Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
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  13 STARS IN A HAPHAZARD 5-4-4 CONFIGURATION OF LINEAL ROWS, THE ONLY KNOWN EXAMPLE IN THIS ARRANGEMENT; VERY EARLY AMONG ITS COUNTERPARTS, ca 1830-1850's, FORMERLY PART OF THE MASTAI COLLECTION AND PROMINENTLY FEATURED IN THE FIRST MAJOR TEXT ON FLAG COLLECTING

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 38" x 63.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 34.75" x 60.5"
Description....:
Across antique American national flags that date to the 19th century and prior, very few exist that pre-date the Civil War (1861-65). I often cite the number at around one percent. Because ground forces were not authorized to carry the Stars & Stripes until the mid-1830's and after, the first war in which it was carried was the Mexican War (1846-48). Because almost none survive from this conflict, the first appearance of American flags in any number was the Civil War. It was also at this time that use of the flag by private citizens gained popularity. Before 1861, private individuals did not typically display the flag in their yards and on their porches. Parade flags did not commonly fly from carriages and horses. Places of business rarely hung flags in their windows. The primary use of the American flag was to mark ships and garrisons.

This 13 star example was made prior to the Civil War. Constructed sometime between approximately 1830 and the 1850’s, it falls among the earliest examples that one may ever expect to see in this star count. The stars are arranged in a haphazard configuration of lineal rows, in counts of 5-4-4. An iconic example in flag collecting, this is the only known example with this specific star arrangement. Formerly belonging to Boleslaw and Marie D’Otrange Mastai, who built and maintained one of the finest collections of early American flags ever assembled, it was prominently featured in their book, “The Stars & The Stripes: The American Flag as Art and as History from the Birth of the Republic to the Present” (1973, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, p. 66). This landmark text was the first major pictorial reference on flag collecting.

Since there was no official configuration for the stars on the American national flag until 1912, the design was left to the whims of the maker. Among 13 star examples with pieced-and-sewn construction (as opposed to printed flags), the 3-2-3-2-3 configuration of lineal rows is the most common during the 19th century. That arrangement is followed in popularity by a medallion pattern that consists of a wreath of 8 stars, with a single star in the center and a flanking star in each corner. Next in terms of scarcity are designs such as a 4-5-4 pattern of lineal rows and a wreath of 12 stars surrounding a single center star (often called the 3rd Maryland pattern). Then there are other, much rarer designs such as snowflakes (two consecutive wreaths with a center star), the Trumbull pattern (a rectangle with a center star), and an arrangement where all of the stars are placed in the form of one big star, called the “Great Star”, typically with 6 arms, like the Star of David.

While seemingly benign, rows of stars in any other arrangement than the popular 3-2-3-2-3 and 4-5-4 patterns are especially rare. 5-3-5, for example, is a design present on approximately six known flags. In addition to the flag that is the subject of this narrative, there are just four others, all of which are singular. Just one survives with a configuration of 4-3-4-2, another displays horizontal rows of 4-4-5, and yet another bears two rows of 6 stars with a single star at the hoist end. The last exhibits vertical columns instead of rows, in counts of 5-4-4. I have had the privilege to own three of these four unique examples.

Many people are surprised to learn that the perfect circle of stars, often attributed to Betsy Ross and foremost among all patterns in American consciousness, is practically never encountered on 13 star flags until the 20th century and its history is thought by most flag scholars to be rooted in myth.

The flag is entirely hand-sewn. The canton and stripes are made of wool bunting. The stars are made of cotton and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). Their whimsical placement makes this a fantastic example from a folk art perspective, while the persimmon red color of the stripes is both unusual and particularly attractive. There is a hand-sewn linen binding along the hoist with three hand-sewn, whip-stitched grommets.

The red-inked, Mastai stamp appears in several places on the obverse, including the fly end of the last white stripe, the first star in the last row, and the bottom of the hoist binding, where it is accompanied by the notation "No. 252," inscribed in red ball point pen, which reflects their normal method of cataloging. While some might consider the use of such invasive markings detrimental to the object and defacement of the flag, the importance of the Mastai collection has caused these features to become what I consider to be an important part of the flag's modern history.

While the scale of the flag may seem large in present day America, it is notably small for the period in which it was made. During the 19th century, most flags were greater than eight feet in length. Because their function was to serve as signals, necessary to be seen from great distance, they can easily be too cumbersome to display in an indoor setting. Because of this fact, the small size of this flag is one of its important characteristics.

Why 13 Stars?

13 star flags have been continuously produced throughout our nation’s history for purposes both patriotic and utilitarian. This was the original number of stars on the American flag, representing the original 13 colonies, so it was appropriate for any flag made in conjunction with celebrations of American independence. 13 star flags were hoisted at patriotic events, including Lafayette’s visit in 1824-25, the celebration of the nation’s centennial in 1876, and the sesquicentennial in 1926. 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.

13 star flags were flown by American ships both private and federal. The U.S. Navy used 13 stars on the ensigns made for small boats, because they wished the stars to be easily discerned at a distance. As the number of stars grew with the addition of new states, it became more and more difficult to fit stars on a small flag so that they may be viewed from afar as individual objects. Because any star count that has previously been official remains so today according to the Congressional flag acts, all 13 star flags in an otherwise appropriate design remain official flags of the United States.

Additional Provenance: This flag was presented from June 14th – July 21st at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, in an exhibit entitled “A New Constellation,” curated by Jeff Bridgman. This was the first ever, large scale exhibit of 13 star examples at a major museum.

Condition: A length of the bottom red stripe is absent at the fly end. A small rectangular portion of the top red stripe is also absent. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind these areas during the mounting process. An underlay is also present in the 5th white stripe, where there was a tear with minor fabric loss. There are four early patches, period to the flag’s term of use. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. The flag presents beautifully. The exceptional rarity warrants practically any condition.
Collector Level:
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1846
Latest Date of Origin: 1865
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: No
 

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