Posted By whatsitworth on June 15, 2012
The Walnut Creek Historical Society has a Lincoln/Johnson flag. It is silk, hand hemmed with a running stitch and shows where it may have been attached to a stick for waving. As you can see it is in very poor condition: the silk has split and frayed. In 1974 it was framed between two pieces of glass by a local framer. The size is 11 1/2 ” by 16″.
It is from the Albert M. Johnson family and was given to the Historical Society in 1972. The flag may have belonged to Albert’s grandfather Isaac Miller Johnson, b July 1811 Ohio – d. Oct 1892 CA or several other of the family members. We have no way of knowing. I have tried to find a genealogical connection between Andrew Johnson and Albert’s family but cannot.
We would greatly appreciate an appraisal of the flag and a comment about the best way to preserve it. I know it should be in an archival box, but everyone enjoys seeing it and so it is framed, hanging on a wall since 1974 that gets two days of indirect bright light.
On June 14, 1777 the Continental Congress decreed,”that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be thirteen stars, in a blue field representing a new constellation.” One of the most recognized graphics in the world, the image of the flag has been used to forward ideas of politics and protest, to sell chocolates and sewing needles and to foster creativity and expression in artists and designers.
No group or individual mandated the width of the stripes or the shape and arrangement of the stars; though Betsy Ross is widely credited with the design of the original, no specific pattern was decreed and flag makers designed with their own materials and markets in mind.
Congress amended the original decree in 1795 when they decided a new stripe and star be added to the flag when a new state ratified the US Constitution. By 1818, the flag was becoming unwieldy and congress decided that 13 stripes would signify the original colonies and a new star would be added for each new state. It wasn’t until 1912 that Congress finally decided to codify the graphics of the flag.
On examining your flag, I find it historically important and incredibly American in its commercial thriftiness. Let me explain my thinking.
Abraham Lincoln appointed Andrew Johnson as governor of Tennessee in 1861 and was elected to the presidency with Maine born Hannibal Hamlin as his vice president. For the 1863 election campaign, southerner Johnson replaced northerner Hamlin on the ballot. Running on the National Union Party Ticket, Lincoln and Johnson won nearly 90% of electoral votes and were swept into office. Six weeks after the 1864 inauguration, Lincoln was assassinated and Johnson rose to the presidency.
In 1859, Oregon was admitted into the US and a 33rd star was added to the American flag; in 1861 Kansas and the 34th star were added; in 1865 West Virginia became a state and a 35th star was added. So, if we are to believe this flag was flown during the very brief Lincoln Johnson campaign in 1863, the flag should have 35 stars. Your flag has only 33.
In 1863 America was at war with itself and raw materials, especially southern grown crops of cotton and flax, would have been scarce and expensive. It would have been expensive and foolhardy to replace the newly obsolete flags every year the union grew, so flags were repurposed. Some thrift minded entrepreneur took an old but serviceable 1859 flag, stenciled Lincoln and Johnson over the white stripes and made a contemporary 1863 campaign flag.
Your flag is quite small at 12 x 16 inches and, as you note, in fairly poor condition. Even so, because it is such a fine illustration about a short and turbulent period of American history a flag such as yours is a highly sought after item. I would not be surprised to see it with an estimate of $3000-5000 were it to come up for auction.
I would consult with a professional textile conservator to find out how to preserve and protect your flag. Look for a professional conservator with professional affiliations including membership in the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists.
To learn more about the history and breadth of the American flag look for “Long May She Wave: A Graphic History of the American Flag” by San Francisco designer and flag collector Kit Hinrichs.
Flag Day is celebrated this year on Thursday, June 14th.