Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L):
Flag Size (H x L): 36.5" x 56.5"
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 centennial of American independence 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 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 as individual objects. The fear was that too many of them close together would become as one white mass and distort the ability to identify American ships on the open seas. Keeping the count low allowed for better visibility. For this reason the U.S. Navy flew 13 star flags on small boats. Some private ship owners mirrored this practice and flew 13 star flags during the same period as the Navy.

Flag experts disagree about the precisely when the Navy began to revert to 13 stars and other low counts. Some feel that the use of 13 star flags never stopped, which seems to be supported by depictions of ships in period artwork. 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 American flag that has previously been official remains so according to the flag acts, so it remains perfectly acceptable to fly 13 star flags today by way of congressional law.

Around 1890, commercial flag-makers began making small pieced-and-sewn flags for the first time in quantity, most often in lengths of 3 or 4 feet on the fly. For these they almost universally employed the 13 star count, mirroring Navy tradition. This practice seems to have remained popular through the 1920's, and while custom flags have continuously been available, regular production of 13 star examples afterwards declined.

Some flag-makers simultaneously offered 13 star flags measuring longer than 4 feet, particularly during the 1890's. These are more scarce. This particular flag is one such example.

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. Some of these are more rare and desirable than others. The stars of this particular flag are arranged in a circular wreath of 12 with a single star in the center. This basic configuration, whether oval or circular, has come to be known as the "3rd Maryland Pattern". The design is very desirable due to both its visual attractiveness and the scarcity of its use. The name comes from a flag that resides at the Maryland State Capitol in Annapolis, long thought to have been present with General Daniel Morgan at the Battle of Cowpens in 1781. According to legend, the flag was supposed to have been carried by Color Sergeant William Batchelor of the Maryland Light Infantry and was donated to the State of Maryland by Batchelor's descendants. The story was disproved in the 1970's, however, following an examination by the late flag expert Grace Rogers Cooper of the Smithsonian. She discovered that the Cowpens flag was, at the earliest, of Mexican War vintage (1846-48).

Among flag collectors and enthusiasts, the name "3rd Maryland" stuck to the design. The term actually received some legitimacy through the existence of a similar flag, in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of History & Technology, with verified Maryland provenance. This was carried by the Maryland and District of Columbia Battalion of Volunteers during the Mexican War. While the configuration is known to be an early one, as evidenced by 18th century illustrations, this star pattern is most often encountered among surviving examples that date to the mid-19th century, roughly within the Mexican War to Civil War time frame (1846-1865). It was also revived in small scale, commercially-produced flags, such as this one, during the 1890-1920's time frame.

The stars of the flag are made of cotton, beautifully hand-sewn and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). The canton and stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting that has been pieced-and-sewn with treadle stitching. There is a twill cotton binding along the hoist with 3 brass grommets. This construction was typical of the period.

Note how the coloration of the canton has faded to a dusty blue-grey. This is both an attractive feature and indicative of its date of manufacture. When this trait is present, it is most often encountered in flags that date between 1885 and 1895, and more often in the second half of that ten-year date bracket. The color is a result of what is known as a "fugitive" dye, which is one that breaks down chemically, of its own right, whether or not it has prolonged exposure to light. After 1895, either flag manufacturers caught on to the fugitive dye and ordered different wool, or the textile company that was producing it changed its dying process. In any event, flags that were made with this particular fabric and have survived to the present day, have an interesting presentation that many collectors find pleasant to the eye.

With antique flags, damage can sometimes be unsightly and, if so can negatively affect to value. Flags, however, are treated very differently than almost all other types of textiles, such as quilts and samplers, where mint condition is prized. Expected to have been flown outdoors, the condition of early flags can sometimes have no effect at all on desirability and, in some instances, can significantly raise both emotional and artistic value. That is keenly true in this case, where the patterning of loss from extensive use which contributes substantially to the flag’s visual presentation, setting it firmly apart from most of the others that I handle.

The small scale of the flag is a very desirable trait. Those with pieced-and-sewn construction were generally eight feet long or larger. This is because flags needed to be seen from a distance to be effective in their purpose as signals, while today their use is more often decorative and the general display of patriotism. A six-foot example is small among flags of those that pre-date 1890, and they smaller they are, the rarer they are. At approximately 3 x 5 feet, this one falls within the ideal size range for most collectors and one-time buyers alike. Because 19th century pieced-and-sewn flags can be cumbersome to frame and display, many flag enthusiasts prefer small examples, like this one.

Due to a combination of its endearing wear in its striking presentation, the desirability of this star pattern and its beautifully hand-sewn stars, the small scale of the flag and its wonderful muted colors, this is a beautiful example for any collection.

Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% natural fabrics for support on every seam and throughout the star field. The flag was then hand-stitched to a background of 100% cotton twill, black in color, which was washed to reduce excess dye. An acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye and the fabric was heat-treated for the same purpose. The mount was then placed in a museum Plexiglas box frame.

Condition: There are significant losses throughout the striped field from obvious extended use, especially in the red stripes and at the fly end. The canton has faded to a dusty blue color due to fugitive dye. There is minor to modest foxing and staining in limited areas. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. Further, in this particular case, the losses are such that they actually contribute to the flag’s presentation and value rather than distract from it.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1885
Latest Date of Origin: 1895
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association:
Price: SOLD

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