Do you have good eyesight? How about a magnifying glass? I have a 3X magnifying glass, a heavy ornate beauty in brass, a gift from my son and daughter-in-law for Mother’s Day in 2002. I use it constantly, but if I am going to keep staring at flags on stamps, I’m going to need something stronger.
The stamp in question is the one that honors the Hudson–Fulton Celebration of 1909. That was the 300th anniversary of Cap. Hendrick Hudson’s trip up an amazing river in what would eventually be the state of New York, and 100 years (plus a little) after Robert Fulton’s steamship, The Clermont, first steamed up the same river, now named the Hudson in honor of the explorer.
What sent me off on this adventure was my attempts figure out what flag was flying on the Clermont in the image on the stamp, all because a few months ago I decided it would be interesting to write about the history of our American flag as it appeared on U.S. stamps.
In 1807, the year Fulton launched his North River Steamboat—others called it the Clermont; he did not—the U.S. flag had fifteen stars and fifteen stripes. It was in fact, the flag that Francis Scott Key was so relieved to see by the dawn’s early light on September 14, 1814.
Of course there were no photographs in 1809, but I did find this etching, which seems to have the stars in the right pattern, but doesn’t have enough stripes. But it is an artistic representation, and I’m sure the artist was more concerned about getting the lines of the ship right, rather than the stripes on the flag, which is waving anyway.
All of which brings me to this hand-tinted photograph taken in 1909 of the replica Clermont, with a completely different flag flying on it. Other photos show the same flag—with the stars in a circle.
The Hudson–Fulton Celebration of 1909 was a huge event, years in planning. The Netherlands built the replica of the Half Moon and brought it to the United States for the celebration. Research into the original Clermont was extensive, and building the replica cost a small fortune.
Was the flag wrong? Was the flag flown on the replica a contemporary nautical ensign in 1909? So far, I haven’t been able to find that information. It’s out there somewhere, I know it is … I just have to keep looking.