Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 53.75" x 93.25"
Flag Size (H x L): 41.25" x 81.5"
31 star American national flag, constructed of cotton and homemade, with an exceptional combination of folk qualities that result in an interesting visual presentation. The stars of the flag are configured in a double-wreath form of the medallion configuration. This consists of a large center star, surrounded by two consecutive rings of smaller stars, followed by a large star in each corner of the blue canton. Note how the overall length of the flag is exaggerated in its appearance by the format of the canton, which is tall and narrow as opposed to horizontal. This forces that large corner stars towards the center, which adds even more impact to the verticality of the union. While the orientation of the small stars is fairly purposeful and organized, note how the large stars point in various directions on their vertical axis, which lends yet another whimsical aspect to the design. When this fact is added to the crude shapes of the stars, themselves, the overall effect stresses its homemade origin.

California joined the Union as the 31st state on September 9th, 1850, ushered in on the heels of the 1849 Gold Rush. The 31 star flag became official on July 4th, 1851, and remained so until July 3rd, 1858. Flags made prior to the Civil War are extremely rare, comprising one to one-and-a-half percent of 19th century flags that have survived into the 21st century. Prior to the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, the Stars & Stripes was simply not used for most of the same purposes that we employ it in today. Private individuals did not typically display the flag in their yards and on their porches. Parade flags didn't often fly from carriages and horses. Places of business rarely hung flags in their windows. Private use of the national flag rose swiftly during the patriotism that surrounded the Civil War, then exploded in 1876.

Even the military did not use the flag in a manner that most people might think. The primary purpose before the Civil War was to mark ships on the open seas. While flags were used to mark garrisons, those of ground troops were often limited to the flag of their own regiment, with a design peculiar unto itself, and perhaps a standard that featured the numeric designation on a painted or embroidered streamer, on a solid buff yellow or blue ground. Most people are surprised to learn that ground forces were not authorized to carry the Stars & Stripes until it was assigned to artillery regiments in 1834. Infantry was afforded the privilege in 1841, just prior to the Mexican War (1846-1848), while cavalry regiments were not issued their iconic, swallowtail, Stars & Stripes format guidons until the second year of the Civil War, in 1862, and even then were not formally authorized to carry the national flag until long afterward, in the 1890’s.

Due to the importance of California, as not only the largest state, but one where there is a vast population and greater wealth than most others, raises desirability in the collector community, positively affecting the flag's value.

The stars of the flag are made of cotton, hand-sewn and double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). The stripes are made of cotton and have been pieced and joined with treadle stitching. This is unusual for a 31 star flag and shows that it was likely produced in a more populated or otherwise wealthy area. Because Singer mass-marketed the treadle-operated sewing machine in 1855, it fast became widely available. Still, it took about 5 or 6 years to find its way into the hands of most flag-makers. When war broke out, in 1861, it was put to use straight away in the flag industry in the joining of linear seams, to a degree where more than half of Civil War flags had treadle-sewn stripes. Before the war, the margin is closer to 5 or 10 percent. Because it was apparently far more difficult to perform appliqué work, the sewing of stars remained largely by hand for another 40 or so years.

The hoist of the flag was partially bound by simply turning over and hemming the blue fabric of the canton. The remainder was bound with a length of the same red cotton employed in the stripes, which was curiously carried part way into the canton. Many flags of this era, especially if they were light weight and homemade, were bound in this general manner and simply tacked to a staff at various places along the hoist.

At approximately 3 feet, 4 inches x 6 feet, 8 inches, the flag may seem large in respect to modern examples. In actuality, this is small for the period. In the 19th century, flags with pieced-and-sewn construction were typically eight feet long or larger. Because flags needed to be seen and recognized from a great distance, large size was important to their function as signals. Because the average 19th century sewn flag can be cumbersome to frame and display in an indoor setting, many collectors prefer printed parade flags, which were generally far smaller, or small-scale sewn flags, like this one.

In summary, the strong folk qualities present in the design of the flag, including the vertical canton, the medallion configuration of crude stars in two distinctly different sizes, and the elongated format, plus the strong colors, the pre-Civil War date, small size, and the California relationship, cumulate in an especially desirable example for the discerning collector or one-time buyer alike.

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. The black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed molding is Italian. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic (Plexiglas). Feel free to contact us for more details.

Condition: There are nicks in the binding along the hoist end, where the flag was once tacked to a staff. Moderate to significant horizontal tears extend from two of these points into the canton. There is fraying along the edges of the stars with some associated loss. There is minor soiling throughout accompanied by minor staining in limited areas, the most significant of which is an irregular line of small dots near the fly end of the 5th white stripe. There are 3 small tears, two of them tiny, along the top red stripe, not far from the fly end. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 31
Earliest Date of Origin: 1850
Latest Date of Origin: 1858
State/Affiliation: California
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: sold

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