30-Star Flag

Discussion in 'Flag Identification and Collecting' started by David Wagner, Jan 23, 2011.

  1. David Wagner

    David Wagner Member


    About two weeks ago on Ebay I saw and purchased a 30-star flag. Two things surprised me greatly. The first is that I was the only one who bid on the flag during the week or so it was posted. Two is that I checked this site daily to see if anyone was going to post something about it. A 30-star in decent condition and in a frame-able size doesn't seem very common. I was very surprised that it never came up in the discussions here.

    My main question then is whether I missed something? Was there something that made every other collector on this site dismiss the flag and I was the fool who didn't see it? Of course I'm hoping that isn't the case and I was lucky enough to pick up a very old flag. Thoughts from the experts here would be appreciated.

    To describe the flag, it is wool and about 2' by 5' with a 7-8-7-8 pattern and overall good condition. It has a lot of small buckshot holes but no major tears or rips. The holes appear caused by material age rather than any misuse. The end is still in good condition so I don't think it ever flew outside. The stars are embroidered appliques and the holes to hang the flag are pre-grommet. The stitching is machine done but the sew lines aren't particularly straight. There are no maker markings on the flag.

    Any thoughts about authenticity or value would be greatly appreciate.

  2. csaanv

    csaanv Member

    It is not authentic but a nice reproduction. The material (wool bunting) is correct but the dead give away is the machine sewn stripes and stars. Sewing machines were not in common use in that period. Also the technique used to sewn the stars on the canton, the way it is sewn across the star from one point to another was not used until after the Civil War. It looks like it could be a movie prop of some sort. Maybe the experts would like to jump in here and give us more details?
  3. NAVA1974

    NAVA1974 Active Member

    I have to concur with csaanv. It does not appear to be a period 30-star flag.

    If that flag had another row of 7 or 8 stars at the top I would not hesitate to call it an authentic 37-star flag (1867-1877) or 38-star flag (1877-1898). From the looks of it, there may be enough room for that row of stars at the top. I must admit, however, that I see no 'disturbances' in the top of the canton that would tell me that stars were removed from that area.

    Here is a period 30-star flag hand sewn entirely of cotton. Each row of stripes is double stitched, and 30 stars are sewn on each side of the canton.


    Nick A
  4. David Wagner

    David Wagner Member

    Hi Csaanv and Nick A,

    Thanks for the feedback. I was concerned about the machine sewing myself. The only book I have about historical American flags is "A Grand Old Flag" by Keim and Keim. They devoted a page and a half to the sewing machines and said that while uncommon, sewing machines were patented and used as early as 1842. Therefore I didn't know what conclusions to draw from the machine stitching.

    I thought too about the cross-star stitching. I looked up as many photos as I could find of old flags and either couldn't tell or the stitching was done around the perimeter like you said. Wouldn't the sewing pattern be a function of machine sewing vs. hand sewing? If sewing by hand there would be many more stitches going across the stars and it would be a very inefficient way to get it done. Machine sewing though going across the stars is the easiest way to sew. Five changes in direction and you are done. Going around the perimeter would take 9 changes in direction to machine sew a 5 pointed star - harder and longer to get it done. I have no idea if this is historically accurate - just an observation from someone who's wife does machine and hand quilting.

    I looked again very closely at the stitching and the reinforcing strip along the left side and the grommets are all hand sewn. That seem like a lot of effort to make a movie prop. Never-the-less, it is strange that some of the stitching is machine while other parts are hand done. The rows of stars are also between 3.5 and 3.75 inches apart. There is more room at the top before the first row than between the rows or left at the bottom of the blue canton, but there isn't enough room to put an entire row unless the stars were smaller. I looked closely and don't see any signs that stars were removed.

    Thanks again for your feedback. It is appreciated and caused me to take a much closer - always a good thing.

  5. csaanv

    csaanv Member

    Dear Two Fish,
    What is peculiar to me about the flag are the hand stitched grommets and the canvas type header. It is nicely made but from the photos there seems to be no natural wear on the material. Also the small hole on the white stripe underneath the canton, directly under the second star from the left, seems from the photograph to be slightly sewn over by the blue canton. If I am seeing that correctly it tells me that the flag was put together after the damage possibly from a deconstructed flag? Can you verify that? Is the damage just contained in the white stripe or is the blue canton effected? Also the white thread looks really new throughout the flag. Maybe it is just the reflection of the flash from the camera. Your photographs are really good but there is nothing like seeing items in person. They still can be misleading so I might be off in my observations. If you have any further questions I am sure Nick (among others here) can help you out. He collects flags from this period so he is a good resource. It is a handsome flag.
    Best regards,
  6. David Wagner

    David Wagner Member

    Hello Mike,

    Thank you again for your feedback. I went back and took a closer look at the hole you questioned. From both sides the hole only affects the white fabric. the flag has a couple dozen holes about 1/8 inch in size but this one is the largest at about 7/16ths. A couple others like this one seem to correspond to soil spots on the flag. They look like grease spots but I didn't detect any smell so I don't really know what caused the stains.

    I can't tell much looking at the white thread. It does appear in good condition but the entire flag shows very little wear. Whether it is 160 years old or 160 days old I don't think it has ever waved in the wind or spent any time outdoors. I did take a close up photo of the one spot that looks to me like a repair. It's about the size of a nickel. Not sure what to conclude about that.

    Thanks again for your thoughts. I would love for it to be authentic, but I would rather know for sure. Either way I'm going to frame it and hang in in a prominent spot in the house. I agree with you - it is a handsome flag.

