Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 38.5" x 49.25"
Flag Size (H x L): 27" x 37.25"
13 star American national flag, made during the first half of the 1890's. The stars are arranged in lineal rows in counts of 4-5-4, which is seldom encountered during this period and is a desirable form among flag collectors. The 4-5-4 configuration is far scarcer and more appealing than rows of 3-2-3-2-3, which is the most common pattern encountered on small scale flags of this basic type, produced between 1890 and the 1920's. About 75% appear with that arrangement, followed by about 20% that survive in a form of the medallion pattern, that bears a wreath of 8 stars, surrounding a single center star, with a star in each corner. Approximately 5% can be seen in a myriad of other designs, such as the 4-5-4, which is more often expected in the earlier periods of American history, namely the Civil War period (1861-65) and prior. For some reason the 4-5-4 pattern was not popular during the celebration of America's 100-year anniversary of independence in 1876, when many 13 star flags were produced to commemorate the original colonies.

There was no official star pattern for the 13 star flag set forth in the flag act of June 14th, 1777. Because the original does not survive, and descriptions of it are unrecorded, no one actually knows what the very first one looked like. Due to its apparent popularity in early America, however, as evidenced by both drawings and surviving 19th century examples, more than one flag expert has hedged that lineal rows of 4-5-4 could well have been the original configuration.

Among small-scale 13 star flags of the 1890-1920's era, the more unusual designs, such as this one, tend to appear in flags that date on the earlier end of that spectrum, between the 1890's and 1910. The manner in which the stars were applied narrows that window even further. These were sewn with a lineal stitch as opposed to the zigzag stitch, which was patented for use on flags in 1892, had become the most common method of application by 1895 and remained so until WWII (U.S. involvement 1941-45). before 1890 stars were generally hand-sewn.

Why 13 Stars? As the number of stars grew with the addition of new states, it became more and more difficult to fit their full complement on a small flag. The stars would, by necessity, have to become smaller, which made it more and more difficult to view them from a distance as individual objects. The fear was that too many stars would become one white mass and distort the ability to identify American ships on the open seas.

The U.S. Navy used 13 stars on its small-scale flags for precisely this reason. This was, of course, the original number of stars on the first American national flag, by way of the First Flag Act of 1777, and equal to the number of original colonies that became states.

For all practical purposes, commercial flag-makers simply didn't produce flags with pieced-and-sewn construction that were 3 to 4 feet in length before the 1890's. There are exceptions to this rule, but until this time, the smallest sewn flags were approximately 6 feet on the fly. The primary use had long been more utilitarian than decorative, and flags needed to be large to be effective as signals. But private use grew with the passage of time, which led to the need for long-term use flags of more manageable scale.

Beginning around 1890, flag-makers began to produce 3 and 4-foot flags for the first time in large quantities. Applying the same logic as the U.S. Navy, they chose the 13 star count rather than the full complement of stars for sake of ease and visibility.

Any flag that has previously been official, remains so according to the flag acts, so 13 star flag remain official national flags of the United States of America.

The 13 star count has been used throughout our nation's history for a variety of other purposes. 13 star flags were hoisted at patriotic events, including Lafayette’s visit in 1825-26, the celebration of the nation's centennial in 1876, and the Sesquicentennial in 1926, as well as for annual celebrations of Independence Day. They were displayed during the Civil War, to reference past struggles for American liberty, and were used by 19th century politicians in political campaigning. The use of yachting ensigns with a wreath of 13 stars surrounding an fouled anchor, which allowed pleasure boats to bypass customs between 1848 and 1980, persists today without an official purpose.

Construction: The cotton stars are machine-sewn with a zigzag stitch and double-appliquéd (applied to both sides of the flag). The canton and stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting that has been pieced with treadle stitching. The canton was pieced in 4 lineal sections of approximately equal height. This is an unusual trait, but one that can be seen in some nautical flags at various points in American history. Probably this was a method of conserving small lengths of fabric left over from other projects. Why it appears in nautical use flags is a mystery, but that seems to be the case here, as evidenced by the especially wide binding, made of cotton twill, along which there are 4 brass grommets. This is indicative of maritime use. Along the reverse of the binding is a black stencil that reads "2 x 3" to indicate size in feet. There is also a blue inked marking, most of which appears on the reverse, but some of which continues onto the obverse (front) with the fold-over of the fabric. This show wheat spray to one side, followed by what may be an eagle's talon, or perhaps stems of cotton or flax. This portion of the image is difficult to discern. It is a manufacturer's mark, similar in nature to a watermark on parchment. This can be encountered on length fabric and feedsacks, but is seldom seen on flags. At the bottom of the hoist binding, on the obverse, is a small, hand-sewn tag with the initials "W.R. embroidered in red. These indicate ownership and were sometimes affixed for regular clients by professional cleaners.

The flag presents beautifully and is a great example of the period.

Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% silk organza for support on every seam and throughout the star field. The flag was then hand-stitched to a background of twill cotton, black in color, which was washed to reduce excess dye. An acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye and the fabric was heat-treated for the same purpose. The mount was then placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.

Condition: There is very minor mothing. There are darning repairs in the 2nd, 6th and 7th red stripes and the 4th white stripe, which were made during the flag's course of use. There is minor foxing and staining in the white cotton. many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Collector Level: Intermediate-Level Collectors and Special Gifts
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1890
Latest Date of Origin: 1895
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association:
Price: SOLD

Views: 2482