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The Pleiades                             The Hyades

Some of the most unusual and creative patterns on 19th century American flags are seemingly random configurations of stars. Not only are they visually intriguing and memorable, but they also make you wonder what may be behind the pattern and why someone would make a flag in a particular way. The first clue to the meaning in the stars on this flag is the different sizes of stars. This correlates to an "asterism", or a particularly identifiable part of a star constellation. Asterisms such as the bowl of the Big Dipper or the belt of Orion the Hunter are easily identifiable in the sky due to the large, primary stars in a unique formation that stand out in the field of smaller stars. One of the most famous asterisms is the Pleiades, also known as the "Seven Sisters", which is a small, tight star cluster visible to the naked eye. Galileo drew the Pleiades in 1610 when he first observed them in his telescope, and you can see elements of his sketch in the star pattern on the front of the flag. Note, for example, the arch of stars that matches the arch on the left of the flag. The maker compressed the star formation, but it clearly is representative of the Pleiades.

Galileo's 1610 sketch of the Pleiades contains 36 stars, including  the seven largest stars and the arc of stars seen also on the 37 Star flag.

The reverse of the flag shows the Hyades, a neighbor of the Pleides, with its recognizable, prevalent V shaped pattern of large stars. Both the Pleiades and Hyades are located very close to each other, in the same neighborhood of the night sky. They are seen together in the image below.

The Pleiades, top right, and the Hyades, bottom left, are in close visual proximity to each other in the night sky.

Even the maker's selection of a deep, dark blue canton color supports the intention of making a constellation flag. The only other constellation flag that I'm aware of that features an asterism is the Abolitionist Flag, IAS-00400, which depicts the bowl of the Big Dipper and the North Star. Overall this beautiful flag is an extraordinary and unique American flag that literally reflecting the guidance of the Flag Act of 1777 that describes the "stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation." It is an exceptionally rare, unique, and fascinating flag to behold.


 
Learn more about the great variety of Star Patterns on American Flags. Star Count: 37

Date: 1867-1876

Era: Centennial

Statehood: Nebraska

Construction: Cotton

Catalog Number: IAS-00535

   

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Hop Bitters
"$1000 in Gold!", 13 Stars, c1880


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