, with staggered rows of stars. I am certain, however, that they did not share the same peculiarity in the different sizes of stars. Another I acquired about 11 or 12 years ago. Although it shared the same 8-7-8-7-8 distribution, the rows were instead justified toward the fly end, and the star sizes were consistent throughout. All, I believe, have displayed their stars slightly canted at an angle, like the flag that is the subject of this narrative.

Horstman flags made of press-dyed wool sometimes had formal bindings, sometimes had a length of fabric tape stitched along the hoist, and sometimes had no binding at all. This one has a narrow length of twill cotton tape along the hoist, treadle-stitched into position.

Colorado became the 38th state on August 1st, 1876. This was the year of our nation’s 100-year anniversary of independence. Per the Third Flag Act of 1818, stars were not officially added until the 4th of July following a state's addition. For this reason, 37 was the official star count for the American flag in 1876. Flag-making was a competitive venture, however, and few flag-makers would have continued to produce 37 star flags when their competitors were making 38’s. It is for this reason that 38 and 13 stars (to represent the original 13 colonies) are more often seen at the Centennial Expo.

Some flag-makers would have been adding a star for the 38th state even before it entered the Union, in the early part of 1876 or even prior. In fact, many makers of parade flags were actually producing 39 star flags, in hopeful anticipation of the addition of two more Western Territories instead of one. But the 39th state would not join the Union for another 13 years, when the Dakota Territory entered as two states on the same day. The 38 star flag became official on July 4th, 1877 and was generally used until the addition of the Dakotas in 1889.

Press-dyed wool flags are scarcer than those printed on cotton and silk. Because parade flags were often intended for one day's use at a parade, political rally, a reunion of soldiers, or some other patriotic event, most were made of cotton. While cotton absorbs water, short-term use precluded the need for anything more hardy. Because the Centennial Exposition lasted for a period of six months, it required decorative flags that would sustain being flown for a longer time and withstand the elements. It is reasonable to assume that press-dyed wool flags were adapted for precisely this purpose, because wool sheds water is suitable for extended outdoor use. Previous to this time they primarily saw military function.

A Brief History of the Horstmann Company:
William H. Horstmann (1785-1850) was the founder of what would become a major military outfitter in both Philadelphia and New York City. A solider and fourth generation passementier (textile weaver), he emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1816 and settled in the Germantown area of Philadelphia, where there was a significant concentration of textile manufacture. There he married the daughter of the most successful lace manufacturing firm, and started his own business in coach lace and military goods at the corner of 59 North 3rd Street. He imported looms from Germany and elsewhere and maintained a regular trade with his family in Europe. The company grew exponentially in size and had many addresses over its years of operation. In 1828, the William H. Horstmann Military Store opened. In 1843 it became William H. Horstmann & Sons Military Store, and in 1859 it was taken over by sons, Sigmund H. and William J., and began to operate as Horstmann Bros. & Co. The company manufactured its own goods, including flags, swords, drums, insignia, and many other items, and it subcontracted their manufacture as well, depending on financial sensibility. There were investors along the way, such as William S. Hassall and George Evans, who broke off and began their own large and successful firm. The New York branch changed its name in 1877 to that of a Horstmann partner, H.V. Allien. Both Philadelphia and New York branches filed for bankruptcy and closed in 1948.

Because of its Philadelphia location, Horstmann was in a unique position to supply flags and banners to the 1876 Centennial International Exposition, and thus served an integral role in decorating the enormous, six-month long event. It is logical to presume that this extremely interesting and rare flag was made at this time and specifically for the event.

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, that has been washed and treated for colorfastness. The mount was 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: There is minor to modest staining in limited areas. There is minor mothing throughout, accompanied by some wear from obvious use, especially along the hoist end, where there are tack holes and associated losses, from where the flag was once affixed to a wooden staff. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.   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 76 stars (38 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 of Philadelphia. 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 become 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.
Collector Level: Intermediate-Level Collectors and Special Gifts
Flag Type:
Star Count:
Earliest Date of Origin: 1876
Latest Date of Origin: 1889
State/Affiliation: Colorado
War Association: 1866-1890 Indian Wars
Price: SOLD

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