|EARLY OHIO STATE FLAG WITH A BLUE DISC INSIDE THE BUCKEYE, circa 1902 - 1915, AN EXTREMELY RARE AND BEAUTIFUL EXAMPLE
|Frame Size (H x L):
|Approx. 31" x 46"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|20" x 35"
|Early state flags fall between very scarce and extraordinarily rare in the antiques marketplace. One primary reason for this is that most states, even if they existed during the 18th or 19th century, didn’t actually adopt flags until the early 20th century. The Maryland State Legislature, for example, didn’t find need for a state banner until 1904, in spite of the fact that Maryland was one of the original 13 colonies.
Some of the earliest states, such as Pennsylvania and New York, officially adopted or at least used flags, almost from their very origin. All adopted official seals (i.e., crests / coats-of-arms), many doing so while still territories, preceding statehood, but most adopted no flag until many years later.
Ohio joined the Union as the 17th state on February 19th, 1803, during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson and in the same year that he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase. When Ohio finally adopted a flag in 1902, 99 years later, only 19 of America's 45 states had done so. In most cases, the fuel that lit the fire for such action was participation in Worlds Fairs. Ohio was active in several prior to the turn-of-the-century, but it was the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo where things changed.
When states had the both the budget and the wherewithal to do so, they built a stand-alone structure in which their World's Fair exhibit would be housed. These were not like modern county fairs, which run for a few days, or for a week or so at best. World's Fairs typically had a duration of several months and required extensive construction, more attuned to what one might expect in a present-day Olympic Games. In fact, the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Expo was held in St. Louis as part of, and in conjunction with, the 1904 games.
In 1901, the Ohio building at the Pan American Expo was designed by Cleveland architect John Eisenmann, who also designed a banner that flew atop the structure. This was adopted by the Ohio Commission, which was the name of the legislative body placed in charge of the state's involvement at the fair. When incumbent Ohio Governor George Nash was attending the event, State Senator Samuel L. Patterson presented him with the Eisenmann-designed flag, and the following year, on May 9th, the design was officially adopted by the Ohio legislature.
The elements of the Ohio state flag are supposed to be centered on a red disc, set against a circular white ground that forms a letter "O." This simultaneously represents a buckeye, the fruit of the state tree and an iconic Ohio symbol. The flag's 5 stripes are said to represent the state's waterways and roads, while the triangular shape of the union is said to illustrate hills and valleys. The presentation of 13 stars along the hoist end, arranged in a semi-circular medallion with two off-set stars above and below, reflects the original 13 colonies. The diamond of stars, towards the fly end. bring the overall count to 17 to reflect Ohio's admission. When the design was adopted by the state legislature, the position of these stars was changed slightly, moving them further around the circle to form a wreath.
Flag expert Whitney Smith, who coined the term Vexillology in the late 1950's (the accepted term for the study of flags), pointed out that the format of the flag itself was reminiscent of Civil War cavalry guidons, carried by Ohio regiments throughout the state. These were of swallowtail form, though with 13 stripes, all horizontal and 90 degrees to the hoist. Most often these had circular star patterns around an open center, which makes them even more similar to the Ohio flag. Although these were carried everywhere throughout the north, the flags are certainly similar. The Ohio flag, however, is in the shape of a ship's burgee rather than that of a U.S. Cavalry guidon. This is especially appropriate due to the importance of the Ohio River, as well as Lake Erie. For thousands upon thousands of American settlers, the Ohio River, largest of the Mississippi's tributaries, was the gateway to the American West. Its own tributaries provided transport throughout the state itself, while Lake Erie opened passage to Michigan and beyond. All were the lifeblood of industry and trade.
On the particular flag that is the subject of this discussion, the disc in the center of the white "o" is blue instead of red. In this way it differs from both the Eisenmann version and the state's adaptation. This was very likely an error on part of the flag-maker. The stars follow the original, Eisenmann design, as opposed to that of the state, and the shape of the textile is not tapered to the degree specified for either flag. Lots of liberty was taken in the making of both state flags and banners, and the further back one goes in American history, the greater the variation.
This is a parade flag, block-printed on plain weave cotton, made to be tacked to a stick and waved at parades or political events, or displayed at patriotic functions. The printing of this example is unusual, in that the white field is actually printed with white pigment. Most parade flags let the white fabric on which the flag is printed serve as the white color, while only the red and blue were printed. Parade flags printed with white ink are known in a variety of star counts ranging from 36 to 48. I don't happen to recall any 46 star examples with white pigment, but it does appear on flags with 45 stars (ca 1896 -1907). There is also one notable 48 star variety, of which only one single example survives, that I believe to have been printed before we had 48 states and therefore anticipatory of the star count.
Large political banners, printed with white grounds, are common to the 1930's and 40's, but the flags of the 1908-1940 period seldom ever had white printed stripes. In addition, and no less significant, the shades of red and blue on this Ohio flag are more akin to what I would expect of the 19th century than the 20th. For this reason, I believe that it was most likely made for Ohio's participation in the 1904 St. Louis Expo., or the 1905 Louis & Clark Centennial Expo. in Portland, Oregon, or Seattle's Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Expo. in 1909. The Panama-Pacific Expo., a major 1915 fair in San Francisco, is a possibility, though the flags have an earlier feel.
The flag was found with other banners, some of which related to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Similar to the Masons in some respects, the Odd Fellows are one of the few secret fraternal groups that were operating in the 18th century and still exist today. The organization formed in England sometime during the 18th century and was introduced to the U.S. in New York in 1806. Though the exact date of origin is uncertain, the earliest surviving meeting minutes (from a chapter in London) date to 1730.
The original purpose of the Odd Fellows relates to a time before there was a welfare state, socialized healthcare programs, or trade unions. The aim was (and still is) to provide assistance to its members along these lines when they need it. The name “Odd Fellows” has long been a source of curiosity and speculation. Though forgotten by the organization itself, one reasonable theory is that it referred to those persons employed in “odd” trades, as there were organizations for most of the major trades.
Trade organizations had been a major feature of parades and patriotic functions in America since the 18th century. It is very likely that a member of the Odd Fellows, perhaps as part of an Ohio delegation from the organization, acquired and displayed the flag at an event. World's Fairs had all sorts of mini-celebrations within them to draw attendance from various groups, and it is probable that there was an "Ohio Day" at any major fair, or some other event coinciding with visits to the fair by state dignitaries.
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 is 100% cotton twill, black in color, that has been washed and treated for colorfastness. The black-painted molding, with its gilded inner lip and shaped profile, is Italian. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic (Plexiglas). Feel free to contact us for more details.
Condition: There are a few tack holes along the hoist end, especially toward the lower half, where the flag was once affixed to its original wooden staff, accompanied by tiny associated rust stains, plus a few additional occurrences of the same elsewhere, that would have occurred from contact with both itself and other flags, rolled up together. There is minor to modest soiling in the canton and minor soiling elsewhere. There is minor to modest pigment loss and minor fading. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. This one does so beautifully.
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