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43 Stars, Idaho statehood, one of the rarest star counts among surviving american flags of the 19th century; an exceptionally rare U.S. Infantry Battle Flag, entirely hand-sewn, made for an African-American unit of Civil War Origin, CA 1889. The Forest City Light Infantry 1872 flag lays 78″ tall x 81.25″ wide (including the fringe).
Numerous flags appeared with unofficial star counts in early America, produced by flag-makers in anticipation of the addition of more states. Interestingly enough, some flags were officially adopted by the United States Congress, but for all practical purposes were never produced. Among these is the 43 star flag, which reflects the addition of Idaho. A tiny handful of flags with this star count are known, but they are among the most rare of all examples throughout American history. To understand why, one may turn back the clock to the 1876 and examine flag production from that year until the addition of the 44th state.
After the Flag Act of 1818, the official “flag year” began every July 4th. So on Independence Day, all states having been added to the Union over the previous year were officially given a star. Makers of flags, however, did not wait for July 4th and official star counts. Flag-making was a competitive industry and many manufacturers added stars before new states were actually added, wishing to create a reason for consumers to buy new flags and one-up each other in sales.
In 1876 the 37 star flag was official, but on August 1st we received our 38th state. Many flag-makers abandoned the 37 star flag when production began for the Centennial International Exposition, a six-month long World’s Fair held in Philadelphia as the first of its kind in America, which served as the nucleus for celebrations of our 100-year anniversary of independence from Britain. In that year 38 stars was a common choice, but other flag-makers actually skipped past 38 all-together, choosing to instead produce 39 star flags, anticipating the addition of the Dakota Territory as one state.
Seeing that Dakota wasn’t coming, production after 1876 seems to have reverted to the 38 star count. Then in 1889, thirteen years later, 39 star flags were once again manufactured with the anticipation of Dakota’s statehood. On November 2nd of that year, a surprise was lay in store for the makers of 39 star flags, when the Dakotas arrived as two different states, which forever rendered 39 star flags both inaccurate and unofficial. Just a few days later, on November 8th, Montana entered the Union as the 41st state, followed by Washington State as number 42 just three days hence on November 11th.
40 star flags were made in limited quantity, reflecting the Dakotas entry. This count is extremely scarce, but not exceptionally rare. Perhaps this is because some flag-makers anticipated the number correctly, and so some of the 40’s are anticipatory flags.
41 star flags, by contrast, are among the rarest that exist in 19th century America. This was a 3-day flag and an increase ending in a count of 41seems to not have been guessed.
In stark contrast, 42 star flags are common. These reflect the four new states that arrived in that week-and-a-half period between November 2nd and the 11th. For the next seven-eight months flag-makers seem to have favored this star count, producing many of them, probably with great enthusiasm for a reason to make new flags.
Just one day before the 42 star flag would have become official, on July 3rd, 1990, Idaho snuck in as the 43rd state, which rendered all of the 42 star flags forever unofficial. The 43 star flag became official on July 4th, but flag-makers basically skipped over the 43 star count entirely. This is because on July 10th, just 7 days after Idaho gained statehood, Wyoming was admitted. Practically all flag-makers seem to have predicted this and 43 star flags, while official for one year, were overlooked in favor of those with a count of 44 to add Wyoming as well. For all practical purposes, 43 star flags were not made. Only a tiny handful survive, perhaps ten or so at the most. Of these, three are printed parade flags (a.k.a., “hand-wavers”), while the remainder are larger, pieced-and-sewn examples. I have been privileged to own approximately half of these. Among them, this is the most unusual.
In terms of form and function, this example is constructed as a U.S. Infantry battle flag. It is pieced and seamed entirely with hand-stitching, which is very unusual for the period. The sewing is especially fine and indicative of the very highest quality, as are the materials. The canton and stripes are made of silk. The hoist end was rolled over and bound and there are six silk ties sewn along the leading edge (more were formerly present). There is a knotted silk fringe, gold in color, along three sides, which is typical of infantry battle flags. The stars are embroidered in white silk floss, either by hand or machine, having been executed so well that the method is difficult to ascertain. Embroidered along the 5th red stripe, in the same white floss, are the words “Forest City Light Infantry.” followed by the date “1872”.
A company of African American soldiers by this name, with Civil War roots, existed in Savannah, Georgia. The earliest date I can presently reference for their existence is 1873 (one year before the date on the flag), when an officer of a black G.A.R. unit by this name deposited funds in Freeman’s Bank, which was established in 1866 to assist freed slaves in the unhealthy circumstances of the financially depressed South. Probably the men of this regiment were freed by Union Forces as Sherman’s March (Nov. – Dec. 1864) pressed through the state. Part of the general’s orders read: ” VII. Negroes who are able-bodied and can be of service to the several columns may be taken along, but each army commander will bear in mind that the question of supplies is a very important one and that his first duty is to see to them who bear arms….” Records concerning African American soldiers in this sort of circumstance are very hard to acquire, as few were kept. Names seldom appear on muster rolls. Whatever the case may be, however, Civil War-related material that concerns black soldiers is rare and interesting and flags are seldom ever encountered in the marketplace, whether war-period or post-war, like this example.
In summary, this is one of the rarest star counts that there is among antique American flags, on a rare and stunning U.S. infantry battle flag, with great colors and exquisite construction, accompanied by its original tassels, and with rare African American association.
Mounting: The flag has not yet been mounted. We employ professional staff with masters degrees in textile conservation and can attend to all of your mounting and framing needs. – Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags