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31 STARS ARRANGED IN A RARE VARIATION OF THE “GREAT STAR” PATTERN, WITH THE WORD "VIRGINIA" PAINTED IN THE STRIPES, A PRE-CIVIL WAR FLAG, CALIFORNIA STATEHOOD, 1850-1858, PART OF A SERIES OF THESE FLAGS, THOUGHT TO HAVE BEEN USED AT THE WIGWAM CONVENTION (THE 1860 REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION) IN CHICAGO

Web ID: 31j-843
Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 22.5" x 25.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 11.25" x 14.25"
 
Description:
31 star American national parade flag, printed on glazed cotton, with the word "Virginia" painted across the stripe field in bold, black letters. The stars of the are arranged in a whimsical variation of what is known as the "Great Star" pattern, a large star made out of smaller stars. Because it is such a beautiful design, many collectors consider it the "Rolls Royce" of geometric configurations. Because there was no official star design until 1912, the pattern was left up to the whims of the flag-maker. Note how the very center of this particular design is comprised of a pentagon of stars surrounding a single center star. This is surrounded by a wreath of stars arranged in 5 groups of 2, from which the points of the Great Star extend. Unlike some Great Star patterns, note how this one has concave, semi-circular valleys and very pointy arms. It also has a additional star between each arm, just beyond their outermost point of intersection.

This flag is part of a series of known examples bearing the names of various states in the same fashion. These are collectively thought, by way of verbal history, to have been used at the 1860 Republican National Convention at the Wigwam Building in Chicago, Illinois. At least four other flags are known, all in the same style and with the same manner of lettering. One reads "Pennsylvania", one "California", one "Georgia", and the other "Florida". It is interesting to note that at least one other parade flag exists that has 30 stars, arranged in a different version of the Great Star pattern, across which the word "Verginia" (misspelled) is formally printed, as opposed to hand-painted. Using similar-sized characters, that flag was presumably by E.C. Williams of Rochester, NY, whose name is also professionally printed on the textile. If the flag made by Williams was part of a similar series, used to designate seating areas for 1848 or perhaps 1852 convention delegates, then it would be logical to presume that the series of 31 star flags with California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, and Florida, were copied from an earlier series of similar flags.

California became the 31st state in 1850, ushered in on the heels of the 1849 Gold Rush. The 31 star flag became official on July 4th, 1851, and remained so until July 3rd, 1858. Flags made prior to the Civil War are extremely rare, comprising less than one percent of 19th century flags that exist in the 21st century.

Use of parade flags prior to the Civil War seems to have been largely limited to political campaigning. There was very little private use of flags pre-war, for general patriotic purpose not associated with government or military affairs. Because most of the pre-Civil War parade flags that exist have the names of presidential candidates printed directly on them, it is logical to suggest that even those that do not share this feature were produced for political campaigns in some fashion.

1860 was the year that Abraham Lincoln won the White House against Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas, Southern Democrat John Breckinridge, and popular independent John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party. There were 33 states in 1860 and the flag officially had 33 stars, but flags used by politicians during the 19th century often had a star count that lagged behind that which was official. It may be that the star count simply wasn’t that important to the person ordering these small, printed flags. The purchaser may have sometimes been a campaign manager, but at others simply a political supporter who wished to make an impression and so chose an impressive star design from the flag-maker's existing inventory, regardless of the star count. In any event, several Lincoln campaign flags are known with 31 stars that are exactly like the California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Georgia flags, in various sizes, with the exception that they have "Lincoln & Hamlin" printed on them in some fashion. There is also a "Douglas & Johnson" flag with 31 stars in the same pattern. So 31 star flags of this exact style were certainly in use in 1860, which support the reported history of use of the California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, and Florida flags at the Wigwam Convention.

The "Florida" example is documented in a book by Stuart Schneider called "Collecting Lincoln" (1997, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., Atglen, PA), on page 46, accompanied by the Wigwam story.

Because a flag in the same style also exists with a Fremont & Dayton overprint, produced for the 1856 presidential campaign, it is also possible that the flags were produced for the 1856 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, the very first for the newly formed Republican Party. The count of 31 stars does not exclude 1852 Whig convention in Baltimore, but 1852 campaign textiles are practically unknown (just one flag and three or four kerchiefs are known, all of them representing Whig candidate Winfield Scott). The 31 star count likewise does not exclude Democrat conventions in this or any of the aforementioned years, but Democrats appear to have made little use of flags, perhaps because they were slower to adapt to the pursuit of campaign advertising in general. Campaigning for public office was considered unbecoming of a gentleman until the pivotal year of 1840, when Whig candidate William Henry Harrison became the first to produce flags, kerchiefs, banners and broadsides. Democrats were slow to respond.

In summary, this 31 star flag has a collection of features that makes it a particularly special object. Here is a pre-Civil War star count, on a flag made to represent Virginia--a state to which very few surviving Stars & Stripes flags of the 19th century can be tied, either before or following the Civil War. Because this is a large and heavily populated state with some degree of wealth and proximity to the capital, greater interest can be expected from capable collectors, which raises its value in the marketplace. Further, the above features are present on a textile that was probably used in Chicago, a historic and wealthy city, for the political convention where Abraham Lincoln was selected and hence became the Republican Party's first successful candidate for president. This event of course took place on the doorstep of the Civil War. When this many things come together in one flag, it can easily be counted a masterpiece among known examples.

Mounting: The water gilded American frame dates to the period between 1830 and 1860. The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% cotton, black in color, which has been washed to reduce excess dye. An acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye, which was heat-treated for the same purpose. Spacers keep the textile away from the glazing, which is U.V. protective glass.

Condition: There is minor water staining and there are a couple of small dark stains, one in the bottom stripe near the fly end and one in the center of the white area along the hoist. There are tiny holes along the hoist end, where the flag was once tacked to its original wooden staff. There is moderate loss of pigment in the letter "V" and there is minor loss elsewhere in the lettering. There is modest pigment loss in the red stripes in the lower, fly-end quadrant. The absence of total coverage of pigment in the canton is a result of the original printing. The flag presents beautifully and is so rare that it would warrant practically any condition issues. Further, many of my clients prefer flags to show their age and history of use.
   
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Parade flag
Star Count: 31
Earliest Date of Origin: 1850
Latest Date of Origin: 1860
State/Affiliation: Virginia
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281
E-mail: info@jeffbridgman.com


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