Historic York County York, PA United States 717.502.1281
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$ 850

Antique American Flag Cigar Label with Sailor & 42 Six-Pointed Stars, 1889-1920

Documentation Signed
Origin United States
Period 19th Century
W. 14.5 in; H. 10.25 in; D. 0.75 in;
W. 36.83 cm; H. 26.04 cm; D. 1.91 cm;
Condition Excellent. See item description.
Creation Date 1889 -1920

This interesting, late 19th or early 20th century (ca 1889-1920) cigar box label has imagery that is especially modernistic for its period of manufacture. It features a 42 star American national flag with 6-pointed stars on a beautiful, cornflower blue canton. Though the reason for its use is unknown, this type of star is seen on other objects of this particular period. In present times one might identify the design as the Star of David, though this symbol, also known as the Shield of David, was not in widespread use by members of the Jewish faith until further into the 20th century.

In front of the flag is a fashionable sailor with a handlebar moustache lighting a cigar. The word "Washington" appears on the front of his cap.

The fact that the canton rests on a red stripe is an unusual trait. Some flag historians refer to this as the “blood stripe” or the “war stripe”, suggesting the flag was sometimes constructed in this manner when the nation was at war. There is evidence that the U.S. Navy used this design feature on at least some of its flags made during the mid-19th century, and sometimes the placement was merely by accident. The Spanish-American War took place in 1898, and U.S. involvement in WWI occurred from 1917-18, but the 42 star count, if accurate, would indicate a slightly earlier date.

Placement of the canton on a red stripe required that the union had to be either taller or more narrow than usual. In this case the canton is long and narrow, which also adds to the flag's unusual and graphic presentation.

This label was applied to at least one variety of cigars, called the Marline Spike (named after a tool used by sailors to splice rope). I have seen an intact box of Marline Spikes, which included paper seals in the form of waving American flags was bordered by blue stripes with white stars, and bore a stamp reading "Deliciosos 100," which would indicated size within the Marlin Spike line.

The count of 42 stars could help date the flag or it might be merely decorative. When the stars and stripes was illustrated on paper, liberties were often taken with the star count. This would be particularly true for say a flag on a label for a box of cigars produced in South America, where the official star count was not known or particularly important to the maker. Whatever the case may be in this instance, the 42 star flag is interesting from a historical perspective, both because 42 was never an official star count, and because 42 star flags were only produced for about 8 months (November, 1889–July 4th, 1890). The flag represents the addition of the Dakotas, Montana and Washington, between November 2nd and November 11th, 1889. The 42nd state was officially Washington, but the four states gained their statehood only nine days apart, and flag makers added four stars, accordingly, to the 38 star flag that was previously official.

After 1818, star counts became official on the 4th of July each year. A new star was therefore officially added on Independence Day for every state that had been added over the preceding “flag year”. Flag makers, however, did not wait for Independence Day and “official” star counts. Flag making was a competitive industry, and no one wanted to be making 38 star flags, for example, when their competitors were making 42 star flags and there were 42 states. On many occasions, particularly in the last quarter of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century, flag-makers would speculate the number of states that were going to be added and add the stars before they were official. It was for this precise reason that 42 was never an official star count. Idaho received statehood on July 3rd, 1890, taking the star count to 43 just one day before 42 would have become the official number. This fact makes 42 star flags an interesting part of our heritage and a Classic display of American capitalism.

Mounting: This is a sandwich mount between 100% cotton twill, black in color, and U.V. protective plexiglass. The black fabric was washed to reduce excess dye. An acid-free agent was added to the wash and the fabric was heat-treated for the same purpose.

Condition: A portion of the white space along the perimeter was trimmed. Otherwise excellent.
Styles / Movements Americana, Traditional
Incollect Reference Number 248340
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