U.S. 26 Star "Grand Luminary" 1837 - 1845, large maritime or institutional flag.
This period example 26 star U.S. flag was conceived upon the admission of Michigan as the 26th state on January 26, 1837. This would remain a popular design of United States flag until the admission of Florida on March 3, 1845, a period of eight years, one month and five days.
This flag embodies a design popular throughout the 19th century. The Grand Luminary star pattern, also known as the great-star or great flower, symbolizes the national motto E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One). Each star is separate and distinct, but subsumed within the larger, united star pattern, thus representing the union of states within the federal system.
Due to this flags large size, it is quite possible that it was used either on a maritime vessel or a commercial building. Sea captain Samuel Reid petitioned Congress in 1818 to officially adopt the Grand Luminary design, but it was never ratified. The design, however, caught the imagination of the people and we now have these wonderful surviving flags from a period long past.
When this flag was current in 1840, a flags design became associated for the first time in American history with a particular candidate in presidential politics. William Henry Harrison utilized the Grand Luminary design widely in his campaign for president, and his ensuing triumph in that election set a precedent for the continuance of such practices to the present.
The particulars of this 26 star flags history are undocumented. Noted antique dealer Mr. Boleslaw Mastai and his wife Marie-Louise d'Otrange Mastai (formerly of New York City, and later Amagansett, Long Island), maintained this flag (#162) in their prodigious collection. The Mastai collection was the result of fifty years of research, study, and careful preservation by the late husband-wife team. Mastai began collecting in the early 20th century and accumulated the greatest American private flag collection. Mastai's important book , The Stars and The Stripes: The American Flag from Birth of the Republic to the Present, (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1973) is considered an important revelation of the American Flag as artistically and socially illuminating.
American Maritime Flags of the 19th Century
Governmental and private coastal installations and maritime vessels require flags that can be identified in poor weather and from a considerable distance. Visibility was improved during the nineteenth century by equipping ships and facilities with especially large flags. Exhibited here are several American flags connected to such vessels or facilities from the period of 1818 to 1893.
These are all large bunting flags. A large flag is generally considered one that is too unwieldy to be carried by one person when the flag is flown from staff meant to be carried by single person. Until 1895 the American Army units military colors were carried by units on foot and made of silk with measurements of no more than 6 feet on the staff by 6 feet 6 inches on the fly (the British army had forgone silk flags in 1854). These dimensions (essentially a flag with an area encompassing slightly more than four square yards of cloth) were deemed the maximum size for transport by an individual flag bearer with a flagstaff. However, most of the flags in this exhibit surpass those dimensions. Due to their large size, flags such as these are difficult to display and are rarely sought by collectors. Museums often consign them to storage.
Star Spangled Banner Flag House & Museum, 2004
Washington University at St. Louis
ZFC Significant Flag