|EXTREMELY RARE U.S. WAR DEPARTMENT COMMISSION PENNANT WITH 13 STARS, A REVERSAL OF THE U.S. NAVY COLOR SCHEME, 24 FEET ON THE FLY, SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR – WWI ERA (1898-1918) N THE FLY, SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR - WWI ERA (1898-1917)
|Frame Size (H x L):
|Approx. 68.5" x 49"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|4" x 293" unfurled
|By tradition, U.S. Navy ships flew a trio of American flags, including a Stars & Stripes, the Union Jack (not to be confused with the British Union Flag, often identified by this name), and a commission pennant.
Flown off the bow when a ship was at port or anchor, the American Union Jack, often referred to simply as the "jack," was comprised of a blue rectangular field with white stars, exactly like the blue canton of the Stars & Stripes. By Navy regulations, this was to actually be the same size as the canton on the national flag flown by the particular ship.
Flown at the top mast at all times, the United States Navy commission pennant was a long streamer comprised of a narrow blue field with white stars, followed by two stripes, red over white. Hoisted during both times of peace and war, the only time that the commission pennant is not flown is if a flag officer or civilian official is aboard and replaces it with their own.
The pennant in question here is virtually identical the U.S. Navy commission pennant, save that the blue and red colors are reversed, so that it has a red field with white stars, followed by two stripes, blue over white. When I first discovered an example in this style, I came up empty-handed with regards to identification. After more than a year of periodic searching, I resigned to the fact that records of the design simply fell between scant and non-existent. Having exhausted American military references and those of governmental and pseudo-governmental agencies, I had presumed that the pennant must be either yacht club or private steam line-associated. Yacht club commandants sometimes flew similar signals, while Hudson River steamers were sometimes bedecked with all sorts of fanciful, patriotic flags in a host of nautical styles for decorative purposes only. In the end I stumbled across the necessary information while researching an unrelated flag. The similarity between this commission pennant and that of the U.S. Navy turned out to have a perfectly good explanation. This is the commission pennant of the United States Department of War, which administered the Army. The Army operated its own maritime craft to suit various needs better administered within its own service.
Made sometime in the period between the Spanish-American War (1898) and WWI (U.S. involvement 1917-18), the pennant measures 24 feet on the fly. Commissioning pennants were once very important in their role as signals and thus needed to be seen from great distance. During the 18th and 19th centuries, these could reach a hundred feet in length. This was the first thing that would be seen coming over the horizon and, in early America, would aid in the identification of a military vessel. During the 1st quarter of the 20th century commission pennants became largely ceremonial and customary, which is why most Navy examples made in or after WWI range between just four and six feet on the fly.
Early on, commission pennants typically had a number of stars equal to that on the national flag. As more and more states joined the Union, however, it became impractical to use the full complement of stars, especially on smaller examples. During the mid-late 19th century, many substituted 13 stars for the full count, to reflect the original colonies. This mirrored the star count used by the Navy on most of the Stars & Stripes flags that it flew on small craft. "U.S. Navy small boat ensigns," as they are called, most often had 13 stars. In the latter half of the 19th century, the very smallest commission pennants sometimes displayed just 7 stars. Following WWI, all seem to have shared the 7 star count. According to the U.S. Navy, the reason for the choice of 7 stars was not recorded. Smaller War Department pennants also employed this count.
Like many of the 10 - 30 ft. U.S. Navy examples that I have encountered in this period, this War Department pennant displays 13 stars in a single row. The stars are graduated in scale in a very unusual manner. The first 4 are 3" in diameter, followed by 6 at 2.75", then 2 at 2.5", and the last at 2.25". It's not unusual for the first 3 or 4 stars to be larger on an example of this era, but I have never seen the sort of graduated disbursement employed on this pennant.
The body of the pennant is made of wool bunting that has been joined by machine stitching. The stars are made of cotton and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides) with a zigzag machine stitch. There is a canvas binding along the hoist with a single brass grommet. The fly end of the pennant is forked into swallowtail format.
Unlike the Navy, which has its own, internal command, the War Department was a civilian organization. Founded in 1789, the year of George Washington's first inauguration, its chief official was bestowed with the title, "Secretary of War." The Navy was basically separate from this agency all-together. In 1785, heavily indebted following the Revolutionary War, which ended in 1783, the United States disbanded the Navy and sold its ships to pay debts to France. In 1794, monies were allocated for new ships and in 1798 the Navy and Marine Corps were reformed as their own entities, outside the War Department.
In 1947, just after WWII (U.S. involvement 1941-45), the War Department was split into the Department of the Army and the Department of the Air Force, each becoming it own entity, like the Navy and the Marines. For the sake of a complete explanation of the branches of the military, previous to this time, the U.S. Army Air Corps had served as the primary aviation-oriented entity of the non-Naval military. The Navy maintained its own aircraft, having acquiring its first three planes in 1911. The Coast Guard, founded under the Treasury Department with the title "Revenue Marine" in 1790, enforced customs and protected merchant ships. It received its modern name in 1915 when it merged with the U.S. Lifesaving Service. The Coast Guard remained under the direction of the Treasury until 1967, when it was transferred to the Department of Transportation. During times of war it becomes a service of the Navy.
Mounting: The pennant has been hand-stitched to 100% hemp fabric. It has been folded back-and-forth in a visually interesting zigzag fashion, which simultaneously allows it to be shortened to a manageable scale. The black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed molding is Italian. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglas.
Condition: There is minor to modest staining in limited areas. There is an approximate 6-inch section of blue wool with a significant tear and associated loss. A length of period wool bunting was placed behind this area during the mounting process for masking purpses.
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