Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
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  16 SIX-POINTED STARS ON A CORNFLOWER BLUE CANTON, AND A COMPLEMENT OF 13 STRIPES, ON AN ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG MADE OF POLISHED COTTON, LIKELY DURING THE LAST DECADE OF THE 19TH CENTURY, TO CELEBRATE THE CENTENNIAL OF TENNESSEE STATEHOOD (1796-1896)

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 32.5" x 52.75"
Flag Size (H x L): 21" x 41.5"
Description....:
American national flag variant, with a host of interesting and desirable features. Chief among these are the flag’s 16 stars, which have 6 points instead of the 5. These are arranged in a peculiar manner, on a beautiful, cornflower blue canton. The configuration consists of a row of 4 across both the top and bottom, with 8 stars in-between, arranged in an elliptical manner. A similar pattern can be viewed by considering the vertical columns of 3 stars at both the hoist and fly ends, that flank a standing ellipse of 10 stars.

Prior to 1912, there was no official legislation concerning the number of points that the stars had to have on the American flag, so anything was possible. Even so, stars with more or less than five points can be found in fewer than one percent of surviving, 19th century examples. This is an extraordinary trait, rare, visually striking, and highly sought after by collectors and flag enthusiasts.

Note how the proportions of the canton are near-to-square. This is set within 13 stripes, arranged in the usual fashion. Also note how the hoist binding, instead of being white or tan, is constructed of alternating, red and white fabric. This gives it a candy-striped presentation, as if the canton were applied on top (though it is not). The binding was folded onto itself and hemmed, to create an open sleeve.

This is a homemade flag, with its canton and stripes constructed of polished cotton with a lustrous sheen. This has been pieced and joined throughout by treadle stitching. The stars, made of plain weave cotton, are applied in the same manner, with a lineal, treadle stitch.

The flag was very likely made during the 1890’s, in commemoration of 100-year anniversary of the addition of Tennessee, which became the 16th state to join the Union, on June 1st, 1796. In the decade of Tennessee’s centennial, World’s Fairs were immensely popular. Production of these massive events was somewhat akin to hosting the Olympic Games, demanding all manner of architectural structures, buildings, and decoration, not only to be provided by the hosting state or city, but from the exhibiting states and foreign nations. Each participant would construct a pavilion. These could be comprised of anything from a small, rented booth in a large hall, to an elaborate, stand-alone house or structure. With durations of up to six months, these events often demanded both modern and historic flags, the latter of which might celebrate the history of a specific state or states. Major fairs in the 1890’s included the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago), the 1894 Midwinter International Expo (San Francisco), the 1895 Cotton States & International Expo (Atlanta), and the 1898 Trans-Mississippi & International Expo (Omaha). Huge fairs were also being planned for Buffalo (1901), St. Louis (1904), Portland, OR (1905), Hampton Roads (Jamestown), VA (1907), and Seattle (1909).

Far smaller festivities, celebrating anniversaries of statehood, might also be held anywhere from the respective state capitals, to municipalities great and small. All were likely to be accompanied by parades and patriotic décor.

In terms of Tennessee specifically, as it relates to 16 star flags, it is of interest to note that while there were 16 states for a period of roughly 8 years, the 16-star count was never official. The number of stars had been officially increased from 13 to 15 in 1796, by way of the Second Flag Act (passed in 1795), to include Vermont and Kentucky, that had entered in 1791 and 1792, respectively. At this time, the stripe count was also raised to 15. 23 years would go by, however, before the flag would receive another official update from the U.S. Congress. In 1818, by way of the Third Flag Act, the star count was increased to 20, to reflect the 5 additional states that had joined the Union by that time (Tennessee, in 1796, Ohio in 1803, Louisiana in 1812, Indiana in 1816, and Mississippi in 1817). This also returned the stripe count to 13, with the notion that they might soon become pinstripes.

Despite 16 not having been an official count, 16 star flags were nonetheless produced in the 1796-1803 era, when there were 16 states, as evidenced by surviving illustrations and at least one actual flag. The only period example presently known to exist, with the proper compliment of 16 stripes, is among the holdings of the Stonington Historical Society in Stonington, Connecticut.

Other flags with 16 stars were sometimes produced after the 1796-1803 period. Unlike their earlier counterparts, these typically can be expected to have 13 stripes, very likely because later flag-makers were simply unaware that, prior to 1818, the logic was to add a stripe with every star.

One use of 16-star, 13-stripe flags during the mid-19th century was aboard U.S. Navy ships as small boat ensigns. Because there were 16 Free States in the period between 1850 and 1858, and because the U.S. Navy spent much of its time during this era chasing slave traders, it has been theorized that flags in this star count likely reflected the number of Free States. Evidence of this survives both in actual flags of that era, as well as newspaper articles, primarily in the South, that reported Northern ships displaying 16 star flags. One rare broadside, made for the 1856 presidential campaign, displays a prominent 16 star flag, flanked by the words “All North” and “No South.” I have encountered fewer than 10 of the U.S. Navy examples, all of which share the same, basic, 4 x 4 pattern of justified, lineal rows. All are made of wool bunting, as expected for use at sea.

A couple of other 16 star flags, dating to the second half of the 19th century, exist with a complement of 11 stripes. A distinctly Confederate number, this conveys the total number of states that seceded from the Union in an official manner. The count of 11 is also relevant to Tennessee specifically, which became the 11th state to ratify it’s legislative vote for secession, on June 8th, 1861, and the 11th to be accepted into the Confederate States of America, shortly thereafter, on July 2nd.

Whatever the case may be, with regard to their reason for origin, surviving 16 star flags that date to the 19th century are rare. The fact that so few exist, raises their interest among collectors, especially those who desire to own a flag in this particular star count.

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

The mount was placed in a deep, cove-shaped molding with a very dark brown surface, nearly black, and a rope-style inner lip, to which a flat profile molding, with a finish like old gun metal, was added as a liner. The glazing is U.V. Protective acrylic (Plexiglas). Feel free to contact us for more details.

Condition: The flag is in an exceptional state of preservation. The blue fabric has lost some of its glazing. There is a minor area of where red dye was transferred onto a white stripe, but there are no further condition issues.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 16
Earliest Date of Origin: 1890
Latest Date of Origin: 1899
State/Affiliation: Tennessee
War Association:
Price: SOLD
 

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