Spectacular 18 Star Flag with a Starburst Pattern | Made Either to Recognize the Free Union States or to Commemorate Louisiana's Statehood | Circa 1861-1890

18 Star Antique Flag
18 Star Antique Flag
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18 Star Antique Flag
18 Star Antique Flag
3. 18 Star Flag.jpg
4. 18 Star Flag.jpg
5. 18 Star Flag.jpg
6. Large Distressed Black and Gold.jpg
7. Large Frames.JPG
8. X-Large Frames.JPG

Spectacular 18 Star Flag with a Starburst Pattern | Made Either to Recognize the Free Union States or to Commemorate Louisiana's Statehood | Circa 1861-1890

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Price: Call 618-553-2291, or email info@bonsellamericana.com 
Frame Size (H x L): 50.5” x 57”
Flag Size (H x L): 39.5” x 46”

Offered is a homemade eighteen star flag, which dates to between 1861 and 1890.  We acquired this flag from a friend and longtime Midwest flag collector (45+ years).  We have visited his home on several occasions, and each time we were in awe of the two flags hanging over his fireplace.  The first flag was a period thirty-one star flag and the other was this eighteen star flag positioned atop the thirty-one star flag.  Whenever visiting, talking, or writing, we always expressed our interest in the eighteen star flag.  For years, he told us that we would have the right of first refusal, and for years we awaited our opportunity.  Recently, our opportunity finally came, and we feel blessed to add what we always referred to as the “fireplace flag” to our offerings.  It is among the best flags that we have ever handled (if not the very best).    

Homemade flags, like this one, are among the most interesting of all antique flags.  They were typically made with whatever materials were available, and the placement of the canton, stripes, and stars is often times quite interesting.  In the case of this flag, its star pattern is spectacular—both in its visual appeal and its rarity.  It includes a large center star, a downward sloping line of stars extending from corner to corner and intersecting the center star, and an upward sloping line of stars extending from the opposite corners and also intersecting the center star.  Further, it includes two stars in the left quadrant defined by the sloping lines, one star in the upper quadrant, one star in the right quadrant, and one star in the lower quadrant.  In combination, the stars appear to burst outwards from the center star.  Such a pattern is referred to as a starburst pattern or perhaps more specifically, in this case, as a starburst medallion pattern.  There are likely fewer than ten examples with this general star pattern.

The stars in the corners are smaller than the large center star, but larger than all of the other stars.  The center star includes a white star and a red star on top of the white star.  We have been referring to the red star as a “blood star,” as it may have been symbolic of the bloody battles of the Civil War.  In any event, the combination of the white and red stars adds further to the rarity and visual appeal of this flag.     

The red stripes of this flag are ruby red in appearance, while the canton is cornflower 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.   

The stripes, the canton, and the hoist of this flag are all made of cotton.  The stripes are individually cut and machine sewn together, the canton is machine sewn to the stripes, and the hoist is machine sewn to both the stripes and canton.  More specifically, the stripes, the canton, and the hoist are joined via treadle stitching.  Treadle stitching was a technical possibility beginning in the 1830s, but not a realistic possibility until the 1850s.  Treadle stitching became relatively common by the 1860s and was used in approximately half of flags made between 1861 and 1865.   

The stars of this flag are made of cotton and handsewn to both sides of the canton (i.e., double appliqued).  Prior to 1885, stars were commonly applied by hand.  After this, they were commonly applied using a treadle stich or a zig-zag stitch. 

The star pattern, materials, and construction associated with this flag conservatively date it to between 1861 and 1890.  This flag is small in size for a piece-and-sewn flag, dating to this period.  This adds considerably to its appeal, as it can be easily displayed in a home or office.  It was not until the Civil War that small piece-and-sewn flags were made with any frequency at all, and not until the 1890s that they were made with regularity.  During most of the 19th century, flags made with piece-and-sewn construction had a width of at least eight feet, as they were typically used as signaling devices for the military or by sailors.  Even the flags that were used for decorative purposes usually had a width of six feet or more, and versions smaller than this were quite rare.

