Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 33" x 47"
Flag Size (H x L): 22" x 36.25"
13 star American national flag, entirely hand-sewn and with its stars arranged in staggered lineal rows of 3-2-3-2-3. Probably made by Annin & Company, sometime between the Civil War (1861-65) and the 1876 anniversary of American independence, the flag measures just 22 x 36 inches. This is an extraordinarily small size among pieced-and-sewn examples of this period in American history. During the 19th century, most flags with sewn construction were 8 feet long and larger. Smaller examples are the exception and this particular flag is especially so.

In most cases the 3-2-3-2-3 design can also be viewed as a diamond of stars, with a star in each corner and a star in the very center. It is of interest to note that the 3-2-3-2-3 pattern can also be interpreted as a combination of the crosses of St. Andrew and St. George, which some feel could have been the design of the very first American flag and may identify a link between this star configuration and the British Union Jack. The pattern is often attributed--albeit erroneously in my opinion--to New Jersey Senator Francis Hopkinson, a member of the Second Continental Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence, who is credited with having played the most significant role in the original design of the American national flag. Hopkinson's original drawings for the design of the flag have not survived and his other depictions of 13 star arrangements for other devices are inconsistent.

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. 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.

With regard to this particular flag, there are a number of reasons why such a small example may have been made in this design. Military function is a distinct possibility. The size of the flag, if not precisely to code, is appropriate for a Union Army camp colors. According to flag expert Howard Madaus, 13 star flags were known to be carried by Civil War troops for use in both the camp and the field (though he carefully points out that none were thus far documented as having been carried as battle flags). Although the flag is unsigned, numerous characteristics inherent in its construction allow me to conclude that it was Annin-made. Annin is our nation's eldest flag-maker that is still in business today. The company was founded in the 1820's on the New York waterfront, incorporated in 1847, and, though it opened a large manufacturing operation in Verona, New Jersey in 1916, maintained its head office and some production in Manhattan until 1960. While some sources that record makers of military goods lack reference to specific military contracts with Annin, their Wikipedia entry might explain why. The narrative states: "…the U.S. Signal Corps requisitioned all its wartime flags from Annin Flagmakers for the Civil War. An undated newspaper article in Annin’s 1860's archives states: “Without going through forms of contract, Annin supplied the government direct…as the war progressed, orders came pouring in from every state and city that was loyal to the Union, so that by the beginning of 1864, there was not a single battlefield, a brigade or a division that did not use Annin flags.”

The flag may alternatively have been made for use on a small boat or ship, either private or military. While the size does not match U.S. Navy regulations for small boat ensigns, when war broke out in 1861, the Navy was woefully unprepared in many ways, not least of which was flag making. As a result, orders flew out to the local businesses to make flags. In many instances they grabbed every flag in stock, regardless of the specifics laid forth in their own regulations.* Practical decision-making to meet the demands of war was the rule of thumb with regard to flags in military function during the 19th century, both on land and at sea. Though much smaller than usual and smaller than any in formal Navy regulations, a flag of this size may have functioned as the primary flag on a tiny skiff or have been flown from the pilot house on a larger vessel.

The flag may also have been made available for purchase for general patriotic use, either by Civil War veterans or for events such as the celebration of our nation's centennial. Whatever the case may be, the size and hand-sewn construction are two of its best attributes. Flags that are large enough to make a statement, but that are at the same time easily framed and displayed, are always of significant interest to collectors.

Construction: The stars of the flag are hand-sewn and single-appliquéd. This means that they were applied to one side of the canton, then the blue fabric was cut from behind each star, folded over, and under-hemmed, so that one star could be viewed on both sides of the flag. I always find single-appliquéd stars more interesting, not only because they are evidence of a more difficult level of seam-work and stitching, but also because they are more visually intriguing. The two visible rows of hand-stitching emphasize their hand-sewn construction. For these reasons single-appliquéd stars often appeal to connoisseurs of early American textiles.

The canton and stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting that has been pieced with hand stitching. There is a course linen or hemp binding along the hoist with two brass grommets. The numeral "3" to indicate its length on the fly in feet, is stenciled on the hoist binding in black ink, followed by the "S." The latter may be a basic size designation or one that indicates the grade of bunting used in its manufacture. The lack of an Annin signature in the stencil--sometimes present--is not surprising. Annin does not appear to have signed any of its flags until the 36 star period (1864-67) and even then does not appear to have been done so with any consistency.

Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% organza for support on every seam and throughout the star field. It was then hand-sewn to a background of 100% cotton twill, black in color, which was washed to reduce excess dye. And acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye and the fabric was heat-treated for the same purpose. The flag was then placed in a very dark brown, almost black molding with red highlights, a cove profile, and a rope border on the inner edge, to which a gilded molding was added as a liner. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.

Condition: There is extremely minor mothing, but there are no significant condition issues.

* Many thanks to David Martucci for his words and insights into use and acquisition of flags by the U.S. Navy during this period.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1861
Latest Date of Origin: 1876
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: SOLD

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