Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 40.25" x 25.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 30.5" x 16"
13 star American national flag of the type used by the U.S. Navy on small boats around the turn-of-the-century. These flags were flown at the stern, from a gaff, or from the yard-arm on a larger vessel, or as the primary flag on a skiff or other small craft that carried sailors back and forth to shore. During the period in which this flag was made, the size of such signals varied between 1.31 feet on the hoist x 2.5 on the fly, and 3.52 feet on the hoist x 6.67 on the fly. This particular example thus represents the smallest variety dictated by the U.S. Navy regulations of 1899-1914 and the most unusual to encounter.

This flag is signed along the hoist on the reverse by way of a black-inked stencil that reads: “U.S. Ensign No. 10 N.Y. N.Y. June 1906. C.7927.”

As a rule, the Navy made its own flags at various locations. In addition to New York, principal seats of manufacture included Mare Island, California, Cavite, in the Philippine Islands, the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, and Newport News, Virginia. With but a few exceptions, such flags went unmarked until the 1880's and after and some were not marked at all.

The Navy flew 13 star flags on small boats, not only in the Colonial period, but throughout much of the 19th century, particularly the second half. The practice was less consistent prior to the Civil War, but more consistent afterwards. It came to an end with an executive order of Woodrow Wilson in 1916, one year prior to U.S. involvement in WWI (1917-18).

The canton and stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting that has been joined with a lineal machine stitch. The cotton muslin stars are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides) with a zigzag machine stitch. There is a coarse linen binding along the hoist with 2 patent-dated brass grommets, each of which reads: “Pat’d Aug. 26, 1884, No. 0”. The presence of this dating is a very nice feature. Grommets on other types of flags are never so specifically marked.

The stars of this example are arranged in lineal rows of 3-2-3-2-3, which is the most often seen pattern in 13 star flags following the Civil War. In most cases the design can also be viewed as a diamond of stars with a star in each corner, or as a combination of the crosses of St. Andrew and St. George, which some experts feel was the design of the very first American flag and serves as a link between this star pattern and the British Union Jack.

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 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.

Flag experts disagree about precisely when the Navy began to revert to 13 stars and other low counts for this practice. 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.

Although the official use of 13 star flags by the U.S. Navy theoretically ended in 1916, old military traditions die hard and according to at least one expert, Wilson’s order did not completely dispel the presence of 13 star flags on U.S. Navy craft.

The tiny size of the flag when compared to others made during this era adds considerable appeal. During the 19th and the very beginning of the 20th century, printed parade flags (sometimes called hand-wavers) were generally three feet long or smaller, but flags with pieced-and-sewn construction were generally 8 feet long and larger. A flag that was 6-feet in length on the fly was considered small. 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.

In the 1890's, commercial makers began to produced small scale flags for the first time in quantity. For these they chose the 13 star count. Standard sizes were generally 2 x 3 feet or 2.4 x 4 feet. At less than 1.5 feet x 2.5 feet, this particular example is tiny by any measure. Because the average 19th century sewn flag can be cumbersome to frame and display in an indoor setting, many collectors covet small sewn flags, like this one.

13 star flags have been used throughout our nation’s history for a variety of purposes. In addition to their use on small Navy boats, 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. Commercial flag-makers mirrored U.S. Navy practice on small scale flags beginning around 1890 and some private ships flew 13 star flags during the earlier periods. 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 expert staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples.

The background fabric is hemp. The mount was placed in a deep, shadowbox style frame with a step-down profile and a very dark brown finish, nearly black, with red highlights and overtones. To this a scooped profile molding with a hand-gilded finish was added as a liner. Both moldings are Italian and of exceptional quality. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass. Feel free to contact us for more details.

Condition: Exceptional There is very minor mothing and there is minor soiling. 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: 1906
Latest Date of Origin: 1906
State/Affiliation: New York
War Association:
Price: SOLD

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