Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 4" x 230"
Flag Size (H x L): 29.5" x 90.75"
Commissioning pennants are the distinguishing mark of a commissioned U.S. Navy ship. These have a narrow blue canton, followed by one red over one white stripe. A ship becomes commissioned when this pennant is hoisted. Flown during both times of peace and war, the only time the pennant is not flown is if a flag officer or civilian official is aboard and replaces it with his/her own flag.

Early on, commissioning pennants had a number of stars equal to that on the national flag and could reach as long as 100 feet on the fly. As more and more states joined the Union, it became impractical to use the full complement of stars, especially on smaller examples. During the mid-late 19th century, many substituted 13 stars for the full count to reflect the original colonies, as well as to mirror the star count used by the Navy on most of the national flags (Stars & Stripes) that it flew on small craft. "U.S. Navy small boat ensigns," as they are called, most often had 13 stars.

Most of what is seen during the second half of the 19th century through the 19-teens are commissioning pennants with 13 stars. For reasons unknown, some began to appear with only 7 stars, particularly among the smallest examples. During and after WWI (U.S. involvement 1917-18), almost all were universally reduced to 7 stars and their scale became tiny, reduced to just 4 or 6 feet on the fly.

This particular pennant has 7 stars and displays some signs that it may have been made aboard ship. The lineal seam joining the two stripes is sewn with a treadle machine, using an interlocking chain stitch. Because it consumed too much thread, the chain stitch attachment had a very short lifespan in the textile industry and is encountered in very limited quantity in flags of the late Civil War, specifically those made between 1864 and 1865. Presuming that the pennant is of the Civil War period (1861-65), the fact that it includes machine sewing at all is notable. I have not before encountered a pennant of this era that was not completely hand-sewn. While approximately 60-70% of American national flags of this same time frame had treadle-sewn stripes, flag-makers apparently didn’t bother to use a machine for the small amount of stitching that was required to construct a commissioning pennant. If one were made aboard ship, however, using pieces of a Stars & Stripes that had been retired, it might be expected to include a section of red and white wool bunting that had already been joined by machine. The binding of the edges, joining of the two stripes to the canton, stitching of the stars, and the application of a hoist binding, would then be expected to be hand-sewn, all of which is true on this particular example.

The lightweight cotton binding along the hoist, instead of heavy twill or canvas, is not what one would expect on a commercially-made maritime flag. This may indicate that the person sewing it was using only what was readily available to him at that moment, as opposed to what was customary. The swallowtails are also more exaggerated than what one would typically expect. In the 19th century, flags used aboard ship received lots of wear and were regularly repaired to extend their lifespan.

Whatever the case may be, this is an interesting example due to the early date, the star count, and the graphic nature of the pennant's construction. Because such flags can be displayed so beautifully when thoughtfully presented, they can be a dynamic addition to a collection of American flags or Americana in general.

Construction: The stars of the pennant are made of cotton and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). The canton and stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting that has been joined and bound with a combination of hand and treadle stitching. The treadle sewing employs a chain stitch. There is a cotton binding along the hoist with a single, hand-sewn, whip-stitched grommet.

Mounting: The pennant has been hand-stitched to 100% hemp fabric. The mount was then placed in a hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding with a wide ogee profile and a hand-gilded and distressed inner lip. A shadowbox was created to enhance the display. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 07
Earliest Date of Origin: 1864
Latest Date of Origin: 1865
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: SOLD

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