With billions of dollars flowing into the election coffers of our 2012 presidential candidates, a look back at how our country's forefathers got their message out to voters provides us with a fascinating history lesson on presidential politics. Leading flag expert Jeff Bridgman, who builds collections for many titans of industry, owns many of the most important and beautiful political campaign flags and banners known to exist today. "They all serve as historical documentation of the men who sought our nation's highest office," says Bridgman, who will be offering these historical treasures at art and antique fairs this June, July and August in Litchfield County, Connecticut; Aspen, Colorado; Nantucket Massachusetts; and Baltimore, Maryland (see schedule below for details). "People are often surprised to learn that before 1912, the lack of a specific design for the American national flag left a great deal open to interpretation and imagination."
According to Bridgman, American presidential candidates began using the red, white, and blue as a medium for printed campaign advertising as early as 1840. "The first on record were made for William Henry Harrison, who served the shortest term ever as our commander-in-chief," says Bridgman. "Though he contracted pneumonia at his inaugural speech and died just 30 days later, this beloved American figure unknowingly left behind some of the most extraordinary American flags known to exist." Thus, began a sixty-five-year term in American history, during which it was perfectly acceptable for seekers of American political office to place their names, faces, and platform slogans on the much-loved symbol of our nation. And the cost of these campaign banners ranged from $1.50 to $5.00!
From 1840 onward, other banners made of cotton and silk were also raised to advertise political elections. These are still in use today. Among early examples, some were hand-painted and others were printed on fabric. Many are vividly graphic with portraits, patriotic verbiage and imagery.
Here are some highlights from Jeff Bridgman's collection of rare and important political banners, which he will offer this summer:
*EXTREMELY RARE PORTRAIT STYLE BANDANNA, MADE FOR THE 1848 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN OF ZACHARY TAYLOR, THE ONLY SURVIVING TEXTILE IN THIS STYLE AND THE PLATE EXAMPLE FROM THE BOOK "THREADS OF HISTORY"
Of all American presidents represented in campaign textiles, one of the most desired is General Zachary Taylor, who ran and won the White House as a Whig in 1848 following the conclusion of the Mexican War. No campaign parade flags are known from this year for any of the three primary participants, which included Democrat opponent Lewis Cass and Free Soil party candidate Martin Van Buren. No bandanas are known from either the Cass or Van Buren campaigns in that year, which means that the only large scale patriotic textiles are those used by Taylor and his supporters (asking price: $38,500).
*1864 LINCOLN & JOHNSON PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN PARADE FLAG, RECYCLED FROM AN 1860 JOHN BELL, CONSTITUTIONAL UNION PARTY FLAG, WITH 35 STARS ARRANGED IN A UNIQUE VARIANT OF A "PENTAGON" OR "HEART" MEDALLION
This 35 star American national parade flag, printed on glazed cotton, was originally made for the 1860 presidential campaign of John Bell & Edward Everett, who ran as independents on the "Constitutional Union Party" ticket. Abraham Lincoln was a great recycler of campaign flags. In 1864, while seeking reelection, his supporters sewed his name and that of Andrew Johnson over those of Bell & Everett. Bell's 1860 slogan, "The Union and the Constitution", is printed across the last white stripe. In 1864, the main faction of the Republican Party formed a coalition with "War Democrats" (those against the Southern cause) and temporarily renamed itself the National Union Party. For this reason Bell's slogan was particularly fitting and so left intact (asking price: $87,500).
*A RARE 34 STAR PARADE FLAG, MADE FOR THE 1880 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN OF GARFIELD AND ARTHUR, THE LARGEST EXAMPLE KNOWN FROM THIS ELECTION
This 34 star American national parade flag, printed on coarse, glazed cotton, was made for the 1880 presidential campaign of James A. Garfield and Chester Arthur. This particular flag is presently the only known example in this exact style. Measuring approximately 28 x 43 inches, it also happens to be the largest known campaign parade flag that has survived from the 1880 election. Larger flags like this were evidently produced in smaller numbers. Because they were more difficult to store and more likely to be damaged over time, logic suggests that they were also more readily discarded. Generally speaking, larger political flags are more desirable because they are simultaneously a lot more rare and provide more graphic impact. Unlike 19th century flags with pieced-and-sewn construction, the very largest examples do not exceed 5 feet in length (asking price: $25,000).
*PAIR OF EXCEPTIONALLY GRAPHIC AND COLORFUL KERCHIEFS FROM THE 1904 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN OF THEODORE ROOSEVELT VS. ALAN PARKER
Often, one maker produced some political bandanas in the same style for two opposing candidates. In this case a similar, yet different example, each just as colorful and embellished as the next, was made for each of the two major political parties' campaigns. Printed on cotton, this complimentary pair was produced for the 1904 election when Republicans Theodore Roosevelt & Charles Warren Fairbanks ran and won against Democrats Alan Brooks Parker & Henry Gassaway Davis. It could be successfully argued that there are not two more striking, colorful, or more patriotically whimsical kerchiefs in all of political textile collecting. From a purely graphics standpoint, this pair is short-listed among the very best of all those known to exist (asking price: $14,500).
According to Bridgman, towards the end of the nineteenth century, there was a growing shift in public opinion to uphold the Stars & Stripes as a sacred object, worthy of the most scrupulous ethics regarding its use and display. Attempts were made to ban the use of the flag for advertising in 1890 and 1895, but it was not until the year 1905 that Congress finally decreed that the use of text or portraits on official insignia of the United States would afterwards be outlawed, marking the end of an era where politicians sought to woo their constituency with bold and whimsical versions of Old Glory.
Jeff R. Bridgman will appear at the following shows:
June 22-24 Litchfield County Antiques Show www.antiquescouncil.com
July 6-15 Aspen Antiques and Fine Arts Fair www.aspenartfairs.com
August 2-6 Nantucket Historical Association Antiques Show www.antiquescouncil.com
August 23-26 Baltimore Summer Antiques Show www.baltimoresummerantiques.com
About Jeff Bridgman
Jeff Bridgman is one of the leading authorities on the history of American flags. His flags can be found in the homes of such luminaries as Bill Clinton and Bill Gates, both of whom received them as gifts from Barbra Streisand, Jon Bon Jovi, Ralph Lauren, Robert Kennedy, Jr., Tom Brokaw, Brian Williams, Martha Stewart, Morris Offit, Ken Burns and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, among others. Based in York, Pennsylvania, he has over 1500 flags, banners and political textiles, which trace the history of our country. Bridgman's collections provide us with a unique perspective of our country's past, when history, design, imagination and industry converge. His quest for these long lost treasures has allowed us to preserve our nation's history in a very compelling manner. According to Bridgman, fakes, altered flags and a lack of adequate knowledge abound in the antique flag market. "Very few experts now exist in this sadly overlooked field," he said. "The only way to truly learn about such objects is to handle thousands of examples and make comparisons. Most museums, auction houses and dealers are ill-equipped to do so because flags are not part of their daily focus and too few examples pass through their hands."
For more information, visit www.jeffbridgman.com or phone 717-502-1281.