|ONE OF THE THREE EARLIEST BRITISH UNION JACKS THAT I HAVE ENCOUNTERED IN PRIVATE HANDS, 1801-1835
|Frame Size (H x L):
|Approx. 55.5" x 99.5"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|43" x 87"
|In the world of antique American flags, those dating prior to 1860 are especially scarce. Among national flags made throughout the rest of the world, those dating prior to the turn of the 20th century are of comparable rarity, and the further back you turn the clock, the scarcer they become. Flags of any kind that date as far back as the first quarter of the 19th century are so few and far between that they are about the earliest that one can reasonably ever expect to encounter and of considerable magnitude in terms of desirability.
This British Union Jack probably dates to the period between 1801 and the mid-1830's. Its design post-dates the Act of Union of 1800, in which the Kingdoms of Ireland and Great Britain joined to form the United Kingdom. In January of 1801, a red saltire, to symbolize the Cross of St. Patrick, was laid over that of St. Andrew, in white, which was previously present to represent Scotland. These lay behind the Cross of St. George, in red on a white ground, to represent England.
The flag is made of single ply wool bunting with the sort of crude, open, homespun-like weave that is characteristic of flags of this period. Entirely hand-sewn, there is a sailcloth binding along the hoist, through which a braided rope was inserted and stitched in place. Loops are incorporated at both ends and there is a tapered wooden toggle at the top. The textile has an extraordinary presentation, looking every bit its age on one hand, but at the same time beautifully well-preserved and with a lustrous appearance.
"Stenning Johnson" is written along the hoist with a dip pen. This would indicate the name of a former owner. A man of the cloth by this name, born in Chichester in 1818, served the Church of England as priest vicar in Chichester Cathedral, then afterwards as incumbent at West Itchenor (1847-1883). The latter was a ship building port during the Napoleanic Wars (1803-1815).
Presuming that the name on the and this particular priest belong to one-another, it seems likely that the flag was passed down, gifted, or presented to him for safekeeping. It's hoist is typical of naval flags and maritime use may have well been its purpose. Whatever the case may be, the flag is extraordinarily early among its counterparts and one of the three oldest examples that I have ever encountered.
Basic Facts Surrounding Use of The British Union Flag / Union Jack:
The term “Union Jack” comes from the fact that the device, by itself, was not flown on British ships as its primary colors. The crosses of St. George (to reflect England), St. Andrew (to represent Scotland), and St. Peter (as of January 1st, 1801, to include Ireland), that create what is known as the British “Union Flag,” was instead flown by the Royal Navy as a jack. A jack was flown off the bow when a ship was at port or anchor. In both Britain and the United States, this is officially called the “Union Jack”—a fact that makes the name pretty confusing. In each case it consists of the canton (union) of the national flag flown on the respective ship.
In America, the “Union Jack” is a blue field with white stars. Its size is to be that of the canton of the Stars & Stripes flown by the same ship as its national ensign.
In Britain, there were several variations of the national flag, instead of just one, called the red, blue, and white ensigns. Each consisted of either a red, white, or blue field, with the British “Union Flag” serving as its canton. So the “Union Jack” was the Union Flag by itself. The term “Union Jack” stuck as the common name for the device, no matter how it was employed.
No law has ever been passed to make the Union flag / “Union Jack” the national flag of the United Kingdom. Instead it has become so through precedent. Its first recorded recognition as a national flag came in 1908, when it was stated in Parliament that "the Union Jack should be regarded as the National flag". A more categorical statement was made by the Home Secretary, Sir John Gilmour, in 1933 when he stated that "the Union Jack is the National Flag". It is still officially a flag of the monarch, however, rather than of the nation.
Civilian use of the Union flag is permitted on land, but non-naval/military use at sea is prohibited. On land, the Union Jack can be flown by any individual or organization on any day they wish. Until very recently, however, government use was strictly regulated. Prior to 2007, it could only be flown on government buildings on certain specified days, such as those marking the birthdays of members of the Royal Family, the wedding anniversary of the Monarch, Commonwealth Day, Accession Day, Coronation Day, The Queen's official birthday, Remembrance Sunday and on the days of the State Opening and prorogation of Parliament.
At sea, different rules apply. Prior to 1864, the Red Ensign, White Ensign, and Blue Ensign were all flown by ships of the Royal Navy (RN). In that year, all RN ships were ordered to fly the White Ensign and it became the sole naval flag of the United Kingdom. Until the mid- to late 1960's, the White Ensign was also flown by Canadian, Australian and New Zealand warships. The Blue Ensign was reserved for merchant vessels whose masters are qualified Royal Naval Reserve [RNR] officers and which meet certain other requirements, while the Red Ensign became the British civil ensign.
At sea, the Union Jack is reserved for the RN and no other British ships are permitted to fly it.
Mounting: The flag has not yet been mounted.
Condition: There are minor losses in the wool fabric and there are two small areas with darning repairs, but the condition is extraordinary for an antique British flag of any period. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
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|Earliest Date of Origin:
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