16 Star US Flag, Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, America's First Museum, circa 1796-1812.
According to provenance records accompanying this flag, it was flown over the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, founded in 1812. William S. Vaux, a noted mineralogist, whose father was also associated with the Academy, is credited with donating it to that institution. It is surmised that this might have been a Vaux family flag, because the 16th star predates the formation of the Academy.
The initial technical analysis of the cotton sewing thread used in the construction of this flag was done before more recent scholarship established the use of cotton in the 18th century; so the suggestions that the flag was sewn in the mid-19th Century are no longer valid.
Sixteen star flags are exceedingly rare. After Vermont and Kentucky joined the Union in 1791 and 1792 respectively, Congress approved a 15-star 15-stripe flag in 1795. After that no new stars were added to the flag to officially recognize new states until a revised law went into effect in 1818.
The idea of altering the flag created much opposition. In addition raised a dichotomy between ship owners who said that adding stars and stripes would be very costly for them, and flag makers who did not hesitate to manufacture flags like this one, with stars for all the states and sometimes with an equal number of stripes.
This unofficial 16-star flag saluted the sixteenth state, Tennessee, which joined the Union in 1796. Later there were also unofficial flags representing Ohio (1803), Louisiana (1812), and Indiana (1816).
First Presidio Exhibit
16-Star United States Flag (Possibly Commemorative)
Date: About 1840-1850
Madaus, Howard M., Dr, Whitney Smith, The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord and Conflict. Santa Cruz: VZ Publications, 2006, p. 35.
• Vaux family, Philadelphia, PA, 1803/12.
• Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, PA, 1812 - 1965.
• Donated to the Star Spangled Banner Flag House and Museum (SSBFH),1965.
• Purchased by private treaty by the Zaricor Flag Collection from the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House Collection of Baltimore, MD, in 1996.