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Which is a better collectible: A 48 or 49 star flag?

by Tom Carrier (12/05/07).
49 star US flag official pattern
48 star US flag official box pattern

It isn’t surprising that when asked to choose between a 48 star US flag or a 49 star US flag, invariably the 48 star flag is always chosen first. The reasoning is that the 48 star flag is older than the 49 star one and hence more collectible. The short answer is yes and no.

It is true that the 48 star US flag is older having been adopted officially on July, 1912 to recognize the admission of Arizona and New Mexico as the 47th and 48th states to the Union. It is the second oldest flag in years of service after the 50 star flag adopted on July 4th, 1960 to recognize the admission of Alaska and Hawaii.

The 49 star flag, however, existed only for one year. It was known that Alaska would be admitted in 1959 and flag companies rushed to produce a new 49 star pattern. However, Congress decided the next year to admit Hawaii and the 50 star pattern was made official.

So, to answer the question which is a better flag to collect? The short answer would be the 49 star flag since fewer were ever produced.

But to collect 48 star flags becomes a little trickier. Production of 48 star flags can be divided into two periods, before World War II and after World War II. Prior to WWII, most flags were made of wool and some of heavy cotton. The war effort, though, required wool for uniforms and flags were then produced using mostly heavy cotton. The best 48 star flag to collect, then, would be a wool one.

However, the star pattern matters, too. The 48 star pattern was a box pattern, all stars in a row forming a box in the canton (the blue part). If a 48 star flag has any other pattern except the box pattern, it is more desirable to collectors no matter the size. Consider that when searching for old flags.

Remember, on July 4th your local VFW, Boy Scout, fire engine company and other patriotic organizations routinely burn unserviceable old American flags. Under the Flag Code, that is the only proper way to dispose of an American flag. Consider showing up a week or two before the event to sift through the donated flags to determine if there are 48 or 49 star flags that can be sold to collectors to benefit the organization.

7 Responses to “Which is a better collectible: A 48 or 49 star flag?”

  1. sandy gonzalez says:

    I have had a flag packed away for 20 years that my brother-inlaw gave me 48 hand sewn stars fabric cut out on back side but it appears to be machine sewn on its strippes it is also stamped annin&co.n.y. along upper left edge on white edge do you have any information on it?

  2. Tom Carrier says:

    Sandy: The 48 star flag became official with the addition of New Mexico and Arizona in 1912. By that time, all commercially produced flags, like Annin and Co. one of the largest, were all produced by machine, not hand sewn. Your flag, if it is made of wool, may have been embroidered by machine, not hand sewn, though. The zig zag sewing machine was perfected about 1890 or so making hand sewn stars a thing of the past. You would have a rare flag indeed if the stars were in fact hand sewn, but a close up photo would help determine that for sure. Send a photo to flagsandarms@yahoo.com and I’ll try to determine if that is the case.

    Thanks.
    Tom Carrier
    Worthologist

    • Jenna says:

      I just got my hands on a 48 star flag it is old looking but I don’t see anywhere on the flag about the company who made it. There are a few tears in it but how do I go about finding out information on this flag?

      • Tom Carrier says:

        Jenna:

        Not sure what kind of information you are looking for. Without an image I can’t tell whether it is made of wool (made before WWII) or cotton (made after).

        The size of the flag and its condition will tell us what the value would be, but it will be within the $20 to $50 range in any case, as long as the tears do not occur within the star pattern.

        Hope this helps.

        Tom Carrier
        Worthologist

  3. Darwin Eisenhart says:

    In the first paragraph of the above article, it states that the 50 star flag was adopted to “recognize the admission of Alaska and Hawaii. This is incorrect. On April 4, 1818, after several variations of flags were flown, the modern design of the U.S. flag was solidified by Congress and President Monroe.

    “Accordingly, on April 4, 1818, President Monroe accepted a bill requiring that the flag of the United States have a union of 20 stars, white on a blue field, and that upon admission of each new State into the Union one star be added to the union of the flag on the fourth of July following its date of admission.”

    http://www.flagkeepers.org/FlagEducation.asp

    Alaska became the 49th state January 3, 1959. The 49 star flag was officially raised for the first time on July 4, 1959. After that, Hawaii became the 50th state on August 21, 1959, but had to wait until July 4th 1960 for the 50th star to be added to the flag according to the law enacted by President Monroe. The 50 star flag, representing the admission of Hawaii to the union, was officially raised for the first time at 12:01 a.m. on July 4, 1960, at Fort McHenry National Monument in Baltimore, Maryland.

    The 49 star flag recognized the admission of Alaska. The 50 star flag added one more star a year later to recognize only the admission of Hawaii.

    I have a 49 star flag that was given to me by my Great Grandparents when I was 5 months old. I was born in January of 1960, and the United States was officially flying a 49 star flag at that time.

  4. julio martinez says:

    So I led understand that a 49 star flag not in box form is more collectable than a 49 star flag with the stars in box form. correct? would a 48 star flag that is at least 5′x8′ or 5′x9′ or bigger be highly collectable made of heavy cotton? I found a 49 star flag in my fathers garage made by the Annin co. It is in perfect condition. with the stars not in box form.Somewhere in one of my family members house is the 48 star flag mentioned above. was in my possion in 1975 left it at my parents house. Know one of my brothers took it. Don’t know who has it now.

  5. ART. REYES says:

    I,GOT THIS OFFICIAL AMERICAN FLAG OF MARE ISLAND 1941 WITH ONLY 48 STARS, DOES ANYBODY HAVE ANY INFORMATION OF THE VALUE OR IF IT IS COLLECTIBLE

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