|34 STARS IN 4 ROWS WITH 2 STARS OFFSET AT THE HOIST END, ON AN ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG LIKELY PRODUCED FOR MILITARY FUNCTION, AS UNION ARMY CAMP COLORS; ONE OF JUST A TINY HANDFUL THAT I HAVE ENCOUNTERED IN THIS EXACT STYLE, REFLECTS KANSAS STATEHOOD, OPENING TWO YEARS OF THE CIVIL WAR, 1861-1863
|Frame Size (H x L):
|33.25" x 57.5"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|23" x 47"
|34 star American national flag of the Civil War period, of a type that appears to have been produced specifically for military use by volunteer units, perhaps in a variety of capacities. Printed on a wool and cotton blended fabric, in two panels, joined by hand-stitching and hand-hemmed, the stars are arranged in 4 rows of 8, with 2 stars staggered beyond them along the hoist end. These roughly form two bullet-like formations, like exaggeratedly long “C’s” or perhaps "U’s" for "Union." The entire formation actually resembles a “U” lying on its side. Probably none of these shapes were intentional, but there was a lot of symbolism in Civil War flag making and they are a curiosity to consider. Whatever the case may be, this unusual arrangement was popular during the period of the 26-star flag (1837-1845), where it appears in 4 rows of 6 stars, with 2 additional staggered to one side or the other. Variants of the design are seldom encountered on flags outside the 26 and 34 star counts.
Kansas was admitted into the Union as the 34th state on January 29th, 1861, about 2 ½ months before the Confederate assault on Fort Sumter that marked the beginning of the Civil War. The 34th star was officially added on July 4th of that year, but most flag makers would have added a 34th star with the addition of Kansas in January. The star count remained official until July 4th, 1863, and 34 star flags would have generally been produced until the addition of West Virginia in June of that year.
Note how the stars on this particular example are canted, each one having a point directed roughly at 1:00, when the flag is viewed horizontally on the obverse (front). Also note that the design could be easily updated, by adding a 3rd star in the center, along the hoist. Though I have never seen this done on this particular variety, surviving 19th century examples of various sorts illustrate how flag makers were conscious of such things in an ever-growing nation, with new states continually being added and thus new stars to represent them.
Printed wool flags eventually made their way to private use, but their initial production seems to have been for U.S. military function. Parade flags, made for short-term use by bystanders at parades or political events, were typically printed on cotton or silk. Cotton absorbs water and silk, while lightweight, was not a fabric well suited for the elements. The inclusion of wool in both printed and resist-dyed flags, the first of which appeared around 1845, was something flag-makers experimented with for its usefulness in longevity. Wool sheds water and was the best storm-worthy fabric available for flag-making in the 19th century.
Though printed wool flags are known to have been produced specifically for use as camp colors by Horstmann Brothers in Philadelphia, and perhaps others, with wartime shortages being what they were, the flags were sometimes assigned as guidons / flank-markers, and in at least one known instance, as colors to be displayed by bands assigned to Civil War regiments.
The same trait that made wool a good fabric for inclement weather made it a difficult fabric on which to print. Adding cotton content made the task more viable. That is almost certainly why cotton and wool were woven together in the fabric selected for this flag.
After the Civil War, press-dyed wool flags, and those printed on wool and cotton, found other purposes, most notably for patriotic display at world's fairs. Because these enormous expositions often lasted for around six months, flags with wool content were much better suited for the duration than traditional cotton and silk parade flags. Following the Civil War, printed wool flags seldom saw military use, though there are rare examples known to have been specifically made for that function.
While this particular 34 star flag has no known specific history, others like it have military provenance. One notable example was taken home by a Pennsylvania soldier who responded to Abraham Lincoln’s call to arms when Confederate forces entered that state, just before the Battle of Gettysburg. Though larger than specified by regulation, the size and construction nonetheless made this style functional as Union Army Camp colors, which I suspect to have been its purpose. Used during military drilling and to mark the perimeter of a unit's encampment, camp colors in Stars & Stripes format are surprisingly rare in the antiques marketplace.
During the 19th century, most military use flags were especially large. U.S. Army regulations specified that garrison flags were to measure 35 feet on the fly. Ship's flags typically ranged between 6 and 20 feet on the fly. Smaller examples are known, but they are unusual. Even infantry battle flags were huge by today's standards, at 6 x 6.5 feet. Generally speaking, flags needed to be large in order to serve their purpose as signals. The only varieties produced that were smaller, with any regularity, were guidons (marker flags for the organizing of military units), camp colors, and the occasional nautical flag produced for a pilot house or a tiny shift. Due to a combination of their conveniently displayable size, military function, and scarcity in this early period, these flags are highly desired.
¬¬Construction: The canton and the field of stripes were printed on separate lengths of blended wool and cotton fabric. These were joined together with hand-stitching. The fly end of the striped field and the top edge of the canton were bound with hand-stitching. There is a twill cotton binding along the hoist end with two hand-sewn, whip-stitched grommets.
An address that appears to read “1067 Bergen St.” is inscribed in pencil along the binding. Though no city is noted, not many streets by that name bore numbering that high. One of the most citable was in Brooklyn, New York. During the Civil War era, members of the Merserole and Smith families resided at this address.* Although one clerked at the treasury office, he was in his early-mid-twenties during the war and no members of the household saw military service.
It is of interest to note that a close variant of this example exists, with slightly different star orientation and with the two offset stars aligned at the fly end instead of the hoist. This style has the stars directed with all points facing upward and the entire flag is printed on a single length of fabric, as opposed to having a canton that was printed separately, then joined to the striped field.
* It is important to note that Brooklyn street addresses were renumbered approximately 150 years ago.
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 flag was stitched to 100% natural fabrics throughout for support. It was then hand-sewn to a background of 100% cotton twill, black in color, that was washed and treated for colorfastness. The mount was placed in a gilded molding with a traditional, sculpted, early American profile, to which a molding with a step-down profile, black-painted, with reddish undertones and highlights, was added as a cap. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.
Condition: There are minor to modest losses in and around the center of the canton, and in the striped field, occurring primarily in the white stripes. The most significant of the latter are present toward the fly end of the 1st and second white stripes. There is very minor soiling in the stripes, and minor to modest soiling along the binding. Small holes holes with associated rust stains and very minor losses, are present along the same, where the flag was once tacked to a staff. Even when there were grommets, this was typical of flags carried on foot. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. This is particularly true of Civil War flags.
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|Earliest Date of Origin:
|Latest Date of Origin:
|1861-1865 Civil War
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