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DENVER - As Colorado turns 138 years old, 9NEWS got an exclusive look at some historic flags in the state's archive.

We've been a proud bunch in this state showing our love for the Centennial State with a lot of different symbols.

At History Colorado, you'll find many of the state's historic treasures away from the museum exhibits, stored in grey back rooms full of antiques, artwork, and artifacts.

In one wing are library stacks full of rolled textiles.

"We have flags and quilts and more flags and more quilts and rugs," state historian Bill Convery said. "That really show the variety of how we use these symbols in celebrating who we are."

Staffers handle flags with extreme care, wearing gloves and protecting the artifacts with layers of paper.

Curators gave us a look at three very special flags in the collection.

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FLAG ONE: THE 38-STAR SPANGLED BANNER

Among the flags in the archive is the oldest known United States flag to bear 38th stars, the number of states when Colorado was admitted to the union in 1876.

This would be the number of stars for some time to come. The Dakotas wouldn't be admitted for more than 13 years afterward.

But on the very first Colorado Day, the 37-star flag was all that was being produced, and it wouldn't have been very fitting for celebrating the occasion.

"There were no 38-star flags commercially available, so we had to make our own," Convery said.

We don't know who made the flag that History Colorado holds in its collection. Convery says there would have been dozens like it flying in the parades on the day Colorado became a state.

"Aug. 1, 1876 was a day of huge celebration tempered by the news of Custer's last stand which had happened only a few days before," Convery said.

Perhaps this flag was rushed to get ready for the parades.

"It has, I say this with love, an amateurish feel," Convery said. "Particularly the stars."

The two sides of the flag do not look the same. 38 stars were cut from white cloth and then stitched on to the back side of 38 star-shaped holes in the blue field.

The arrangement of the stars on this particular flag is not orderly. It's sort of random.

"Somewhat scattered, like a constellation," said Convery.

Back then, you could cram the stars into the blue field however you wanted. The arrangement of the stars wasn't regulated until the Taft administration.

FLAG TWO: EARLY PRODUCTION COLORADO FLAG

The next artifact like what you see on flagpoles and T-shirts all around the state nowadays.

"A Denver company called the Paradise Decorating Company made this flag and flew it over Civic Center for a number of years," Convery said.

Lawmakers approved the basic design for Colorado's flag in 1911: the blue and white stripes, the red letter "C," and the gold disc in the middle.

But it wasn't until 60 years ago that all Colorado flags looked the same shape and color.

This is among the earlier flags to be made using the final standardized design, adopted by the state legislature in 1964.

If you want to be super-official, here's how the modern flag is legally supposed to look:

The flag shall consist of three alternate stripes to be of equal width and at right angles to the staff, the two outer stripes to be blue of the same color as in the blue field of the national flag and the middle stripe to be white, the proportion of the flag being a width of two-thirds of its length. At a distance from the staff end of the flag of one-fifth of the total length of the flag there shall be a circular red C, of the same color as the red in the national flag of the United States. The diameter of the letter shall be two-thirds of the width of the flag. The inner line of the opening of the letter C shall be three-fourths of the width of its body or bar, and the outer line of the opening shall be double the length of the inner line thereof. Completely filling the open space inside the letter C shall be a golden disk; attached to the flag shall be a cord of gold and silver intertwined, with tassels one of gold and one of silver. (C.R.S. 24-80-904)

FLAG THREE: PRE-1964 VARIATION

Older newspaper illustrations show flags with all different sizes of "C" shapes.

It just so happens, History Colorado has a flag like this in its collection.

"The C is smaller than you would see on a normal Colorado flag. And the gold orb in the center is a lot smaller than a standardized flag today," Convery said.

It also has a white border between the gold disc and the letter C, which would not appear on a flag today.

"A flag is a logo and as such it is a piece of art," Convery said. "We can standardize that art, but I think the really interesting flags are the ones made by individuals that have their own personality. Their own artistic outlook I guess. And this flag certainly fits that."

This flag is a total mystery. We don't know when it was made or who made it. What we do know is that it was donated to the museum in 1978 and the flag is in rough shape.

"This flag has secrets about the personality of its maker that we would love to uncover," Convery said.

Still, when you look at it, it's instantly recognizable as the same logo we all share in Colorado. It's just one unique version of it.

"I think it shows the individuality that is part of being a Coloradan," Convery said.

That's a spirit that echoes today, with its roots stored in the archives, reminding us and future generations of that spirit that's been here since birth of the Centennial State.

To celebrate Colorado day, several History Colorado museums are open free of charge on Friday and Saturday.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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