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One of the most intriguing stories in American Flag lore is that of Henry Bowman.  The date of 1892 is significant with regards to zig-zag stitching and American flags in that on February 23, 1892, Mr. Henry A. Bowman, an African American, was awarded patent #469,395, Device for Making Flags, in which he patented the use of zig-zag stitching specifically for sewing stars onto American flags. Henry’s flag company began producing flags and marking the hoist of the flag with the date and patent number. Unfortunately, he was unable to protect his patent, and others also made flags using this technique. On March 26, 1894, Bowman brought the case of Bowman v. De Grauw, et. al. to the Circuit Court of New York. He lost the case, with the judge ruling that the technique was not sufficiently novel to warrant a patent, and soon the Bowman company went out of business. (You can read the ruling of the case here, in the Federal Reporter, vol. 60, pp. 907-912.)  The flag above is a very scarce example made by Henry Bowman's flag company.  The signature sign that this is a Bowman flag is the stenciled patent marking on the hoist, which reads "Patented Feb. 23, 1892."  The flag is very small, marked "2x3" on the hoist to represent 2 feet x 3 feet in size.  The stars on the flag, zig-zag stitched using Bowman's patented stitching method, are small and scattered on their axis.  This flag is one of the smallest I've seen in this period that features the full complement of stars.  Each star is hand cut and they vary in size, some being noticeably smaller than their neighbors, resulting in a charming and folky presentation of the 45 star flag. 

The signature patent marking on the hoist of a Henry A. Bowman Flag


Learn more about methods of creating stars on American flags. Star Count:  45

Dates:  1896

War Era:  Spanish American War

Statehood:  Utah

Construction:  Cotton Stars on Wool Bunting

Catalog Number:  IAS-00249


13 Stars, Yachting Ensign
Civil War Era

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