Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 58.5" x 83.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 45" x 71.5"
Despite the fact that America hasn't been comprised of 13 states since 1791, 13 star flags have been made and displayed throughout our nation's history, from 1777 to the present. The reasons for their manufacture are many, with functions both patriotic and utilitarian. They were hoisted at patriotic events, including Lafayette’s visit in 1824-25, the celebration of the centennial of American independence in 1876, and the sesquicentennial in 1926. They were displayed during the Civil War (1861-65) to reference past struggles for American liberty, and were used by 19th century politicians while campaigning for the same reason.

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. The fear was that too many of them close together would become as one white mass and potentially distort the ability to identify American ships. Keeping the count low allowed for better visibility and for this reason the U.S. Navy flew 13 star flags on small craft. Flag experts disagree about the precisely when the Navy began to revert to the 13 star count (and occasionally other low counts) for these "small boat ensigns," as they were termed. Some feel that the use of 13 star flags never ceased, which seems to be supported by depictions of ships in period artwork, but it clearly appeared for the first time in 1854 naval regulations. 13 was, of course, the original number of stars on the first American national flag, by way of the First Flag Act (1777), and equal to the number of original colonies that became states. Because any American flag that has previously been official remains so today, according to the flag acts, it remains perfectly acceptable to fly 13 star flags by way of congressional law.

This particular 13 star flag is of the type flown by the U.S. Navy in the 1870-80's. The fabrics, stitching, star configuration and orientation, as well as the hoist binding, grommets, and shades of blue and red, are all congruent with Navy examples. Yet because the Navy's flags of this period were made in the same fashion as many of those produced commercially, for civilian intent, it can be difficult to ascertain the intended purpose of a 13 star flag of this era with 100% certainty. Some, for example, were produced to glorify the original 13 colonies during the 1876 centennial of American independence. Others were flown by private ships that mirrored Navy practice.

The star pattern of this particular flag, as well as its construction and basic dimensions, suggest that it may have been among the most common of the Navy's small boat ensigns. These flags were flown at the stern, from a gaff, or from the yard-arm on a larger vessel, or as the primary flag on a skiff or other small craft that carried sailors back and forth to shore.

The flag conforms very closely to the 3.7 foot hoist specs of a number 12 U.S. Navy ensign, as dictated in the 1870-1882 regulations, but the fly measurement is short by a foot. Interestingly enough, this conforms with the length a number 13 ensign, which is supposed to be 3.2 feet on the hoist by 6 feet on the fly. If the length of the flag was shortened during its course of use, as a proper means of repair, it's present dimensions would be readily expected. While there were no standard proportions for the Stars & Stripes until 1912, 3.7 feet is an unusual hoist measurement. The stitching that binds the fly end, however, appears to be original to the flag's construction.

The Navy generally produced their own flags during the 19th century. Because these objects were hand-made there was a good deal of irregularity and variation. If this is a Navy flag, this may explain what could have been an error in its height or length.

If not U.S. Navy, the most likely intent of the flag would have been to be flown in celebration of the centennial, which was greeted with much fanfare. The nucleus of the festivities in 1876 took place in Philadelphia at a 6-month-long World's Fair event, the first of its kind in the States, called the Centennial International Exhibition. Parades and celebrations were held across the country, however, for the 100th anniversary of America.

The stars of the flag are made of cotton, hand-sewn and double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). Since there was no official star configuration until the 20th century (1912 specifically, beginning with the 48 star count), the stars on 13 star flags may appear in any one of a host of configurations. The stars of this particular flag are arranged in lineal rows in counts of 3-2-3-2-3, which begins to appear on U.S. Navy flags at the tail end of the Civil War and is the most often encountered design across 13 star flags with pieced-and-sewn construction that were made during the latter half of the 19th century.

Note how the stars do not all point upward, as one might expect of a modern flag, but instead are oriented in various positions on their vertical axis. This lends a nice measure of folk quality to the design.

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.

The stripes are made of wool bunting and are joined with treadle stitching, which is common for the period. This was the most typical fabric employed in the manufacture of flags for long-term, outdoor use. Because blue wool bunting was only available in a maximum width of eighteen inches, the canton has been pieced from two lengths of fabric.

There is a twill cotton binding along the hoist with two brass grommets, one each at the extreme top and bottom. This has been pieced in two sections, which is unusual, but in not unexpected. Conservation of available fabrics was to be expected and this is original to the construction of the flag.

Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed within our own conservation department, which is led by expert staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples.

The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color. The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass. Feel free to inquire for more details.

Condition: The overall condition is exceptional for the period. There is almost no mothing, which is remarkable for a wool flag of this period. There is minor to modest oxidation in the white stars and minor soiling along the hoist. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age.
Collector Level: Intermediate-Level Collectors and Special Gifts
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1870
Latest Date of Origin: 1882
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association: 1866-1890 Indian Wars
Price: SOLD

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