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  BRITISH RED ENSIGN, ENTIRELY HAND-SEWN, ca 1880-1920’s

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 45.5" x 83"
Flag Size (H x L): 34.75" x 71"
Description....:
British Red Ensign, made of wool bunting and entirely hand-sewn. This is the flag flown by the British Royal Navy until the year 1800. While the exact date of origin is unknown, the original design, with the Cross of St. George only, was adopted by the English Royal Navy in 1625 and surviving receipts illustrate that this signal was being produce and paid for by the British government as early as 1620.

The Scotts had their own version, with the Cross of St. Andrew, and the two were merged into one flag in 1707, by way of the Acts of Union that joined the two nations. In 1800, further Acts of Union were passed that joined Britain and Ireland. At this time, St. Patrick's Cross was added and the final design was adopted.

Among other engagements, the Red Ensign served as the flag of the British military during the French & Indian War (1754-59), the American Revolution (1775-83) , the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), and the War of 1812 (1812-1815). Within the Acts of Union of 1800 was a provision that thereafter made changes to the flag subject to the pleasure of the King. On January 1st, 1801, King George III designated the Red Ensign as the principal flag of the Royal Navy, to be worn by ships of the Red Squadron, as well as by warships not assigned to any squadron. At the same time, the Blue Ensign (same flag but with a blue field instead of red) and the White Ensign (same flag but with a white field, divided vertically and horizontally by a red cross) became the official standards of the Blue and White Squadrons, respectively.

In 1854, the Merchant Shipping Act was passed. This specified that the Red Ensign was the appropriate flag for a British merchantman (echoed in successive British shipping legislation during the last quarter of the 19th century and still applicable in the 1990’s). In 1864, an effort was made to reduce confusion brought about by the use of three different flags for one navy. At this time the Red Ensign fell from Navy use to become the principle flag of British merchant ships and Merchant Marine vessEls. The White Ensign replaced it as the official standard of the Royal Navy, and the Blue Ensign was assigned to non-navy ships in public service.

It is of interest to note that because the Stars & Stripes wasn’t adopted until June 14th, 1777, and because it was neither authorized or commonly carried by American ground forces until the 1830’s and after, the colonial army actually displayed various versions of the Red Ensign during the war’s opening years. It also appeared in public displays and protests, sometimes with verbiage emblazoned on the red field that denounced the crown. At other times its use probably stemmed from a reluctance to depart with British ties. Use of a similar flag, known as the Grand Union or Continental Colors, appears to have occurred between roughly 1775 and 1777. Like the Red Ensign, the Grand Union displayed the British Union design as the canton. This was paired with a field of 13 red and white stripes to reflect the American colonies. This is thought of as the first American national flag and was similar to that of other British Colonies, most of which flew a Red or Blue Ensign with a device set towards the fly end of the field to identify the subservient nation. There was a lot of inconsistency in flag use in early America, both during and after the Revolution.

This particular Red Ensign was made sometime between roughly 1880 and the 1920’s. There is a linen binding along the hoist, in the form of an open sleeve, through which a braided hemp rope was passed. This is wound around a wooden toggle at the top, and extends outward at the bottom for a distance, where there is a loop. The rope is stitched firmly into position at the top and bottom of the binding. A numeral “2” is stenciled near the top of the hoist in black pigment to indicate its size on the fly in yards. Adjacent to this are two illegible words, printed in black, likely by way of a metal stamp, accompanied by what appears to be the acronym “U.S.A.” Given the hand-sewn construction, and the general manner in which this flag is made, I suspect that it is of British manufacture, possibly for sale in the American market. The Red Ensign was often misused by foreign ships sailing into British ports, due to the ambiguity of the corresponding legislation. The hand-stitching on this example is especially beautiful. Surprisingly, manufacture of these flags changed very little over this 40-year time frame and hand-sewing can be encountered throughout (and afterwards), as well as linen bindings, seldom encountered on other flags of this era.

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 flag has been hand-stitched to 100% silk organza for support. It was then hand-sewn to a background of 100% cotton twill, black in color, that was washed and treated to remove excess dye. The mount was then placed in a black-painted and hand-gilded, contemporary Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglas.

Condition: There is extremely minor mothing in limited areas throughout. There is minor to modest soiling on the hoist binding and there is very minor fracturing of the linen fabric. 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: Sewn flag
Star Count:
Earliest Date of Origin: 1880
Latest Date of Origin: 1920's
State/Affiliation:
War Association:
Price: SOLD
 

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