Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 42.5" x 59.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 31" x 48
13 star American national flag of the type used by the U.S. Navy on small boats in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries. The Navy produced signals in several locations, including Brooklyn, New York, Mare Island, California, Boston, and Cavite in the Philippine Islands. With but a few exceptions, such flags went unmarked until the tail end of the 1880's and after. It was during this same decade that the size of the stars increased significantly and this change in scale made a significant contribution to the flags’ visual presentation.

Made in the customary fashion of the time, the stars configured in staggered linear rows of 3-2-3-2-3. These are made of cotton and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides), and all of the stars are oriented on their vertical axis so that one point is facing upwards. There is a sailcloth canvas binding along the hoist, with three hand-sewn, whip-stitched grommets.

The fact that the flag is entirely hand-sewn throughout is indicative of most Navy flags made in the brief period from approximately 1882-1890. From 1882-1899 Naval regulations dictated only three official sizes of small boat flags, all of which were newly devised and employed odd, fractional measurements. The smallest was a No. 8 ensign, designated as 2.37 x 4.5 feet. At 2.53 x 4 feet (31” x 48”), this particular flag loosely approximates the prescribed scale. I would be a bit more suspicious of the variation had I not encountered it throughout U.S. Navy flags in general. In addition, I previously bought and sold another 13 star example of the same period, definitely of U.S. Navy origin, with measurements of 28.5” x 49” and bearing a black-inked, “No. 8” stencil.

While the Navy made many so presented itself of its own flags, they also sub-contracted to private sources as need required. Because American commercial makers often offered flags in 6” or 12” increments (probably with hoist bindings and possibly even stripes and cantons pre-cut to speed production), 2.5 x 4 feet would have been a more logical size to encounter outside military production. While flags measuring 2.5 x 4 feet were highly unusual prior to 1890, by around 1895 these proportions had become commonplace in commercially-made flags, most of which were being produced with 13 stars for private consumption.

In addition to the flag’s entirely hand-sewn construction, (extremely uncommon in the 1880’s,) one of its most appealing physical features is its small size when compared to others made for extended outdoor use during the 19th century. Printed parade flags (sometimes called hand-wavers) were made for short-term use and were generally three feet long or smaller, but flags with pieced-and-sewn construction were generally 8 feet long and larger. This is because most flags needed to be seen from a great distance to be effective in their purpose as signals. Even flags made for decorative use were often very large by modern standards. Because the average pieced-and-sewn flag of this era is difficult to frame and display in an indoor setting, small flags like this one, especially with military attribution, are of special interest to collectors.

  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 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.

The U.S. Navy used 13 stars on its small-scale flags for precisely this reason, but 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, following an Executive Order of President Woodrow Wilson, 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.

Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed in our own textile conservation department, which is led by expert trained staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples. Feel free to contact us for more details.

The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color. The mount was placed in a deep, cove-shaped molding with a very dark brown surface, nearly black, and a rope-style inner lip. To this a flat profile molding, with a surface like old gun metal, was added as a liner.. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass.

Condition: There is a crudely stitched repair in the upper, hoist-end corner of the canton, accompanied by minor to moderate areas of loss along the hoist end edge, where the canton meets the stripes. There is minor to modest mothing throughout, accompanied by moderate holes and losses in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 9th, 10th, and 11th stripes. There is minor to modest soiling throughout in the white stripes, accompanied by moderate soiling in a number of the stars, especially towards the fly end. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind the flag during the mounting process. The flag has a crude overall appearance that definitely displays its age.
Collector Level: Intermediate-Level Collectors and Special Gifts
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1882
Latest Date of Origin: 1890
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association: 1866-1890 Indian Wars
Price: SOLD

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