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  38 STARS IN A "NOTCHED" PATTERN ON A CLAMP-DYED AMERICAN FLAG OF THE 1876-1889 PERIOD, REFLECTS COLORADO STATEHOOD, MADE BY THE U.S. BUNTING COMPANY IN LOWELL, MASSACHUSETTS​

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 51" x 84.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 39" x 72.5"
Description....:
38 star American national flag, press-dyed on wool bunting. The stars are configured in what is known as a "notched" pattern, in which two spaces were left open along the hoist end in anticipation of the addition of two more Western Territories.

The flag is pieced from three panels of wool bunting that are joined together by hand-stitching. Fabric along the hoist end was rolled over and bound by hand and left partially exposed beneath a heavy canvas binding, along which there are 3 brass grommets. A black stencil along the obverse of the binding reads “American Ensign 6 ft.” [American Ensign is so light that it can scarcely be read]. The flag was made by the U.S. Bunting Co., in Lowell, Massachusetts and was probably intended for nautical use. Versions of this stencil are seen on other known U.S. Bunting Co. examples, some of which include the name and a patent date of 1870, which related to the clamp-dying process with regard to its use in flag production. The U.S. Navy was in the habit of using 13 star flags on its small boats during the second half of the 19th century, not flags with the full star count, like this one, but there were probably exceptions to that rule. The U.S. Bunting Company was owned in part by Civil War General Benjamin Butler, who had a great deal of both political and military clout and is known to have sought and obtained Naval contracts.

These press-dyed flags may also have made for foreign ships that sailed into American ports, hence the inclusion of the word “American” on the sleeve, which would have been obvious to any U.S. resident. Such identification is generally excluded on American flags.

The 38th state, Colorado, received its statehood on August 1st, 1876. This was the year of our nation’s centennial of independence from Great Britain. Although 37 was the official star count for the American flag in 1876, flag-making was a competitive venture, and no one wanted to be making 37 star flags when others were making 38’s. It is for this reason that 38 and 13 stars (to represent the original 13 colonies) are the two star counts most often seen at the Centennial International Exposition, the six-month long, World’s Fair event, held in honor of the anniversary, in Philadelphia. The 38 star flag became official in 1877 and was generally used until the addition of the Dakotas in 1889.

Some Notes on the Press-Dying Process:

First patented in 1849, the press-dying process was thought to be a novel idea that would improve flag-making efficiency. In this case, for example, it could potentially alleviate the chore of hand-appliquéing 76 stars (38 on each side). In reality, however, the result must have been less efficient than sewing. To achieve white stars, for example, metal plates in the shape of stars had to be clamped to either side of a length of woolen fabric, in the desired configuration, so they were back-to-back. These may have been lightly brushed beforehand with a solution that would resist dye, or perhaps with a thin coat of wax. The stars were clamped together tightly, the bunting was dyed blue, and the areas where the metal stars were positioned would be left white. For flags with press-dyed stripes, the same task was repeated with different clamps.

A form of resist-dyeing, this method often resulted in crude characteristics, such as stripes with irregular lines, in various widths, and stars with inconsistent shapes, in slightly varying sizes. It is likely that this resulted in some lost product and wasted time, from flags that had bleeding or misprint issues and were of too poor quality to sell. This may perhaps explain why it never became a become a popular method of flag production.

Wool was preferred because it sheds water, making it the fabric of choice for all maritime flags and, in fact, most flags produced by professional flag-makers for long-term outdoor use. The inclusion of cotton would have made the fabric easier to dye and may have, in fact, precluded the need for clamp dying (another name for the process). Whatever the case may be, printing on wool is costly and difficult. Even today, only about 1% of wool fabric is printed*, because it generally needs to be washed afterward and wool cannot easily be treated with water.

In regard to wool flags, press-dying was primarily used during the Centennial-era by the U.S. Bunting Company of Lowell, Massachusetts, which began making press-dyed flags for the U.S. military in 1869, and by Horstmann Brothers of Philadelphia. The U.S. Bunting Co. was one of the first flag-makers to successfully produce high quality wool bunting fabric in the States, and while its owners worked diligently to master the press-dyeing process, it seems quite obvious today that it was actually more costly than expected, because it never become a popular method of flag production. This inexact art of reverse-dyeing would often add crude characteristics, such as stripes with irregular lines, in various widths, and stars with inconsistent shapes, in slightly varying sizes. It is likely that this resulted in lost product and wasted time, from flags that had bleeding or misprint issues and were of too poor quality to sell. But within those flags that survived, today’s collectors today find the irregularities interesting, not only because they demonstrates early production methods, but also because they lends the sort of folk qualities that make early flags more interesting to look at.

* Chen, W., Wang, G., & Bai, Y., “Best for Wool Fabric Printing…,” (Textile Asia, 2002, v.33 (12)), pp. 37-39.

Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed within 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.

The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color. The black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed molding is Italian. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass. Feel free to contact us for more details.

Condition: There is minor mothing throughout, most of which is located in the stripe field toward the hoist end, and there is minor oxidation and staining. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Collector Level: Intermediate-Level Collectors and Special Gifts
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 38
Earliest Date of Origin: 1876
Latest Date of Origin: 1889
State/Affiliation: Colorado
War Association: 1866-1890 Indian Wars
Price: SOLD
E-mail: Inquire
 

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