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Rare Flags of the South

Celebrate Flag Day with a primer on Southern flags and their meanings. 

You might think that Fourth of July is our nation’s flag day, but the American flag has its own holiday. On June 14, Flag Day celebrates the anniversary of the Flag Resolution of 1777 and was officially established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. In 1949, President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14 as National Flag Day each year.

The country’s largest seller of antique American stars and stripe, Jeff Bridgman American Antiques in Pennsylvania has at least 1,000 flags stocked at all times—many of them rare, historical flags from the South. “I have handled many Stars & Stripes variant flags that I feel were made, at least in part, to subtly display sympathies for the Southern cause,” says Bridgeman. “Some have star counts that relate to the number of Confederate States, or to the number of Slave States, and others have stripe counts that send a similar message, particularly with either 7 or 11 stripes to reflect the total number of states that officially left the Union during the initial wave of secession, but others have patterns embedded within the configuration of the stars. It has been suggested that features may have been used to marked a safe house for Confederate spies, or a place of business where Southerners could find preferential treatment of some kind.”

Homemade 34-star Civil War flag with its stars arranged on a cornflower blue canton in a very interesting configuration that incorporates the crosses of St. Andrew and St. George, possibly made with Southern sympathies, 1861-1863.

Letters and numbers were also incorporated into flag designs to spells words and mark dates. Flags with stars that spell out numeric or alphabetical characters are among the rarest of all designs—only four are currently known to exist.

Antique American flag with 10-pointed stars made for the 100-year anniversary of American independence, one of the most graphic of all early examples. 

Representing the original 13 colonies, 13-star flags have been continuously produced throughout our nation’s history for purposes both patriotic and utilitarian. These flags were hoisted at patriotic events, including Lafayette’s visit in 1825-1826, the celebration of the nation’s centennial in 1876 and the sesquicentennial in 1926. They were displayed during the Civil War, to reference past struggles for American liberty and victory over oppression, and were used by 19th century politicians while campaigning for the same reason.

13 stars in a 4-5-4 pattern on stone blue canton, on a flag with elongated proportions, made between 1876 and the early 1890s. 

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