Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 43.75" x 69.75"
Flag Size (H x L): 31.75" x 58"
13 star American national flag, made during the late 19th century by John Boyle in New York. 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. Along the hoist binding, the “Boyle’s Yacht Sail” is stenciled in black. This is a very unusual mark, as well as an interesting one, because it identifies the source of the fabric as well as serving as a maker’s mark for the flag itself. I have seen similar identification of cloth previously in hoist bindings, with different stencils, but such instances are extraordinarily rare.

English sail maker John Boyle arrived in New York in 1853. Opening shop there in 1860, John Boyle & Co. supplied tents, mailbags, etc. to the Union Army during the Civil War, which broke out in the following year. "Boyles Yacht Sail" is mentioned in an 1879 publication entitled "Scientific American Supplement No. 164,” published Feb. 22nd of that year, which describes it as being “of heavy muslin” and “a material made purposely for small boats.”* Boyle passed in 1905, but the firm was handed down through the family to eventually become the nation's leading manufacturer and distributor of fabrics, hardware and accessories for awning, marine and other industrial uses. John Boyle Bell, Jr., great-grandson of John Boyle, served as CEO from 1968 onward. The company moved to Statesville, North Carolina in 1982 and, though eventually sold (specific year unknown), it appears to have remained in operation into the 21st century.

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 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. Unfortunately, Hopkinson's original drawings have not survived and his other depictions of 13 star arrangements, illustrated on 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.

In the mid-19th century, flags in lengths of 8 feet plus were common. Garrison flags were massive, at approximately 35 feet. Even infantry battle flags, carried on foot, were 6 x 6.5 feet, and so roughly the size of a quilt or coverlet of the same period. Flags had to be large to serve their purpose as signals. A 6-footer was considered small.

Commercial flag-makers often followed Navy traditions. For this reason, when smaller flags with pieced-and-sewn construction were produced, makers frequently selected the 13 star count. Made sometime between roughly 1885 and 1895, at approximately 2.5 x 5 feet, the flag in question here is unusually small for the period. The canton and stripes are made of wool bunting that has been joined with treadle stitching. The stars are made of cotton and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides) with a lineal, treadle stitch. The “Boyle’s Yacht Sail” marked binding is of heavy cotton twill, treadle-sewn and with 2 brass grommets, one each at the top and bottom.

Note how the stars are upside-down in their vertical alignment (with two points up instead of one). No one knows if this positioning had any purpose, but there was no official way to orient the stars and it is possible that the maker of this flag did not feel that any star position was “right-side-up”. Whatever the case may be, the feature does add a degree of interest to the flag’s presentation.

In summary, this is a wonderful example of a 13 star flag from the late 19th century, signed with an unusual mark, with wonderful, visual features in its upside-down stars and strong, saturated colors, and in a bold yet manageable size.

* In the citation, the word "sail" was mistakenly typeset as "drill," an obvious error in the middle of a discussion about sails and the fabric they were made of in a particular instance. The term appears in quotes and obviously must have been printed on the fabric.

Mounting: The flag has been mounted and framed by our expert textile conservation staff. It was hand-sewn to 100% natural fabrics for support throughout. It was then hand-stitched to a background of 100% cotton twill (treated for color fastness). The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples.

Condition: There are minor to modest tears with associated loss in 5 of the 7 red stripes, accompanied by moderate losses in the 2nd white stripe, as well as at the fly end of the last red stripe. Fabrics of similar coloration were used as an underlay in all of these areas. There is minor to modest soiling and staining in limited areas, accompanied by more significant soiling at the top of the hoist binding. 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: 1885
Latest Date of Origin: 1895
State/Affiliation: New York
War Association:
Price: SOLD

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