Physical Characteristics of Antique Flags

Size, Appearance & Display

There were no standard flag sizes prior to 1912. A stars-and-stripes flag only 5 feet long were less common prior to the end of the 19th century as most flags were used on ships or on public or commercial buildings. Flags ten to twenty feet long were the norm, though unless you lived near a seaport you would not see flags on a daily basis. Flags were not displayed by businesses until the Civil War nor by individuals at their home until the late 19th century.

By law (since 1818) the star representing a new state is added to the flag on the 4th of July following admission. However, there are "unofficial" US Flags in exsistence with a number of stars that are fewer than the correct number for a given date. For example, 39 and 42 star are more common than the 43 star flag that became official on July 4th, 1890. This is because of the uncertainty of what Congress would do at the time and a desire of manufacturers to be the "first" with the new flag. Also, Congress pulled a "fast one" by admitting Idaho on July 3rd!

It was also not uncommon for a manufacturer to leave extra space on the canton for the consumer to be able to add new stars as necessary. Stars were found in rows, ovals, double rings, open boxes, great star pattern, flower patterns, etc. The American people adopted the Stars and Stripes as the highest artistic expression of the American spirit in the 19th century and countless variations of design existed. No official specifications were issued outside of the US Navy until 1912.


Construction and Materials

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Special thanks to Nick Artimovich and Howie Madaus for assisting me with info on these pages.