Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Antique Flags > American Flags



Web ID: ker-254
Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): Aproox. 23.5" x 23.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 15 x 15
Printed on silk, this beautiful kerchief is styled in the format of the California State flag. Extremely rare, this is an unusual object and I am unaware of any other state flags that were produced in this manner. The most likely date is somewhere between roughly 1911 and 1920, though it could date slightly thereafter. The construction of this particular style of kerchief, with a border that is separated from the body by a fine line that is absent of horizontal threads, first appears in political campaign material in the 1888 election year. Various examples have been identified between that date and 1913, when a version was produced to celebrate the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson. None seem to have been made for the 1916 election, though other types appear with patriotic images during WWI (U.S. involvement 1917-18).

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. Other states had crests or symbols that were tied to the state legislature in some way, or to local patriotism, but didn't accept an official design until many years following statehood.

In the case of California, the "Bear Flag," as all California state flags and variations thereof are often called, is based on a significant early example. The eldest surviving Bear Flag is thought to date to the 1846 “Bear Flag Revolt”. This occurred when Major John Fremont arrived in the state on a so-called mission to reach the Pacific and encouraged an uprising against Mexican rule in the territory. Fremont claimed himself military governor of the California Republic and was brought up on charges of treason for his actions, but was pardoned by President James Polk. Polk was an expansionist and Fremont’s actions brought California to statehood in 1850, immediately following the 1849 Gold Rush.

The original Bear Flag was designed and made by William L. Todd, a first cousin to Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd. Painted on cotton, it had a white field with a red stripe along the bottom, just the like modern design. The star image was taken from what was known as the “California Lone Star Flag”, flown during California's previous, 1836 revolt. Like the modern California flag, the red star appeared the upper hoist-end corner, but the bear was placed next to the star. On a later version, designed by a man named Peter Storm in 1870, the bear was fierce and walking. On the modern design it is black and brown, centered on the field, prominently huge, and walking.

The bear on the first bear flag and other early bear flags more closely resembles the more common American black bear than a grizzly, seen in the lack of shoulder hump and narrower muzzle. The bear on Storm’s 1870 version closely resembles the coat of arms of Bern, Switzerland, its capital city. The coat of arms displays a black bear walking toward the left with fierce claws and a protruding tongue. It is of interest to note that Switzerland was the home country of John Sutter, who established Sutter's Fort, in the area which would spawn the California Gold Rush and eventually become Sacramento, California's state capital.

On Todd’s 1846 flag, the words “California Republic” were likewise in black, but the letters spanned the width of the star and bear images and were placed immediately below them. Today they are underneath the large bear, just above the red bar. Unfortunately, Todd’s flag was destroyed in the fires following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, but an image of it survives in a photograph, taken in 1890.

The bear flag did not become the official California state flag, however, until it was adopted by the California State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Hiram Johnson in 1911. States were regularly participating in World’s Fair events by this time—popular between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries—and were probably compelled to create state banners because other states had them, so it would have seemed improper not to obtain one and follow suit.

While the kerchief may conceivably have been made to honor the adoption of the new flag, the most likely reason for the production would be for sale at the Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. Other kerchiefs made for the Expo, in different designs, are known to exist with the same construction. While use at the California Liberty Fair in Los Angeles in 1918 is a possibility, that event was far-and-away smaller in scale and occurred during a influenza epidemic that began in 1918 and ravaged the city.

Brief Description of the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition:
“The vast fair, which covered over 600 acres and stretched along two and a half miles of water front property, highlighted San Francisco’s grandeur and celebrated a great American achievement: the successful completion of the Panama Canal. Nine years earlier, San Francisco experienced a terrible earthquake, declared one of America’s worst national disasters. The city overcame great challenges to rebuild and by the time the Exposition opened in 1915, the city was ready to welcome the world.

Between February and December 1915, over 18 million people visited the fair; strolling down wide boulevards, attending scientific and educational presentations, “travelling” to international pavilions and enjoying thrilling displays of sports, racing, music and art. The fair promoted technological and motor advancements: the Panama-Pacific International Exposition was the first world’s fair to demonstrate a transcontinental telephone call, to promote wireless telegraphy and to endorse the use of the automobile. Each day, the fair highlighted special events and exhibits, each with their own popular souvenirs. The fair was so large and spread out over such a length of land that it was virtually impossible for any visitors to successfully see it all, even over the course of several visits.” (Source: National Park Service).

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. The two-part molding consists of a deep shadowbox style frame with a finish that is nearly black, with red undertones and highlights, to which a ripple profile molding, black with gold highlights, was added as a liner. Spacers keep the textile away from the glazing, which is U.V. protective glass.

Condition: As near to mint as can be reasonably conceived for a silk kerchief of this period. There are tiny and extremely minor stains, but no significant condition issues.
Collector Level: Intermediate-Level Collectors and Special Gifts
Flag Type:
Star Count:
Earliest Date of Origin: 1911
Latest Date of Origin: 1920
State/Affiliation: California
War Association:
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281

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