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38 Star American Flag With Stars in a Rare Circle-In-A- Square Medallion

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38 STARS IN A RARE CIRCLE-IN-A-SQUARE MEDALLION WITH A HUGE CENTER STAR, ON AN ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG MADE BY HORSTMANN BROS. IN PHILADELPHIA FOR THE 1876 CENTENNIAL INTERNATIONAL EXPOSITION 38 star American national parade flag, press-dyed on wool bunting, with an especially rare type of medallion star pattern. This consists of a huge center star, surrounded by a wreath of stars, with a square of stars surrounding the perimeter. I have seen fewer than 40 flags with variations of this circle-in-a-square design, making it significantly more rare than the equally beautiful “great star” pattern. They are so scarce that even major collectors like Boleslaw Mastai, who wrote the first major text on flag collecting and owned more than 500 examples, never acquired one. Many fantastic star patterns were made in the patriotism that accompanied or nation’s 100-year anniversary of independence in 1876 and this is among the best of all examples. Note how the vertical alignment of the stars varies greatly, and that the center star is canted so that one point is directed toward the 1:00 position. There were no regulations concerning either star configuration or position until 1912, and many flag-makers went out of their way to catch the attention of potential buyers. This flag was made by Horstmann Brothers, a major military outfitter. Known examples of printed wool flags, including this variety, survive with a binding along the hoist, on which the Horstmann name is printed. One such example was found in the Philadelphia area among a group of international flags, all but one of which were made of press-dyed wool and were likewise marked with the Horstmann name. Due to the fact that the company was located in Philadelphia, and that the 1876 Centennial International Exposition, our nation's first major World’s Fair, took place in the same city to celebrate 100 years of American independence, it is logical to assume that Horstmann supplied these flags to be displayed at the event. There is a heavy cotton twill binding along the hoist, in the form of an open sleeve, along which is a blank-inked stencil that reads "2 x 3 ft." to indicate size. This same exact stamp appears on other Horstmann-made flags and is readily identifiable. Both the hoist and fly ends were bound with treadle stitching. Small, decorative flags such as this had historically been printed on cotton or silk, neither of which were well suited for long-term use. Because most were intended for just one day’s use at a parade or political event, they were reasonable and sufficient for the purpose. Printed wool flags were produced as early as the 1840’s and seem to have been primarily intended for military function. Because wool sheds water, most flags intended to fly for any lengthy period of time were made of wool bunting, which had an open weave that allowed both wind and water to pass through more readily. At the same time, dyed wool was much less subject to fading than silk or cotton. Because the Centennial Exposition lasted for a period of six months, it required decorative flags that would sustain being flown for a longer time and withstand the elements. It is reasonable to assume that press-dyed wool flags were suggested for the event by Horstmann for precisely these reasons. Colorado became the 38th state on August 1st, 1876. Per the Third Flag Act of 1818, stars were not officially added until the 4th of July following a state's addition. For this reason, 37 was the official star count for the American flag in 1876. Flag-making was a competitive venture, however, and few flag-makers would have continued to produce 37 star flags when their competitors were making 38’s. It is for this reason that 38 and 13 stars (to represent the original 13 colonies) are more often seen at the Centennial Expo. Some flag-makers would have been adding a star for the 38th state even before it entered the Union, in the early part of 1876 or even prior. In fact, many makers of parade flags were actually producing 39 star flags, in hopeful anticipation of the addition of two more Western Territories instead of one. But the 39th state would not join the Union for another 13 years, when the Dakota Territory entered as two states on the same day. The 38 star flag became official on July 4th, 1877 and was generally used until the addition of the Dakotas in 1889. It was officially replaced by the 43 star flag on July 4th, 1890. Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% natural fabrics throughout for support. Fabric of similar coloration was used to underlay for masking purposes and to strengthen the flag's color against the lighter ground. Professional painting of the underlay fabric was also undertaken when necessary to achieve a better match. The flag was then hand-stitched to a background of 100% cotton twill, black in color, that was 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 molding with a wood-grained surface, to which a rippled profile molding, black with gold highlights, was added as a liner. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic. Condition: There is moderate soiling and staining, particularly toward the fly end. There is minor to moderate mothing throughout. The last 6.25 inches of the top stripe was absent, along with a small portion of the upper edge of the 2nd stripe. These were underlain with period fabric, matched so well that it is difficult to discern the transition. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. The rarity beauty of this example well warrant any condition issues. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 anticipated. This would explain why it never became a become a popular method of flag production. Chen, W., Wang, G., & Bai, Y., “Best for Wool Fabric Printing…,” (Textile Asia, 2002, v.33 (12)), pp. 37-39. Frame size (H x L): Approximate 37" x 48.5" Flag size (H x L): 25.25" x 36.5".


  • Dimensions
    Height: 37 in. (93.98 cm)Width: 48.5 in. (123.19 cm)Depth: 2.5 in. (6.35 cm)
  • Materials and Techniques
  • Place of Origin
  • Period
  • Date of Manufacture
  • Condition
    See Item Description.
  • Seller Location
    York County, PA
  • Reference Number
    Seller: 38j-11021stDibs: LU849715537831

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    Ships From: York County, PA
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About the Seller
5 / 5
Located in York County, PA
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