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  42 STARS, AN UNOFFICIAL STAR COUNT, WASHINGTON STATEHOOD, 1889-1890, MADE BY JOHN CURTAIN IN NEW YORK CITY

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): n/a
Flag Size (H x L): 48.5" x 71.5"
Description....:
42 STARS, AN UNOFFICIAL STAR COUNT, WASHINGTON STATEHOOD, 1889-1890, MADE BY JOHN CURTAIN IN NEW YORK CITY:

42 star American national flag, made by John Curtin in New York City between 1889 and 1890. Along the hoist of the flag is maker’s label, printed on oilcloth cotton that bears an illustration of a ship’s wheel surrounding a tall ship, and text that reads:

“CURTINMADE”; John Curtin Corp. N.Y.; Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.; 46-48 Front Street; New York City”

Surviving makers’ labels are extremely scarce in 19th century flags. I can’t recall ever seeing one on a 42 star example. John Curtain was a port warden, apparently in both New Jersey and New York State, appointed to the post by both New York Governor George McClellan (the former Civil War General) and the Governor of New Jersey. As early as April 5th, 1878, he occupied the loft at No. 98 and No. 99 West Street as a sailmaker, in the area now known as now West Greenwich Village*. He obviously moved to Front Street at some future date and was still in business almost 30 years later. In 1818 he was listed at 2 and 3 South Street (South Street Seaport), as evidenced by an ad that he placed that year in the May 18th “Journal of Marine Trades”.**

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 State, 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 July 4th 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. 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.

Despite their unusual story, printed 42 star flags (called parade flags) are quite common. Many were made because flag makers were so excited to offer something new after 13 years with no reason to produce new star counts. But 42 star flags with pieced and sewn construction are scarce. Why this is true is unclear, but most of the ones that exist are, like the bulk of sewn flags that have survived from the 19th century, very large by today's standards, measuring 8 feet or greater in length on the fly. Collectors prefer flags of a more manageable size because they can be more readily be framed and displayed in a modern indoor setting.

Construction: The canton and stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting that has been pieced with treadle stitching. There is a heavy twill cotton binding along the hoist with two brass grommets.

The stars are made of cotton and are double-appliquéd with a zigzag machine stitch, which is very rare among flags made in 1889. I have seen this stitch employed on a small handful of flags made in this year, which is the earliest I believe it to have been used. I examined one 38 star flag many years ago with zigzag sewn stars that was probably made during the period in which we had 38 states and, if so, I would guess dated to 1889, the very last year in which the 38 star count was official. I have seen one other 42 star flag and one period 43 star example (1890-91), an extremely rare count, with zigzag sewn stars. Many 44 star flags (1890-1896) exist with this manner of construction, though the proportion of those with lineal machine-stitched and hand-sewn stars is roughly equal to them in number. By the 45 star period (1896-1907), most all makers had given up hand and lineal machine appliqué work for the zigzag stitch.

* New York State Legislature, “Documents of the Assembly of New York State, Volume 5” (1886, Weed, Parsons and Company), p. 20.

** Note: According to another source, Curtin may have been in business as early as 1853, also at South Street, but that claim is presently unsubstantiated. It seems likely that the date was actually 1883 and was either misread or misreported.

Mounting: The flag has not yet been mounted. We employ professional staff with masters degrees in textile conservation and can attend to all of your mounting and framing needs.

Condition: There is moderate mothing in the bottom, fly end quadrant. This can be masked during the mounting process, by placing fabric of similar coloration behind the stripes. The presence of the makers labels and unusual construction warrant the condition.
Collector Level: Intermediate-Level Collectors and Special Gifts
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 42
Earliest Date of Origin: 1889
Latest Date of Origin: 1890
State/Affiliation: Washington
War Association: 1866-1890 Indian Wars
Price: SOLD
E-mail: Inquire
 

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