The Evolution of Old Glory–The 23-Star Flag of the United States of America

Tom Carrier, our resident vexillologist, has worked tirelessly on the history behind the creation of each version of the American flag as our country grew and states were added. We are thrilled to share his discoveries over the next few weeks. The design of the flag has been officially modified 26 times since 1777. This week we bring you the story behind the 21-Star Flag of the United States.  Enjoy!

Curiously enough, there is no 23-star flag that can be examined in any of the prominent collections or historical records. Instead, we have representations of how the placement of stars would look, such as the 6, 5, 6, 6 arrangement.

Overview 

The eastern half of Mississippi Territory was broken away by Congress and named Alabama Territory on March 3, 1817.  By then, Mississippi Territory had become a state in December 1817.  Alabama Territory would become the 22nd state about two years later in December 1819.

Maine began as a district within Massachusetts until 1820 when it voted to secede as its own state in March of 1820, becoming the 23rd state as part of the Missouri Compromise that did not allow slavery (Missouri would allow slavery under the Compromise). 

For the addition of these two new states, two additional stars were added to the flag of the United States under the Flag Act of 1818 that provided a new star for each new state to be added at the next July 4th after admission.  The flag of 23 stars would remain official from 1820 until Independence Day of 1822. 

While there was no official 22-star flag, occasionally you will find a version such as the one from the collection of Anthony Iasso.  It features a “dancing star” theme where the stars are in rows of 5, 4, 5, 3, 5, but aren’t quite in regular order.  Except this flag isn’t from the period of 1820-1822, but instead is probably from the Centennial-era around 1876 intended as a commemorative flag.

Curiously enough, there is no 23-star flag that can be examined in any of the prominent collections or historical records, even concerning the placement of stars.  Instead, we have representations of how the placement of stars would look, such as the 6, 5, 6, 6 arrangement.  Another is a variation of the 21-star Grand Luminary star design with 23 stars, but then that would be a standard design feature for flags until star patterns were fixed beginning in 1912. 

Another  variation is the 23-star Grand Luminary star design.

What Experts Look For

Since there isn’t a 23-star flag to examine, Grace Rogers Cooper in her book Thirteen-Star Flags: Keys to Identification suggests “…component parts and method of construction would be comparable to either the twenty-star flag or the twenty-four star flag or both.”

Date:  1820-1822

Size:   unknown

Star Pattern:  23 five-pointed stars arranged in four rows of either 6, 5, 6, 6 or a Grand Luminary Star pattern.  Cotton stars were more in use by this time rather than the heavier linen. 

Stripes: 7 cotton red stripe, 6 white stripes usually of wool bunting

Fabric: Wool bunting was most predominant during the early period of flag manufacture with Z-twist weave.

Example of wool bunting.

Sewing Thread:  more likely a cotton thread using 3/2-ply throughout, linen is possible, too or a combination

 Stitching:  hand sewn throughout

Heading:   For a government flag, a “duck” linen (similar to canvas) would be utilized.

Grommets:  hand stitched (whip stitched) grommets were the norm for this period

Hand stitched (whip stitch) grommet.

 Marks/Identification

 There would be no identifying marks or identification.


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