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This flag is a rare and beautiful example of an American Flag that predates the Civil War.  Flags that predate the Civil War are extremely scarce.  Fewer than one in a hundred flags that survive from the 19th century were made prior to the war.  This flag was produced to celebrate California's statehood in 1850.  It dates to the period  California Gold Rush and the era of tenuous compromises that failed to stem the inevitable Civil War that threatened to rupture the nation. 

The flag is in exceptional condition for the period.  The stars of the flag are single-appliqué, with the more finished side on what today would be considered the reverse of the flag.  The flag is the earliest that I have encountered that features machine stitching.  Remarkably, the entire flag, including the single-appliqué stars, are machine stitched.  The chainstitches are indicative of the earliest types of sewing machine.  This trait is remarkable for a textile of this early era, since sewing machines were only just emerging in the decade of the 1850s.  In fact, the discovery of this flag, with its chainstitch construction, is an exception to earlier research by Grace Rogers Cooper published in her important study of thirteen star flags. She writes:

"Although some sewing machines were patented in the 1840s and a few offered for sale by 1849, the type of continuous feed needed to make it practical to stitch even the stripes of the flag by machine was not available until the early 1850s.  The variety of stitches that could be made by various sewing machines can also be helpful in dating.  Since this variety was developed within a few years, this information can only be used with a full understanding of the capabilities of the machine and the commercial use of the particular invention.  For example, although a chainstitch machine was manufactured in France in 1830 and one was patented and marketed in the United States in 1849, there was no practical chainstitch machine available in this country before the late 1850s.  There is no evidence that the French machine appeared in this country in the earlier years, and the 1849 chainstitch machine patented in this country was incapable of stitching the flat-fell seams of a flag.  As it happens, one rarely finds a flag constructed on a chainstitch machine.  All the ones that are seem to have been made in this [the 20th] century."  - Grace Rogers Cooper, "Thirteen Star Flags.  Keys to Identification", Smithsonian Press, 1973, p. 24

The 31 stars of the flag are unusually large and beautiful, completely filling the canton.  They rotate freely and are packed closely together with arms interlocking in every direction.  The canton of the flag is made of two pieces of wool bunting, and the third red stripe is made of three pieces of bunting.  The flag is nearly nine feet in length, but flags of this period were typically much larger and primarily used as a signal, flown on ships, on government buildings, or above military forts.  They were seldom made for private use.  Most sewn flags from the period were often greater than ten feet in length, and sometimes even twenty feet or longer.  Therefore this flag is actually reasonably small for the period.  The name "C. H. Hamilton" is found near the canvas hoist on the fourth and sixth white stripe, providing a personal touch to such a rare flag from the era of California Statehood.


Learn more about the fabrics used in flag construction. Star Count:  31

Dates:  1850-1858

War Era:  None

Statehood:  California

Construction:  Wool Bunting with Cotton Stars

Catalog Number:  IAS-00106


American National Flag
Continental Colors, c1876

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