Historic York County York, PA United States 717.502.1281
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Extremely Rare, Cotton, Antique American Parade Flag with 26 Stars & 11 Stripes

Origin United States
Period 19th Century
W. 35.75 in; H. 38.25 in; D. 2.5 in;
W. 90.81 cm; H. 97.16 cm; D. 6.35 cm;
Condition Good. See Item Description.
Creation Date 1837 -1846

26 star American parade flag, printed on cotton, with 4 rows of 6 stars and 2 stars offset before them at the hoist end of the canton. These roughly form two exaggerated “C’s”, a design that is seldom seen in any star count. It has been suggested that this might actually form the letter “M” (tipped ninety degrees) for Michigan, which became the 26th state to join the Union on January 26th, 1837. While this may not have been the intended purpose of the arrangement, it remains an interesting speculation and whatever the case may be, this seems to have been a popular way to arrange 26 stars.

The 26 star flag became official on July 3rd, 1837, and remained so until the addition of the 27th state in 1845. The earliest known parade flags have either 26 or 13 stars, the latter made during this same general time frame with patriotic respect for our colonial past. 26 is a rare star count and only a small number of examples that display this number are known to exist. Most printed examples have political advertising for the presidential campaign of William Henry Harrison (1840), Henry Clay or James Polk (1844), or to support the 1844 platform of an emerging political faction known as the Native American Party (part of the nativist movement). The remainder, including this flag, survive among less than 20 known examples. Most of these are more square in shape when compared to modern flags. Their profile may reflect the silk militia flags and regimental banners that were in use during the 18th and 19th centuries and would have simultaneously allowed women to use the flags as scarves to drape over their bonnets at parades or political rallies. Most that I have encountered, however, were at some point tacked to staffs in traditional parade flag format. That is the case with this example, as evidenced by tack marks at the top and bottom of the hoist and the ghostly shadow of a staff that runs into the first column of stars.

Approximately six flags (including this one) are currently known to exist in this basic style, with this configuration. Four of these are made of silk and are larger in scale, measuring approximately three by three feet. The fifth is made of cotton, is approximately four inches shorter in height and 5 inches longer, and is the only rectangular example among the group. All bear the same “Double-C” star configuration (though one displays it in a mirror image, with the 2 offset stars located toward the fly instead of the hoist).

A seventh flag is also known with this star configuration, but this is printed in waving format with simulated shadowing and a printed image of a whimsical staff along the hoist end. While very different in this regard, the size and fabric are akin to the silk examples and the five flags were probably originated with the same maker.

The example in question here bears only 11 stripes. This may or may not be original to the flag’s design. While the other known example has 13 stripes, it is actually shorter in height instead of taller. It does appear to have been made by the same flag-maker, but this does not provide much evidence as to whether or not the 11-stripe count is original. Many of the known political flags of this era have numbers of stripes that are not 13. Even extremely similar flags from the same maker, in the same basic design, can have different stripe counts. This may seem odd in a modern context, but variation of this sort is consistent with not only mid-19th century flags, but political kerchiefs as well. The patriotic and political kerchiefs of the early-mid 19th century display an extremely wide variation of traits from one textile to the next, with surprisingly subtle differences that would have required substantial time and effort to complete.

The fact that the canton rests on a red stripe is a very rare 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 also evidence that the Navy used this design feature on at least some of its flags made during the mid-19th century and sometimes the placement was undoubtedly by accident. In any event, the war stripe feature is highly desired among collectors and enthusiasts and is particularly rare in printed flags.

The combination of the very early date, unusual star configuration, war stripe feature, and the rarity of flags in the 26 star count in general, combine to place this among the best parade flag examples.

Mounting: Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed in our own conservation department, which is led by masters degree trained staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples; more than anyone worldwide. Feel free to contact us for more details.

The black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed molding is Italian. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic (Plexiglas).

Condition: The flag is in extraordinary condition, especially in consideration of both rarity and the period in which it was made. There is very minor fading in limited areas and there is very minor soiling. There is a hole in the top, hoist-end corner of the canton and another in the last red stripe in a similar lateral position, each of which reflects points at which the flag was once tacked to a wooden staff. There are 2 very minor tears in the 2nd red stripe, one of which slightly brides into the white stripe below. Fraying along the fly end is evidence of the flag having been flown for an extended period. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.

Important Notes: A significant portion of white cotton was left along the top edge, above the canton and 1st stripe. This would have been blank space on the bolt of cotton, beyond where the flag was printed. This would have often been trimmed off, but was sometimes was left by whomever did the trimming. We left this intact and simply folded it over during the mounting process.

Frame Size (H x L): 38.25" x 35.75"
Flag Size (H x L): 27" x 25"
Styles / Movements Americana
Incollect Reference Number 248334
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