1858 – American Flag

Maker Unknown.
32-star American flag, 1858-59
large hand-sewn linen flag
2640 x 1350 mm (8 feet 8 inches x 4 feet 5 inches)

David Spode (1936 – 2013), antiquarian book collector.
Douglas Stewart Fine Books, Melbourne
Michael Reid, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney

The Pre-Civil War Flag has been additionally authenticated by Mr. John Hays, Head of American Furniture & Decorative Arts, Christie’s America, September 2014

Each of the 13 stripes being a separate piece of fabric, with 32 hand-sewn and individually appliquéd stars configured in four aligned rows of eight on the canton, the hoist edge stencilled 3 yd [i.e. yard] American. The opposite edge with a small silk label stitched on inscribed in ink in a contemporary hand ‘Scriven’ (possibly the name of the owner), some loss at lower right edge and scattered small perforations and mothing, but overall in a good state of preservation, a scarce example of this flag which was in official use for only a year between July 1858 and July 1859, following the admission of Minnesota to the Union (May 1858) and prior to the granting of statehood to Oregon (February 1859).

In the pre-Civil War period, American flags were made almost exclusively for public use, a fact which contributes to the rarity of this flag. However, although the 32-star flag was officially obsolete well before the first shots of the war in April 1861, examples would most certainly have been carried into battle by Union regiments.

32-star American flags are rare. This is largely because they were only official for one year (1858-59), but it is also a result of the fact that this time frame occurred prior to the Civil War, in an era when use of the Stars & Stripes was not used on private land. Flags were becoming popular in political campaigning, but their use had yet to be widespread in the display of general patriotism.

Minnesota joined the Union as the 32nd state on May 11th, 1858. The 32-star flag became official on July 4th of that year and remained so until July 3rd of 1859. Since Oregon joined the Union on February 14th, 1859, however, production of 32-star flags probably ceased well before July. For this reason, the 32-star count likely saw use for only 9 months. This made it one of the shortest-lived flags in early America.

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