  7. csaanv

    csaanv Member

    Hi Two Fish,
    Thanks for taking the time to send the extra pics! Concerning the nickel size hole and surrounding stain, is the thread stained in that area too? I would think it would be if the entire flag was made at the same time. From the photo it is hard to tell but it looks clean. I see a lot of stains on the white stripes are these stains carrying over into the red stripes as well? In any case it is a cool flag.
  8. David Wagner

    David Wagner Member

    Hi Mike,

    The stains appear to cross over from white to red. They are much harder to see on the red stripes though. I tried taking a few closeup photos to show but none came out well. I don't think the camera flash is helping either. Probably the best photo to see it is the first photo I posted. the big stain in the bottom right corner of the photo (lower center on the flag) shows it best. That stain continues into the red strip above and also a bit on the red strip below. I can't see any discoloration at all on the blue canton but a few of the stars show discoloration. My guess then is that the blue has stains that just don't show on the dark color.

    The nickel sized repair shows no sign of staining around it. I thought perhaps the stains came later and over time broke down the fabric more often in those spots. By then the flag wasn't being repaired. That is just a guess/hope.
  9. csaanv

    csaanv Member

    Thanks again for the photos. Enjoy your flag!
  10. Two Fish

    Two Fish New Member


    Curiosity got the best of me so I sent the flag to Dave Martucci for a professional assessment. I was extremely pleased with the results. I first found Dave's name on this forum and I highly recommend to anyone with questions about a flag to consider his services.

    His findings confirmed what others had previously posted about the flag's age. It is not an original time-period 30 Star flag. It was a great education though and I learned much from the comments here and my conversations with Dave Martucci. I'm posting his conclusions below after he he personally examined the flag.

    The item is specifically described as follows: A 30-star US Flag measuring approximately 34 inches by 59 inches, not counting the approximate 1¼ inch header, consisting of 13 alternate red and white stripes and a blue canton measuring approximately 24½ inches by 18¾ inches that has 7 stripes next to it and bearing 30 white stars in staggered rows of 7-8-7-8 from the top. There are 6 stripes below the canton. The stripes measure approximately 2⅔ inches each in width. The stars are set such that there is a larger amount of blue above them than below them and they all “point” in different directions, a pattern you refer to as “dancing”, and each one measures approximately 2⅓ inches in diameter.

    The body of the flag is made from wool bunting which I believe to be first grade English bunting. The material is woven such that the yarns used are of two weights, a lighter weight that comprises most of the warp and weft and a slightly heavier yarn that is woven in approximately every 8-12 rows in each direction. This is a hallmark of fine English bunting. All of the sewing on the body appears to be by machine and the sewing thread appears to be machine spun, probably mercerized cotton.

    The stars are made of cotton sheeting and they are machine appliquéd onto each side using a straight stitch in a “pentagram” pattern going from point to point and crossing the other rows of stitching at the center of each star. On what we would call the obverse side you can see that several of the stars have pinholes where they were pinned onto the flag before sewing. There are no such holes on the reverse. This indicates the individual cut out stars were pinned to the front, then a sheet of material was layered below the blue field and then the stars were stitched on and the stars on the back were cut away. The header is hand-sewn on and is made of linen. It is finished with two hand-whipped buttonhole style grommets for attaching to a pole.

    The flag is in good condition with some expected yellowing of the white stripes and some minor insect damage to various parts of the wool body and a few small stains. There is an expertly hand-sewn contemporary repair on the 8th stripe down (a white stripe) near the fly that is done using wool taken from identical bunting that is nearly invisible.

    Although the 30 star flag was official from July 4, 1848 to July 3, 1851, this flag exhibits traits from a later period. Specifically the sewing technique of the stars is a late 19th century technique. In addition, although the sewing machine was invented by Elias Howe in 1842, flags were not routinely made using machines until the 1860s and later and the stars were not sewn by machine with any regularity until the 1880s and later. Machine spun mercerized cotton thread began to be made in the late 19th century. This flag appears to have been professionally made. However, by that for the period I mean the pieces for each flag were cut at the manufactory then bundled and given out to individual seamstresses who were paid by the piece for the finished flags. There were some differences in the individual flags made for each manufacturer. In addition, the use of fine English bunting suggests the flag is a product of a professional flag manufacturer.

    Obviously from the features listed above the flag was made much later than the 30-stars on the flag would suggest. The 30th state was Wisconsin (admitted May 29, 1848) and it is possible this flag was made for the 50th anniversary of that event in 1898. Alternatively it may be that this flag was made in the 1880s or 90s by a piece-worker who left off a row of eight stars at the top, which is not unknown. There appears to almost be enough room at the top of the canton for another row of stars. The 38-star flag was official from 1877 to 1890.

    This assessment is based on the age of the item, it's condition and its attractiveness to collectors. As auction activity tends to be volatile, you could experience a fairly wide variation in value. I believe the flag may have a moderate to high value to Americana collectors, particularly to those who collect late 19th century-era artifacts.

    I hope this assessment meets your needs. Please let me know if there is anything else I can assist you with.

    David B. Martucci
  11. csaanv

    csaanv Member

    Two Fish,
    Thank you for sharing your findings. Just reading Mr. Martucci's assessment has helped me understand flag making history better. It is a great flag!
  12. NAVA1974

    NAVA1974 Active Member

    Hmmm. Maybe we aren't charging enough for participation in the Forum? :D

    Nick A
    Columbia Maryland

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