Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Antique Flags > American Flags


Web ID: 13j-1521
Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 41.5" x 71.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 28.75" x 59.25"
This 13 star antique American flag is of a type made during the last decade of the 19th century through the first quarter of the 20th. The stars are arranged in rows of 3-2-3-2-3, which is the most often seen pattern in 13 star flags of the latter 19th and early 20th centuries.

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.

Why 13 Stars? 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 stars would become one white mass and distort the ability to identify American ships on the open seas.

The U.S. Navy used 13 stars on its small-scale flags for precisely this reason. 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.

For all practical purposes, commercial flag-makers simply didn't produce flags with pieced-and-sewn construction that were 3 to 4 feet in length before the 1890's. There are exceptions to this rule, but until this time, the smallest sewn flags were typically 6 feet on the fly. The primary use had long been more utilitarian than decorative, and flags needed to be large to be effective as signals. But private use grew with the passage of time, which led to the need for long-term use flags of more manageable scale.

Beginning around 1890, flag-makers began to produce small flags for the first time in large quantities, namely with dimensions of 2 x 3 feet and 2.5 x 4 feet. Applying the same logic as the U.S. Navy, they chose the 13 star count rather than the full complement of stars for sake of ease and visibility. Any flag that has previously been official remains so according to the flag acts, so 13 star flags remain official national flags of the United States of America.

At approximately 2.5 feet by just shy of 5 feet on the fly, this particular example is unusual among its counterparts. Not only is it significantly larger than most, but also more elongated. I have always found long and narrow flags to be particularly attractive, which is certainly the case here, in addition to being more practical for display in an indoor setting.

The canton and stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting that has been pieced by machine. The stars are made of cotton and double-appliquéd (applied to both sides) with a zigzag machine stitch. There is a twill cotton binding along the hoist with two brass grommets. This is typical for both the form and the period. While this general variety of small scale 13 star flags were produced for approximately 35 years, this particular example was probably made during the 19th century. Note how the color of the canton has faded to a shade of dusty blue-grey, which some collectors find to be particularly attractive. This is indicative of a variety of wool bunting, colored with what appears to have been a fugitive dye, that was being used by some flag-makers between the final years of the late 1880’s and the first half of the 1890’s. Because the zigzag stitch begins to appear at precisely the same time and because 5-foot-long, commercially-made 13 star flags that utilize this construction appear to largely pre-date the 20th century, the most likely date of manufacture of this particular flag falls within a narrow window between roughly 1890 and 1895.

The 13 star count has been used throughout our nation's history for a variety of purposes. In addition to being flown by the Navy, 13 star flags 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, as well as for annual celebrations of Independence Day. They were displayed during the Civil War, to reference past struggles for American liberty, and were used by 19th century politicians in political campaigning. 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.

Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed within our own conservation department, which is led by masters degree trained 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 cove-shaped molding has a textured surface, a rope style inner lip, and a very dark brown surface, nearly black, with reddish highlights and undertones. To this a flat profile molding with a finish like old gunmetal was added as a liner. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass. Feel free to inquire for more details.

Condition: There is significant breakdown with associated loss throughout 2/3 of the 1st white stripe and in the 3 white stripes below the canton, accompanied by minor to modest holes and losses elsewhere in the white wool. There is moderate loss in the 4th red stripe, adjacent to the canton, and minor to modest loss throughout the remainder of the red stripes. There are modest losses along the top edge of the canton and in the upper, hoist-end corner, accompanied by minor losses elsewhere in the blue wool bunting. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind all of the above areas during the mounting process and extra stitching was undertaken for support. There is significant fabric loss in the first star in the first row and tiny holes in two other stars, and there is moderate oxidation and soiling in the stars and the hoist binding. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Collector Level: Intermediate-Level Collectors and Special Gifts
Flag Type: Parade flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1890
Latest Date of Origin: 1899
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association:
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281

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