The 38-star American flag celebrates Colorado as the 38th state to join the Union. It was commonly flown during the United States’ centennial celebration, and can be found in all shapes, sizes, and star patterns.
The addition of Colorado to the Union occurred on August 1, 1876. Per the Third Flag Act of 1818, stars were not officially added to the flag until the 4th of July following a state's admittance to the Union. For this reason, the 37-star flag was the official American flag in 1876, and the 38-star flag became the official flag on July 4th, 1877. However, by 1876 the country was preparing for its first centennial celebration, honoring 100 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Flagmakers began producing Colorado statehood flags with 38 stars during the centennial year, even though the flag was not “official” yet. Thus, Colorado is commonly referred to as the Centennial State.
Since there was no strict regulation on how stars were placed on the canton at the time, we see 38-star examples in a variety of patterns. The 38 stars of this flag are printed in a medallion-in-square pattern. Medallion patterns became popular with Americans who wanted some variation from “row” patterns that prevailed on the previous 36 and 37 star flags. However, very few flags with this medallion-in-square star pattern are known to still exist today, even fewer with a large great star at center. The great star at the center is meant to represent Colorado in celebration of it becoming the Centennial State.
Few regulations on the production of American flags meant that even flags of the same star count could look entirely different from one another. Other 38-star flags were produced with patterns such as double medallions, variations with a great star at the center, whimsical rows, and more. The production of 38-star flags was experimental, and without strict governmental regulations, flagmakers and home seamstresses alike were at liberty to test out the configuration of the stars. This 38-star flag also features a medallion pattern, rather with three rings of stars encircling one center star of the same size and two lone “outliers” in the top left and bottom right corners.
38-stars was the official star count of American flags for 13 years until 1889 when North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, and Idaho all got their statehood. This brought the star count up to 43. During this period of time, we see a wide variety of star patterns and flag configurations, which speaks to the craftsmanship and creativity of flagmakers across the nation.