Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 33.25" x 44.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 22" x 32"
Despite the fact that America hasn't been comprised of 13 states since 1791, 13 star flags have been made and displayed throughout the 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 victory over oppression, 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, for example, 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 13 stars and other low counts for this function. Some feel that the use of 13 star flags never stopped, which seems to be supported by depictions of ships in period artwork, but it clearly appeared for the first time in 1854 naval regulations. Some private ship owners mirrored this practice. 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.

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 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.

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.

This particular flag was probably made during the Civil War (1861-65), though it could date slightly thereafter. It may have been produced for the 1876 centennial, but it has an earlier feel and I would suggest the most likely period as late Civil War. Made by a professional flag-maker or sailmaker, its most desirable qualities are present in its hand-sewn stars and notedly tiny scale. At just twenty-two by thirty-two inches, this is the smallest wool flag of this era that I have ever personally encountered in any star count.

Because the smallest national flags employed by the Navy, at least according to regulations, were between five and six feet on the fly, this example is far smaller than anything slated for Navy use. The most likely purpose was to be flown as a U.S. Army camp colors or flank marker, or for use on a small Army boat. While the flag does not match military specifications, variation was rampant and the need for flags far outweighed availability. Some volunteer companies were completely outfitted with private funds, with uniforms and flags bought directly from military outfitters. Losses of colors required replacement and if something wasn't at hand, a reasonable substitute would have been selected. Ground use flags were typically tacked to their staffs. Evidence of this method of attachment is present along the hoist binding.

An alternative possibility is that the flag saw private maritime use on a pilot house or a small skiff, though the rust marks of previous tacks would suggest otherwise. Whatever the case may be, the veritably tiny size is ideal for collectors in terms of the ease of framing and display. Examples of pieced-and-sewn flags in this era measuring less than five feet on the fly are rare, and the smaller they get, the more unusual they are. Four-footers are extraordinary in terms of their scarcity, three-footers are even more so, and those measuring less than that scale are next-to-non-existent.

The stars of the flag are hand-sewn, made of cotton, and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). The stripes are made of wool bunting and are joined with treadle stitching, which is common from the Civil War onward. The fly end of the flag is bound by hand-stitching. It could be that the flag was once slightly longer in length, and was turned back and re-bound to repair associated loss, though with the unusual hoist measurement its original length, if different, is difficult to accurately guess. There were no official proportions for the Stars & Stripes until 1912.

There is twill cotton binding along the hoist with two brass grommets. The name "Tracy" is inscribed along the hoist with a dip pen. This would be the name of a former owner and it was common to mark flags in this manner during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Though the flag has no specific known history of ownership, one possible identification is a relationship to a man by the name of Benjamin Franklin Tracy. Born on April 5th, 1830, near Oswego, New York, served as district attorney of Tioga County (west of Binghampton) from 1853-1859. Elected to the State Assembly in 1861, he urged full support of the federal government in the Civil War. In the summer of 1862, he personally raised the 109th and 137th New York Volunteer regiments and took the field as a colonel with the former. During the bloody Wilderness Campaign, in the spring of 1864, he led his troops with conspicuous gallantry. Tracy's bravery and steadfastness in the arduous and difficult campaign won him the brevet rank of Brigadier-General and the Medal of Honor. For the remainder of the war he served as a colonel in the 127th Regiment and commanded the military prison and the recruiting camp at Elmira, N.Y.

The possibility that the flag saw use in one of these Army-related functions is a distinct possibility. In addition to possible employment as a camp colors, it may have served as a headquarters flag of some nature, or in the duties of the prison or recruitment.

After the war's end Tracy left military service. In 1866 President Andrew Johnson appointed him district attorney for New York State's eastern district. In 1873 he resumed private practice in Brooklyn, N.Y., then from 1881-1882 served as a judge in the New York Court of Appeals.

In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison appointed Tracy Secretary of the Navy, a post he held until 1893. He entered at once into a program of naval build-up, constructing new, modern ships and enacting much-needed reforms. He oversaw or authorized the building of the battleships Iowa, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Oregon, as well as the cruiser Brooklyn. He also organized the naval militia, which served as the naval equivalent and complement to the Army's national guard. It is not completely out of the realm of possibility that the flag was used by Tracy at this time, though the general characteristics of the flag's construction are suggestive of the earlier date. The Navy generally made its own flags during this period and, though most flags of the latter 1880's and 1890's would have had machine-sewn stripes, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was hand-sewing them within the 1889-1893 time frame. This was true of its largest 13 star examples and would have been particularly so for a flag that was so tiny in scale. That said, it is keenly possible that anyone, including a flag-maker eager for naval contracts, may have gifted a 13 star flag to the Secretary of the Navy.

Whatever its origin, and whomever the name "Tracy" was referring to, this is an extraordinary flag among 19th century 13 star examples. In addition to the hand-sewn stars and its size, the losses it suffered in its stars, canton, and stripes present the viewer with an object that shows its age in a way that is both endearing and expected. This sort of appearance is appreciated and even sought after by many flag enthusiasts, myself among them.

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: There are minor to modest fabric losses throughout, accompanied by moderate losses in the 4th and 13the stripes a,d significant losses in some of the stars. There is moderate soiling in the hoist and the stars, accompanied by a series of rust spots along the hoist from metal tacks that once affixed the flag to a wooden staff. The ink used to inscribe the name "Tracy" has experienced some bleeding. The fly end may have been turned back and re-bound. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
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: 1893
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: SOLD

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