31 Star Antique Flag with an Outstanding Grand Luminary Star Pattern | California Statehood | Circa 1850-1858

31 Star Antique Flag with an Outstanding Grand Luminary Star Pattern | California Statehood
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31 Star Antique Flag with an Outstanding Grand Luminary Star Pattern | California Statehood
2. 31 Star Antique Flag.jpg
3. 31 Star Antique Flag.jpg
4. 31 Star Antique Flag.jpg
5. 31 Star Antique Flag.jpg
6. Large Frames.JPG
7. X-Large Frames.JPG

31 Star Antique Flag with an Outstanding Grand Luminary Star Pattern | California Statehood | Circa 1850-1858

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Price: Call 618-553-2291, or email info@bonsellamericana.com
Frame Size (H x L): 36” x 57.5”
Flag Size (H x L):
25” x 46.5”

Offered is an outstanding thirty-one star flag, which was recently discovered in an attic in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.  Its stars are arranged in a "Great Star" pattern, one of the rarest and most beautiful patterns encountered in antique flags.  The Great Star pattern is a large star made of smaller stars.  Such a pattern was perfectly acceptable, as prior to President Taft's Executive Order 1556 in 1912, flag makers were free to place the stars however they wished.  In this Great Star pattern, there is a large center star, five medium stars surrounding the large center star, and twenty-five small stars mixed in with the medium stars.  The large center star represents the newest state added to the Union (e.g., California in the case of this thirty-one star flag).    

US Naval Captain Samuel Reid is credited with designing the Great Star pattern in 1818.  Captain Reid was an officer in the US Navy and commanded the privateer General Armstrong during the War of 1812.  Andrew Jackson credited Captain Reid's heroism in delaying the British Squadron in the Battle of Fayal, and aiding in General Jackson's defense of New Orleans.  Captain Reid and his crew were greeted as heroes. 

The Second Flag Act, passed in 1794, stated that the flag would have fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, in response to Vermont and Kentucky being added to the Union.  Knowing that this approach would not be sustainable, with Captain Reid's help, Congress passed the Flag Act of 1818.  It specified that the flag should only have thirteen stripes and a star for each state admitted to the Union.  It further specified that the addition of each star should be on the Fourth of July following its respective state's admission. 

Captain Reid played a significant role in the Flag Act of 1818, and recommended a basic design of thirteen horizontal alternating stripes in honor of the thirteen colonies, and a star in honor of each state.  He further recommended several potential star patterns, including twenty stars in the shape of a larger star for general use.  Reid suggested this pattern to make the flag consistent and easily identifiable, particularly at long distances and at sea.  His star pattern recommendation was not ultimately included in the Act, nor was any star pattern, but Captain Reid is universally credited with designing the Great Star pattern.  Its use peaked in the 1840s, but it was also used during the Civil War and occasionally during Centennial Celebrations.  Its last known commercial use was on thirty-eight star flags.

This flag is printed on cotton and includes a hoist rope.  Its canton and red stripes were placed using a process known as press dyeing.  This first press dyeing patent issued in 1849, and several other patents issued in the 19th century for similar, improved processes.  The method described in the 1849 patent included using a dye vat in combination with a dyeing frame.  The dyeing frame was made, so as to prevent the dye from penetrating portions of the flag that did not need any color (e.g., the stars and the white stripes).  Press dyeing never gained widespread use, as it tended to result in minor printing blemishes.  For example, with this flag, the blue dye seeps into the stars, and the red dye seeps into the white stripes. 

The red stripes of this flag are light red in appearance, while the canton is a dark, rich blue.  The First Flag Act of 1777 specified the number of stripes and the colors of the flag, but did not specify the exact shades of each color, which is why some flags—like this one—have unusual colors.  The exact shades were not officially specified until 1934. 

This flag is elongated in its form.  The First Flag Act of 1777 was silent as to the proportions of the flag, and no formal proportions were adopted until 1912, via Executive Order 1556.      

Thirty-one star flags are extremely rare, both because they were official for only eight years and because they were made before the Civil War.  Flags predating the Civil War time period (1861-1865) are the rarest and most desirable of all US flags.  Prior to the Civil War, Americans did not typically display flags for patriotic purposes.  And likewise the military did not regularly use the flag, as it was not until 1834 that the army field artillery was permitted to carry the traditional US flag, and it was not until 1841 that regiments carried it.  For these reasons, flags made prior to the Civil War account for only around 1-in-100 flags made in the 19th century.    

As noted above, the thirty-one star flag represents the inclusion of California to the Union.  California was admitted on September 9th, 1850, and this flag became official on July 4th, 1851.  The thirty-one star flag was official until July 4th, 1858, the time at which the thirty-two star flag became official and began to represent the inclusion of Minnesota in the Union. 

Frame: This offering is in our X-Large Distressed Black with Silver Liner Frame.  However, it can be reframed and would look great using any one of our Large or X-Large Frames, which are shown in the final two images.  The pricing associated with the different framing options may vary.  Reframing of an offering may delay shipment by up to two weeks.  

Condition Report: As shown in the images, this flag exhibits stains throughout its surface and some minor tears, the most notable of which is positioned near the upper portion of the fly end. 

Collectability Level: The Extraordinary – Museum Quality Offerings   
Date of Origin: 1850-1858  
Number of Stars: 31
Associated State: California  

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