Flags made of silk
construction with gilt painted stars represent the
height of expense when it comes to 19th century flags.
This particular flag, made in the manner and style of a
military battle flag, is most likely an early smaller
format company presentation color presented to, and kept
by, an officer of a Civil War Union Company. The
presence of fringe around the top, bottom and fly edges
of the flag, and the presence of the flag's original
silk-over-wood braided tassels, are both hallmarks of a
military battle flag. The sleeve hoist of the
flag, which is made of the canton and stripe silk
itself, is yet another trait almost exclusively seen on
flags made for military use. The flag still
possesses its original hemp rope inside the sleeve,
bound to black painted metal rings on both ends.
Silk flags of this
period rarely survived because of the use of weighted
silk. In the 18th century and very early
19th century, silk was sold by length, rather than by
weight, but in the later 19th century, silk was sold by
weight. To make the silk heavier, it was often
soaked in mineral salts which absorbed into the silk
and, over time, made the silk brittle. We can see
evidence of this process in this rare flag. At
some point, the flag became wet, and the water caused
the salts to accumulate along the outer edge of the wet
spots. The accumulated salts were even more
caustic to the silk in these areas, causing the silk to
become more brittle than usual in these locations.
Despite the fact that there is some breakdown in the
silk, this flag is one of the best preserved and most
intact silk battle-format flags from the period.
More than 95% of the original silk is present and the
colors of the flag are fresh and vibrant. The flag
is machine stitched and professionally manufactured.
The gilt stars are tilted to the 11 o'clock position,
appearing nearly inverted, and they are formed into a
pattern that I've seen referred to as "global rows",
where vertical alignment of the stars form arcs, much
like lines of longitude on a flat map of the globe.
The flag is currently in the process of being pressure
mounted and framed to keep it well preserved. In
that process, the flag is placed on a pillow of batting
covered by cotton velvet. As part of the process,
similar colored silk will be placed behind the flag,
which will effectively mask the losses due to the
breakdown in the silk, and the flag will once again look
like new. Thirty-four star silk flags of the Civil
War era, featuring gilt-painted stars and of the
military battle flag format, are exceptionally rare, and
this pattern of stars, in a relatively small size of
three feet by five feet are practically non-existent.
This example is a true treasure and survivor from the
opening years of the Civil War.