34 Star Antique Flag with Great Star Pattern | An Abraham Lincoln Mourning Flag Made for Corporal Cowan | Kansas Statehood | Circa 1861-1864

34 Star Antique Flag
34 Star Antique Flag
3. 34 Star Antique Abraham Lincoln Mourning Flag.jpg
34 Star Antique Flag
34 Star Antique Flag
3. 34 Star Antique Abraham Lincoln Mourning Flag.jpg

34 Star Antique Flag with Great Star Pattern | An Abraham Lincoln Mourning Flag Made for Corporal Cowan | Kansas Statehood | Circa 1861-1864

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Price: Call 618-553-2291, or email info@bonsellamericana.com 
Frame Size (H x L):
20.5” x 18”    
Flag Size (H x L): 5” x 7”  
Note Size (H x L): 4” x 5”  

Offered is a thirty-four star mourning flag.  This flag is printed on silk and a border of black silk crepe is handsewn thereto.  Per Victorian-era tradition, black was used to show mourning and grief.  Following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in April of 1865, everything from buildings, to homes, to outfits, and flags were draped in black.  This flag is one of the only remaining examples of a Lincoln mourning flag.  The following note is included therewith.   

I bound this little flag for James after the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865.  James at the time was in the Filbert H. hospital [in] Philadelphia.  He was sent there after being wounded at the battle of Winchester Virginia Sept. 19-1864. 

Mary Cowan.

I bound the flag before I was married.  Married in 1868.

James C. Cowan, in July of 1862, enlisted as a Corporal, mustering into Company K, Massachusetts 34th Infantry.  In July of 1863, the 34th was ordered to Harper's Ferry and participated in various campaigns in the Shenandoah Valley.  Later, in May of 1864, the 34th participated in the Battle of New Market in Virginia, and Cowan was wounded during this battle.  In September of 1864, the 34th participated in the Third Battle of Winchester in Virginia, and Cowan was wounded a second time.  Cowan was discharged in June of 1865.   

Flags with handsewn black borders (i.e., mourning flags) are extremely rare.  In fact, we are aware of just one other example associated specifically with Lincoln.  The other example includes thirty-six stars and is featured in “The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord & Conflict,” written by Howard Michael Madaus & Whitney Smith (pages 90-91).  The Zaricor Flag Collection acquired it from the Mastai Flag Collection, in October of 2002, via Sotheby’s of New York City.     

The stars on this flag 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.  The smaller stars may be a variety of sizes, and may be canted in a various directions.  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 particular Great Star pattern, there is one center star, eight stars in a ring surrounding the center star, and twenty-five stars in a star pattern surrounding the ring.  Of additional note, the stars of this flag are particularly crude.  Many of the stars are missing one or more of their respective legs.  And some of the stars are so crude as to be almost circular.   

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, specifying that the flag should only have thirteen stripes, but should have 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 a thirty-eight star flag.

The thirty-four star flag represents the inclusion of Kansas to the Union.  Kansas was admitted on January 29th, 1861, and this flag became official on July 4th, 1861.  President Lincoln served, and the Civil War was fought, under this star count.  Many thirty-four star flags predate the first shots of the Civil War in 1861, as flag makers began producing them upon the admission of the Kansas, instead of the time at which the flag was officially admitted to the Union later in the same year.  The thirty-four star flag was official until July 4th 1863, the time at which the thirty-five star flag became official and began to represent the inclusion of West Virginia in the Union. 

Thirty-four and thirty-five star flags were the official flags for the majority of the Civil War, and for this reason, both are extremely collectible.  Flags associated with this time period (1861-1865) and earlier are among the rarest and most desirable of all US flags.  Prior to the Civil War, Americans did not typically display flags for patriotic purposes.  In fact, even 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 not until 1841 that regiments carried it.  Instead, most flags prior to the Civil War were used to mark ships, and were massive in scale so as to be seen from large distances. 

The surge in small US flags for patriotic purposes began primarily with onset of the Civil War.  This flag was made during this surge and is a rare survivor.   

Conservation Process: The flag and note are mounted to an acid free mat.  The flag and note are positioned behind Conservation Clear Acrylic (standard) or behind Optium Museum Acrylic (per request).

Frame: This flag is in an antique frame that is gilded and decorated.  It dates to between 1840 and 1870.   

Condition Report: The flag includes a few small stains.  The handwriting, on the note, is strong and legible.     

Collectability Level: The Extraordinary – Museum Quality Offerings
Date of Origin: 1861-1863  
Number of Stars: 34
Associated War: The Civil War (1861-1865)  
Associated State: Kansas

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