Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Antique Flags > American Flags


Web ID: 36j-907
Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): 55.75" x 80.75"
Flag Size (H x L): 44" x 59.5"
36 star American national flag of the Civil War era, entirely hand-sewn and with some rare and beautiful features. The stars are arranged in a rendition of what is known as the Great Star or Great Luminary configuration, a large star made out of smaller stars. With no official star pattern before 1912, their design was left up to the artistic liberties of the flag-maker. Strikingly visual, the Great Star is both scarce and coveted by collectors.

The 36th state, Nevada, entered the Union during the Civil War on October 31st, 1864. The last Confederate general surrendered on May 26th, 1865. The 36 star flag became official on July 4th of that year, but makers of printed flags would have begun adding a 36th star to their flags in 1864, even before the addition of the new state occurred.

Lincoln pushed Nevada through just 8 days before the November election. Nevada’s wealth in silver was attractive to a nation struggling with the debts of war and increased support for the Republican ticket. The 36 star flag was replaced by the 37 star flag in 1867, with the addition of Nebraska.

Adding to the flag's appeal is its small scale across those with of piece-and-sewn construction. During the 19th century, sewn flags (as opposed to those that were printed on cloth) were typically eight feet long and larger. This is because they were important in their function as signals, meaning that they needed to be seen and recognized from great distance. A flag that was six feet in length was considered small and production of flags smaller than this was extremely limited. Even infantry battle flags were approximately six by six and-one-half feet, about the size of an average quilt of the same period. As time passed, circumstances changed and sewn flags began to find more of a decorative purpose. Smaller flags are more scarce and far easier to frame and display.

The Great Star configuration appears to have come about shortly after the War of 1812, when Congressman Peter Wendover of New York requested that Captain Samuel Reid, a War of 1812 naval hero, create a new design that would become the third official format of the Stars & Stripes. A recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, Reid became harbor master of New York following the war. During his lifetime, he created many innovations in signal use, including a system that could actually send messages from New York to New Orleans by sea in just two hours.

Use as a Naval signal had been the primary reason for the initial creation of an American national flag in 1777, but since there was no official star design, the appearance of our flag varied greatly. Reid’s primary concern centered on both consistency and ease of recognition. His hope was as more and more states joined the Union and more and more stars were added to the flag, that it would remain easily identified on the open seas. In 1818, Reid suggested to Congress that the number of stripes permanently return to 13 (reduced from 15) and that the stars be grouped into the shape of one large star.

Reid’s proposal would have kept the star constellation in roughly the same format, in a pattern that could be quickly identified through a spyglass as the number of states grew. His concept for the stripes was ultimately accepted, but his advice on the star pattern was rejected by President James Monroe, due to the increased cost of arranging the stars in what would become known as the “Great Star”, “Great Flower”, or “Great Luminary” pattern. Monroe probably didn’t wish to impose this cost on either the government or civilians, so he suggested a simple pattern of justified rows. Never-the-less, the Great Star was produced by anyone willing to make it and its rarity today, along with its beauty, has driven the desirability of American flags with this configuration.

The canton and stripes of the flag are made of fine merino wool. Note how the canton has faded to a dusty seafoam blue, which is endearingly attractive. The stars of the flag are hand-sewn and single-appliquéd. This means that they were applied to one side of the canton, then the blue fabric was cut from behind each star, folded over, and under-hemmed, so that one star could be viewed on both sides of the flag. I always find single-appliquéd stars more interesting, not only because they are evidence of a more difficult level of seam-work and stitching, but also because they are more visually intriguing. The two visible rows of hand-stitching emphasize their hand-sewn construction, which is one reason why flags with single-appliquéd stars often appeal to connoisseurs of early American textiles.

There is a twill cotton sleeve along the hoist with five brass grommets, which is a peculiarly large number for any flag of this size; most would have had only one at the top and bottom, though occasionally a third in the center. The name "H.R. Jennings" is stamped four times along the hoist, once between each pair of grommets. This would be the name of a former owner and it was common to mark flags for ownership in one fashion or another during the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th.

The flag is of a size that was popular for local groups and individuals to present to a Civil War unit as it headed off to war, or perhaps after a flag that belonged to a unit was damaged or captured. Note how approximately one-fifth of the last red stripe has been clipped and removed at the fly end. This was most certainly done so that pieces of the flag could be taken as souvenirs when the use of the flag came to an end. Souveniring was a common practice, though it is surprisingly seldom seen on flags that reach the antiques marketplace.

The combination of the beauty of this design, its rarity, small size and probable military association during the Civil War era results in a wonderful example of the period.

Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% silk organza on every seam and throughout the star field. The flag was then hand-sewn to background of 100% cotton twill, black in color, which has been washed to remove excess dye. An acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye and the fabric was heat-treated for the same purpose. The flag was then placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 36
Earliest Date of Origin: 1864
Latest Date of Origin: 1867
State/Affiliation: Nevada
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281

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