Today, there is only one period eighteen star flag known to exist.  In 1812, Mrs. Ann Mather Hickey and other women of Baton Rouge made this flag for Colonel Philip Hicky.  Colonel Hicky used this flag at Louisiana’s acceptance to the Union and also at the Baton Rouge arsenal.  It is now on display at the Louisiana State Museum.  Interestingly, this flag includes both eighteen stars and stripes, even though the Second Flag Act of 1794 still specified that the flag include just fifteen of each.  Clearly, Mrs. Hickey extrapolated the Second Flag Act of 1794 to represent Louisiana, both in the number of stars and stripes.  Later, the Third Flag of 1818 specified that the flag include one star for each state of the union and permanently set the number of stripes at thirteen.   

As discussed, the flag offered here dates to between 1861 and 1890, and thus is not a period eighteen star flag.  However, there are two theories that may explain why the maker chose eighteen stars, in contrast to a period star count.    

FIRST THEORY
The first theory is that this flag was an exclusionary flag and dates to between 1861 and 1865.  An exclusionary flag is one that is meant to exclude a portion of the United States, and includes fewer the official number of stars for a given time period.  Despite President Lincoln’s pleas to avoid such a practice during the Civil War, there were Southern flags that excluded stars representing the Northern states (i.e., Northern exclusionary flags), and alternatively there were Northern flags that excluded the stars representing the Southern states (i.e., Southern exclusionary flags). 

If this flag is a Northern flag, then the eighteen stars represent the eighteen states that were most closely aligned with the Union: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin.  In contrast, under this first theory, this flag did not represent the slave states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, Virginia, and West Virginia, even though these states were still technically part of the Union.  In some instances, Northern flags included these slave states.  In instances where the slave states are excluded, the Northern flag may also be referred to as an abolitionist flag.     

An example of a flag that could clearly be explained with this theory was once held in the Mastai Collection and is featured on pages 78-79 of their landmark text, the Stars and Stripes.  This flag went on to be offered as lot 70 in the October 10th, 2002 Sotheby’s Important Americana Auction, and it is now held in the Zaricor Collection.

SECOND THEORY
The second theory is that this flag was made with eighteen stars to commemorate Louisiana as the eighteenth state.  

Under this second theory, this flag may have been made between 1861 and 1865 to support Louisiana and the South, yet also made in support of the entire country and the American flag.  Like every state, Louisiana waved the American flag beginning in 1777, and moving to a new flag may not have been an easy transition.  Further, Louisiana was more moderate in its views than some other Southern states.  And for this reason, several flags have surfaced in Louisiana that combine sympathy for the South and simultaneous sympathy for the United States.           

Alternatively, this flag may have been waved after the Civil War.  As just a few examples, this flag may have been made to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Louisiana in 1862, made to celebrate the centennial of 1876, or made to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Louisiana in 1887. 

Still further, this flag may have alternatively been waved at a post war celebration, such as a UCV celebration.  Such use logically aligns with this flag’s pattern and proportions, in that they resemble the pattern and proportions of the Confederate battle flag.  The Confederacy used three different flags during the Civil War, but the Confederate battle flag that is today so often associated with the Confederacy was not one of them.  Instead, the Confederate battle flag was used by General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.  It was not until after the Civil War that the Confederate battle flag and variations thereof were regularly used at veterans’ events.     

SUMMARY
The first and second theories outlined above are quite different in their meanings, but both are plausible.  In either case, this flag is outstanding in every respect.  It has one of the best star patterns that we have ever encountered.  It is one of the only known eighteen star flags dating to the 19th century.  And it is the perfect size.  If you are looking for a great antique flag, this is it.

Conservation Process: This flag was hand sewn to cotton fabric, and both were hand sewn to a mounting board.  To prevent the black dye in the cotton fabric from seeping into the flag, it was first washed in a standard wash and then in a dye setting wash.  The flag is positioned behind Conservation Clear Acrylic (standard) or behind Optium Museum Acrylic (per request).

Frame: 
This offering is in our Large Distressed Black and Gold 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.  Please also note that we can reframe this flag to show the obverse of this flag, and/or we can also reframe this flag such that it hangs vertically.   

Condition Report: This flag has several large holes, most of which run along the seventh and eight stripes from the top and along the bottom of the canton.  There is another large hole along the bottom stripe, near the fly end of the flag.  Masking fabric has been carefully placed behind the holes.           

Collectability Level: The Extraordinary – Museum Quality Offerings   
Date of Origin: 1861-1890  
Number of Stars: 18    
Associated War: Civil War (1861-1865)
Associated State: The Union or Louisiana   

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