The Flag Code of 1818 and Beyond....

Discussion in 'US Flag Specs and Design' started by PRGringo, Dec 23, 2011.

  1. PRGringo

    PRGringo Member

    I recently ran into a realization while researching the making historical US flags. My conclusion: There are very few stringent guidelines in the 1800's.

    So, people were pretty much free to make the star field pretty much the size they wanted?

    A lot of the pictures I have viewed of historical flags (Thanks Cnanava!) show a fairly consistent "ratio" for the blue field. It is rarely square.

    Does anyone have an insight as to whether a ratio existed back then or was it mainly an aesthetic proportion?

    I do have the option of looking at manufacturer's modern reproductions of the flags of the 1800's and late 1700's but I am concerned that they may be made to the modern guidelines to reduce costly design work.

    Any thoughts?
  2. NAVA1974

    NAVA1974 Active Member

    Actually, there were none. Other the fact that the 1818 law specified that the stripes were to be horizontal, there were no guidelines beyond the original red/white/blue star and stripe configuration. The US Navy had specifications for the arrangement of stars, but citizens and commercial flagmakers were free to follow their own aesthetic concepts.

    Absolutely true.

    I disagree with your contention that the canton was rarely square. I would say a good one-third of US flags in the mid 19th century had square cantons. Look at the flags on the first two pages of the website:

    American Flags - a set on Flickr

    Modern repros follow the modern concept of an oblong flag with a canton to match.

    Harken back to the original flag resolution of 1777. "Resolved that the Flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternating red and white." One could argue that was the design of the first American flag, typically called the Merchant Stripes. The union of 13 stars was a separate flag, used at the bow of Naval vessels. When combined, you got the Naval Ensign. With that emphasis on stripes in the first flag, it is not surprising to see flags from the early to mid 1800's that are mostly stripes, with a relatively small square canton of stars. Circular star patterns, and Great Star flags usually have a square canton because those shapes fit best in a square.

    Nowadays only the Union Jack of 50 white stars on blue, and the stars-and-stripes Ensign are used. The Merchant Stripes have faded into history.

    Nick A
    Columbia Maryland
  3. PRGringo

    PRGringo Member

    First of all, I wish to corrrect an error I made in thanking another member for the great images of early historical flags. That thank you belongs to you NAVA1974!

    Thank you also for the insight into the canton. I have tried to research it but there is not a lot of easy to find knowledge out there. Thank goodness this site exists and I can pick the brains of some very knowledgeable people!

    Excellent point regarding the Great Star designs fitting better into a square canton I will work to that plan when I make them.

    Some day, when my sewing skills have improved, I will attempt to make a flag from wool.

    I am wondering if the wool flags were 100% wool or if they used cotton stars..

    Thanks again for the insights. Currently, I am working on my 2nd 21 star flag. I have just completed sewing the bottom 7 stripes and will start the top stripes tonight.
  4. PRGringo

    PRGringo Member

    Looks like I answered my own question about cotton stars on wool flags after I took a closer look at your flags on Flicker! Thanks!
  5. NAVA1974

    NAVA1974 Active Member

    Most happy to be of service.

    I only have a few flags with wool stars, and they all have clamp-dyed cantons.

    Happy Holidays!

    Nick A
  6. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Interesting discussion about the canton shape. I haven't done a scientific survey, but I think that most Revolutionary-War-era depictions of the American flag show squarish cantons. This was probably a natural development from the ones on British ensigns, which in turn descended from the original heraldic idea of a canton. It would be interesting to trace the elongation of the canton over time. I wonder if it had something to do with the need to make room for more stars!

    Peter Ansoff
  7. NAVA1974

    NAVA1974 Active Member

    That, and the mass production of flags.

    Since mass production favors stars sewn in rows, the larger the number of stars the larger canton is needed so that the stars are still discernable. You can fit any number of stars into a small, square canton, but in order to keep the same aesthtic proportions and keep the stars the same size, you need to expand the canton. If you make a larger square, then you start intruding into more stripes. Lengthening the canton allows you to keep the same star size and height of canton.


Share This Page