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The streets of America have been lined since colonial times with citizens who turn out to celebrate parades commemorating national holidays, historic events and hometown heroes.  Parade flags, affixed to sticks and waved when marching in parades or observing parades and other patriotic events, are a part of our history.  They differ from typical pieced-and-sewn flags in that they were not often manufactured to survive long periods being flown from a flag staff.  They were often intended to be used and discarded.  The gauze-like materials often used for parade flags are thin and brittle, though the paint applied to them has fortunately contributed to their survival by protecting and reinforcing the threads of the fabric.  While these flags weren't intended for long outdoor usage, they do survive in large numbers, though earlier star counts and unusual star patterns are rare and most desired by collectors.  Below are some examples of early printed parade flags.

26 Stars, 1837-1845.  This flag, descended in the Decatur family, features 26 stars printed in the form of a Great Star or Grand Luminary pattern.  The flag is block-printed onto silk, and remains remarkably vibrant, especially considering it is approximately 175 years old.  The earliest known printed parade flags date from this period, and no printed parade flags with star counts less than 26 are known to exist.  Only a small handful of 26 star parade flags have survived, and this flag is one of them.
30 Stars, 1848-1851.  This well made and attractive parade flag of 30 stars pre-dates the Civil War and is very rare.  This style of printed parade flag, which consists of a medallion pattern with a double wreath of stars, four corner stars, and a large haloed center star, was produced in several star counts, up to and including 42 stars, but the earliest of the type is the 30 star variation shown here.  The coloration on this flag, despite being 160 years old, remains vibrant and bold. The flag commemorates Wisconsin's statehood and is among the earliest of all printed parade flags.
13 Stars, 1864.  Andersonville Prison Memorial of W. H. Courtney, A Co., 12th New York Volunteers, 1864. One of the most personal and poignant relics to have survived the American Civil War, this flag was present in Andersonville Prison and commemorates the death of Private William Courtney on July 14, 1864.  A more detailed description of the flag can be found here.  Small parade flags such as this were often carried by Union soldiers in their uniforms or between the pages of their bibles. They kept them hidden if they were captured and rallied around them on celebration day such as the 4th of July for morale.
34 Stars, 1861.  This flag of 34 stars was found during the renovation of a small house in New York State.  The flag was rolled and sealed inside the wall of the house, where it remained for more than 100 years.  The flag is in its original state, as found, and is remarkably large in size for a surviving printed parade flag.  At 26" x 37", more than 2 feet x 3 feet, it is a remarkable surviving printed parade flag from the early days of the American Civil War.  Its triple medallion pattern, with two outliers, continued to be a popular pattern on printed parade flags through the Centennial period, but this is one of the earlier examples of the type.

36 Stars, 1865.  This flag, a great rarity among printed parade flags, features a beautiful pattern known as the "Great Star in a Wreath".  The pattern is difficult to discern when the flag is oriented horizontally, but when vertical it is easier to see the great star, whose tip stars are shared by the surrounding wreath of stars.  The addition of two inner stars also makes the pattern more difficult to discern at first glance.  It's possible the maker of the flag originally produced the pattern in 34 stars, and added two inner stars to the design in subsequent years as West Virginia and Nevada joined the Union.
38 Stars, 1876.  A printed parade flag of the Centennial era, this is one of the largest sizes of printed parade flags known, being over 50 inches long.  Parade flags in this size range are very rare.  Damage to the fly end and evidence of tacking on the hoist end indicate that this flag was flown and experienced some early wind damage.  The white stripes, unprotected by the paint used for printing the flag, have oxidized and are brittle.  This flag was recently saved from complete destruction, having been found among discarded items at a community dump and recycling center.
40 Stars, 1889.  This beautiful printed parade flag of 40 stars features bright chrome orange stripes and a vivid blue canton.  One of the rarer star counts, this flag was printed on what today we consider the back of the flag, though during this period Americans were not as rigid in their specifications, making this orientation equally correct.  "Ely", lightly written in pencil in the center of the flag is most likely the name of the original owner of the flag.
1918.  This parade flag, printed on silk, is one of the most unusual graphical representations of the American Flag known.  Marked with "Pat'd Feb 26, 1918", the flag's use of the French Tricolor in the canton, the British Union Jack for the stripes, and the overall form of the American Stars and Stripes is both visually arresting and a unique show of alliance during World War I.  Less than twenty of these remarkable flags, named by collector Boleslaw Mastai as the "Franco-Anglo-American Flag", are known to exist.
1986.  This printed parade flag is an excellent example of a modern flag whose special qualities make it a future rare flag worthy of collecting and preserving.  Made for the celebration of the Statue of Liberty Centennial in 1986, it possesses several highly unusual and rare qualities that combine to form a great flag.  It is tied to a significant and recognizable American historical event.  It is also only one of two known styles of an American flag with the French Tricolor in the canton.  Furthermore, it is one of the few flags possessing a graphic in the canton, and lastly it features the rare presence of writing on the flag, to include event dates and that spectacular American sentiment, "Liberty".


Except where cited otherwise, all content 2010-2020 by Anthony Iasso   

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