|13 star American national parade flag, printed on coarse, glazed cotton and affixed to its original staff. Made to celebrate our nation’s centennial of independence in 1876, the flag has a medallion pattern canton that consists of a large center star, surrounded by a wreath of eight stars, with a flanking star in each corner. This was a popular centennial design.
The most common size of the flags in this style was two by three inches on a six-inch staff. At two-and-a-half by four inches on an 8-inch staff, this size is slightly larger and significantly more scarce. This particular example happens to be the nicest among them that I have encountered. The stars are noticeably larger than usual and the printing is very distinct. It could be that the maker was different than those who produced most of flags of this sort, or that this one was merely printed with a relatively new block, before the edges wore out from extended use. In either case, it is an excellent example of the form.
13 star flags have been flown throughout our nation’s history for a variety of purposes. In addition to their use at the centennial, 13 star flags were hoisted at other patriotic events, including Lafayette’s visit in 1824-25, the sesquicentennial in 1926, and July 4th celebrations. They were displayed during the Civil War, to reference past struggles for American liberty and victory over oppression, and were used by 19th century politicians while campaigning for the same reason. The U.S. Navy used the 13 star count on small boats until 1916, because it was easier to discern fewer stars at a distance on a small flag. Commercial flag-makers mirrored this practice and some private ships flew 13 star flags during the same period as the Navy. The use of yachting ensigns with a wreath of 13 stars surrounding a fouled anchor, which allowed pleasure boats to bypass customs between 1848 and 1980, persists today without an official purpose.
Any American national flag that has previously been official remains so today according to the flag acts, so 13 star flags were, and still are, official flags of the United States.
Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to a background of 100% cotton twill, black in color, that has been washed and treated to reduce excess dye. The 2-part frame consists of a gilded American molding that dates to around 1870 and is thus approximately period to the flag, to which a modern, rippled profile molding, black with gold highlights, was added as a cap. Spacers keep the textile away from the glazing, which is U.V. protective glass.