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  ESPECIALLY RARE 15-STAR FLAG WITH AN EQUALLY RARE AND BEAUTIFUL ELLIPTICAL CONFIGURATION, MADE SOMETIME DURING THE MID-LATE 19TH CENTURY, PERHAPS TO GLORIFY KENTUCKY AS THE 15TH STATE

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 45.25" x 78.25"
Flag Size (H x L): 33.75" x 69.5"
Description....:
15 star American national flag with 13 stripes, made sometime in the period between the latter 1860's and the early 1890's. The stars are configured in an elliptical medallion, one of the most rare designs extant across early Stars & Stripes. This pattern exists in at least three known 13 star examples, all of which date to the Civil War (1861-65) era or prior. This is the only known flag with 15 stars in an ellipse and the design provides for plenty of visual merit.

The first flag act of 1777 provided for 13 stripes and 13 stars. When Vermont and then Kentucky became the 14th and 15th states in 1791 and 1792, respectively, there were no immediate changes to the national flag. Three years later, in 1795, the second flag act was passed by Congress, raising both the count of both the stripes and the stars to 15. This remained the official specification through the addition of five more states until finally, following the addition of Mississippi as the 20th state in 1818, the count of stars was raised again to 20. At this time the number of stripes was retuned the original 13, where it remains today almost 200 years later, to reflect the 13 original colonies.

Surviving 15 star flags that actually date to the 15 star period are extraordinarily rare. By this I mean flags dating between 1792-1796, when there were exactly 15 states, or in the official 15-star period, between 1795-1818. Approximately five examples are presently known, all of which have a complement of 15 stripes.

Other flags with 15 stars, however, were sometimes produced outside the 1792-1818 period. These generally have 13 stripes. The 15 star count would have been appropriate for various reasons. One of these would have been to glorify Kentucky as the 15th state. This might occur on an anniversary of Kentucky Statehood, for example, such as its centennial in 1892. Conservatively I am placing the outer date bracket at that year. From my long experience with flags, however, my gut instinct is that this example pre-dates the 1890's. It has the feel of the 36-37 star periods (1864-1876) and was perhaps made to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Kentucky in 1867, or for display at the Kentucky Pavilion at a World's Fair such as the 1876 Centennial International Exposition, the first such event ever held in America, which took place in honor our nation's 100-year anniversary of independence.

Another possibility, though less likely, may have been to demonstrate solidarity within the 15 Slave States around the time of the American Civil War, or to single out Kentucky specifically in war-related patriotism. During this tumultuous period, all sorts of emotions appeared in messages conveyed through the sewing of flags. Kentucky was a Border State, with its population split over the issues of slavery and states’ rights. Men from Kentucky served on both sides of the battle field. While the state attempted to maintain neutrality, the invasion by Confederate troops prompted them to call upon Union forces to drive out the Confederate Army. On November 20th 1861, while in a state of unrest, a sub-group within the state was formed styling itself as a "Convention of the people of Kentucky". With 200 participants representing 65 counties, the unofficial assembly voted in favor of secession. This was enough to convince Jefferson Davis to formally admit Kentucky to the Confederate States of America, as its 13th member state, on December 10th, 1861. Because this vote wasn't ratified by the true state legislature, however, as had been true of the first 11 Confederate States, Kentucky is considered a Border State. A different although similar situation occurred in the Border State of Missouri.

If made during the Civil war, the count of 15 may once again commemorate Kentucky as the 15 state, or it may signify the 15 Slave States, among which Kentucky was a part. With confusion and disagreement of all manner of issues, state-associated patriotism was heightened. In the North, versions of the Stars & Stripes were made that removed the Southern States. In the South, the opposite was sometimes true and Northern States were removed. In both cases the counts chosen would depend on the loyalties of the flag-maker and the date of manufacture. The Union added states during the war and the Confederacy did as well. There were states that officially seceded and there were Border States. The various additions or subtractions resulted in a wide spectrum of star counts. And sometimes a different number of stars was chosen all together, such as one that glorified one’s own state, either to show when it entered the Union among its peers, or when it left to secede to the Confederacy.

Unless a flag-maker meant to reproduce a particular flag with 15 stripes, such as the most famous of all American national flags, the Star Spangled Banner, surviving 15 star flags that post-date the 15-star period generally have 13 stripes. This is particularly true of examples that I have encountered which date between the mid- and late-19th century. Although the reason for including only 13 is not known with certainty, a good guess would be that the maker of any given 15 star flag of this era was unaware that official version also had 15 stripes. While it could be speculated it the 15 stars represent Kentucky in the Star Count (15th state) as well as the stripe count (13th Confederate state), I think this circumstance is unlikely.

The particular flag in question here has 13 stripes and its star pattern, while exceptionally rare and terrific by any measure in flag collecting circles, does not reproduce that of any specific known 15 star flag that I am aware of. The configuration matches neither surviving 15 star flags of the 1792-1818 era, or any that appear in paintings, sketches, or engravings of any kind. That does not mean that it wasn't created while viewing an earlier flag or the image of one, but that the original source, if there was one, has been lost to history.

Treadle-sewn throughout, the canton and stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting. The stars are made of cotton and double-appliquéd (sewn to both sides). There is a twill cotton binding along the hoist with two brass grommets. Given the construction, the earliest that this flag would date is the Civil War (1861-65). While treadle-sewn stars are not seen frequently until the first half of the 1890's, I have encountered them on rare occasion in Civil War period flags, usually those dating toward the end of the war and immediately after. I have seen them most frequently in the pre-1890 era in flags with counts of 36 and 38 stars specifically (1864-1889). Many flags have stars with this sort of stitching in the 1890-1895 era, before the zigzag machine stitch took hold and almost entirely replaced all other methods of star application.

It is of interest to note that a group of small 15 star parade flags, measuring approximately 5 by 8 inches, turned up with a group of 35 star parade flags at a yard sale in Ohio, which shares its southern border with Kentucky. Both varieties were obviously made by the same flag-maker at the same time. Because 15 star parade flags in this form are so rare, and because this group was founded so near to the state in question, it is logical to suggest that the flags may have been intended for use by Kentucky residents, whether in their own state, or possibly in a nearby metropolis, such as Cincinnati, or elsewhere. West Virginia became the 35th state when it broke off from Virginia during the Civil War in 1863. It also borders both Ohio and Kentucky, which draws another possible parallel to the flags' regional use. This is unusual, as flags with 35 stars were in used nation-wide among union supporters, just as 50 star flags are in use today across the country and around the world and bear no relevance to the 50th state (Hawaii). While it may be simply coincidental that the flags were found in close proximity to Kentucky and West Virginia, it does raise suspicion that there might be some reason for flags in these two star counts having been found together. They do, after all, relate to very important times in their respective political histories.

Surviving 15 star flags that date to the 19th century are rare. The fact that so few exist raises their interest among collectors who wish to own a flag in that star count, irrespective of the precise period of its manufacture, and the speculation of the reason behind the use of that count is certainly compelling.

Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% cotton, black in color, that has been washed to reduce 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 mount was then placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 15
Earliest Date of Origin: 1863
Latest Date of Origin: 1892
State/Affiliation: Kentucky
War Association:
Price: SOLD
E-mail: Inquire
 

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