|ENTIRELY HAND-SEWN 13 STAR FLAG WITH A 6-POINTED GREAT STAR / STAR OF DAVID PATTERN, ONE OF A TINY HANDFUL OF PIECED-AND-SEWN EXAMPLES WITH THIS EXTRAORDINARILY RARE STAR DESIGN, MADE DURING THE CIVIL WAR ERA
|Frame Size (H x L):
|88.5" x 64.75"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|76.75" x 51.75"
|13 star American national flag of the mid-19th century, the stars of which are arranged in a six-pointed version of what is known as the "Great Star" or "Great Luminary" pattern, which is distinguished by one large star made out of smaller ones. This is one of about 6 early pieced-and-sewn examples that are known to share this very rare configuration. Though the reason behind the decision to select this particular design is unknown, several explanations are plausible. One is that it mimics the arrangement of stars found on the Great Seal of the United States, which appears within the cloud-like formation above the American eagle. This can be most ready viewed on the reverse of the U.S. one dollar bill, or on the flag of the President of the United States.
In present times, one might identify the design as the Star of David, though this symbol, often identified as the “Shield of David” in early Judaic references, was not in widespread use by members of the Jewish faith until the 20th century.
It could be that the star configuration draws a connection between this particular flag and a historical one of the Revolutionary War era. No 18th century flags are presently known to have survived with this pattern, however, and I know of none that are illustrated in period paintings or drawings. It may be that the source was simply lost to time, but whatever the case may be, one may note that it does represent the most logical manner in which 13 stars may be arranged in a star-shaped pattern.
Entirely hand-sewn, this is a homemade flag, produced in the Civil War era. The unusual, rich, indigo blue fabric of the canton is cotton, lightly glazed, and contributes significantly to the flag's presentation. Because blue cotton cantons are not regularly encountered during the war, it may be that the flag immediately pre-dates the war, perhaps constructed in 1860 for a political rally, or was made during the initial wave of enlistments, before stores of blue cotton were depleted by the demands of the Union Army.
The flag's red stripes are made of either cotton or a blended cotton and wool fabric, with a twill weave. The white stripes are made of plain weave cotton, as are the stars, which are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). The stitching is particularly fine. The edges of the stars were not turned under, which is evidence that the maker of the flag, while an excellent seamstress, did not regularly pursue flag-making or appliqué work. There is a cotton binding along the hoist with five, tiny, hand-sewn, whip-stitched grommets.
The flag is of a size that might be gifted to a military unit as a presentation colors. Such flags were made by local individuals to be presented when a regiment left for war. The series of hand-sewn grommets suggests that it was carried on foot. I don’t think that this was carried as a battle flag, or at least not extensively by a hard-fighting unit, but it may have been brought out on important occasions or used for drilling during the war itself, as well as post-war for parade use. While well cared for, it definitely saw use and exhibits expected wear and soiling.
Small, printed, hand-held parade flags with 13 stars arranged in a 6-pointed, Star of David-like fashion seem to have first appeared in or around 1860. One such flag, with overprinted advertising for the campaign of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin, was discovered in Elmira, New York and is the only surviving example of its kind. Three other parade flags of similar size and vintage, printed with different pigment, have also surfaced without the Lincoln & Hamlin text. Other parade flags are known, of a slightly later period, with this configuration. Some are known to have been printed alongside 39 star flags that are definitely 1876 vintage, made for the celebration of our nation’s 100-year anniversary of independence from Great Britain. Others, printed on a slightly different fabric, have been found with hand-written dates that place their use [though not necessarily their manufacture] in the late 1880's. These could be left-over centennial flags, or they may be of even earlier manufacture, but probably do not pre-date the Civil War (1861-65). All of the above printed flags are extremely scarce, but pieced-and-sewn examples, like the one in question here, are extremely rare. While thousands of 13 star flags exist that were made throughout the 19th century, flag-makers did not, for some reason, prefer this star configuration, despite its prominent presence on the Great Seal.
At approximately four-foot-four-inches by six-foot-four-inches, the flag is actually small in scale for the period. Flags needed to be large to serve their purpose as signals. Regulation garrison flags of this time measured 35 feet on the fly. Infantry battle flags measured six-by six-and-a-half feet on the fly, and so of the approximate length of this flag, though much taller and nearly square. Collectors generally prefer smaller examples, like this one, which can be more easily framed and displayed in an indoor setting.
In summary, this is an exceptional flag of the Civil War era, with one of the rarest of all known star patterns, and in a rather small scale in a 19th century context. Of masterpiece quality, it would be an exceptional addition to even the most advanced collection.
Why 13 Stars?
13 star flags have been flown throughout our nation’s history for a variety of purposes. They were hoisted at patriotic events, including Lafayette’s visit in 1824-25, the celebration of the nation’s centennial in 1876, and the Sesquicentennial in 1926. They were displayed during the Civil War, to reference past struggles for American liberty and victory over oppression, and were used by 19th century politicians in political campaigning for the same reason. The U.S. Navy used the 13 star count on small boats until 1916, because it was easier to discern fewer stars at a distance on a small flag. Commercial flag-makers mirrored this practice and some private ships flew 13 star flags during the same period as the Navy. The use of yachting ensigns with a wreath of 13 stars surrounding a fouled anchor, which allowed pleasure boats to bypass customs between 1848 and 1980, persists today without an official purpose.
Provenance: This flag was presented from June 14th – July 21st at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, in an exhibit entitled “A New Constellation,” curated by Jeff Bridgman. This was the first ever, large scale exhibit of 13 star examples at a major museum.
Mounting: The flag has been placed in its correct vertical position, with its canton in the upper left. The textile 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 substantial, black-painted molding has a very deep profile, a wood grain surface, and a satin finish. To this a rippled profile molding, black with gold highlights, was added as a liner. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass. Feel free to contact us for more details.
Condition: There is a 5" lateral tear in the canton, adjacent to the hoist end. There are two tears in the stripe field of similar scale, one of which is "L"-shaped and the other which is a bit longer and has several angled turns. Each of these has repair stitching. There are several, minor, smaller tears throughout and there are losses and tears at the top and bottom corners of the fly end. There is minor to moderate oxidation and soiling throughout and there is some modest fading in limited areas of the red and blue. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
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