Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 40" x 74.75"
Flag Size (H x L): 29" x 63.5"
U.S. Navy small boat ensign with 13 stars arranged in a 4-5-4 pattern of lineal rows. Entirely hand-sewn, the flag was made during the Civil War period or perhaps just prior. Small boat ensigns 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.

13 star flags were flown by ships both private and federal in early America. The U.S. Navy employed 13 stars on its smallest flags, because they wished the stars to be easily discerned at a distance. As the number of stars grew with the addition of new states, it became more and more difficult to fit stars on a small flag, so that they may be viewed from afar as individual objects. Because any star count that has previously been official remains so today, according to the Congressional flag acts, all 13 star flags in an otherwise appropriate design remain official flags of the United States of America.

Prior to WWI, the Navy generally made its own flags, though they procured commercially-made examples as needed. While the size of this flag does not precisely conform to U.S. Navy regulations, experience in handling many of them has taught me that a likely combination of both human error and lack of quality control seems to have led to some degree of variation. In addition, an examination of logistics of the times is useful. When war broke out in 1861, the Navy was woefully unprepared in many ways, not least of which was flag-making. As a result, orders flew out to local businesses to make flags and, in many instances, Navy quartermasters grabbed every flag already in existing stock, regardless of the specifics laid forth in their own regulations.*

At approximately 29” x 63”, this particular flag is very close in measurement to Naval specifications laid forth in 1864, which specified the smallest variety of small boat ensign as 30” x 60”. While the star configuration wasn’t specified, the 4-5-4 pattern is generally seen on U.S. Navy small boat flags in the 1850’s through the opening years of the Civil War. In or about 1864, when the new regulations replaced those of 10 years prior, hand-sewn flags that appear to be of Navy manufacture start to appear with lineal rows of 3-2-3-2-3. This new design is thereafter encountered on most Navy small boat ensigns, but experts disagree on when this change actually took place and even those flags that I feel were probably Navy-produced seem to have varied not only in size from regulations, but also in star count, let alone the way in which they were configured. 12, 16, and 20 star flags are either known and/or suspected to have served the same purposes, for example, as well as flag with other star counts.

The 4-5-4 lineal configuration is far scarcer and more appealing to collectors than rows in counts of 3-2-3-2-3. In part this is because it is generally seen on flags made during the Civil War period and prior. For some reason the 4-5-4 pattern was not popular during the celebration of our nation’s 100-year anniversary of independence in 1876 or thereafter. While this star arrangement is sometimes seen in small flags made during Reconstruction of the South (1866-1876), and appears once again on small, commercially produced flags of the 1890’s, surviving examples are scarce in both instances.

Since there was no official star pattern for the American national flag set forth in the flag act of June 14th, 1777, and because the original does not survive, nor are descriptions of it recorded in public documents or private journals, no one actually knows what the very first one looked like. Due to the apparent popularity of the 4-5-4 pattern in early America, however, as evidenced by both 18th and 19th century drawings, surviving 19th century examples, and at least one probable surviving 18th century example, more than one flag expert has hedged that lineal rows of 4-5-4 could have been the configuration on the very first flag.

The stars are made of cotton and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). Note how these are oriented in various directions on their vertical axis, which adds a nice element of folk quality to the flag’s design. The basting stitches were left in the stars by the maker, which is unusual to see. These held the two stars in position on front and back so that they could be stitched in unison, directly behind one-another. Like nearly all of its maritime counterparts of the 19th century, the canton and stripes of this particular flag are made of wool bunting. There is a coarse linen binding along the hoist, along which are 3 hand-sewn, whip-stitched grommets. Note the elongated form of the flag, which is typical of many early maritime examples. This allowed the fly end to be turned back and hemmed, so that its term of service could be extended as wind shear cause damage to the fabric.

The small scale of the flag itself is a very desirable trait. Those with pieced-and-sewn construction were generally eight feet long or larger. 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. A six-foot example is small among flags of those that pre-date 1890, and they smaller they are, the rarer they are. At approximately 3 x 5 feet, this one falls within the ideal size range for most collectors and one-time buyers alike. Because 19th century pieced-and-sewn flags can be cumbersome to frame and display, many flag enthusiasts prefer small examples, like this one.

In addition to the hand-made construction, the mid-19th century date, the desirable star pattern, its U.S. Navy function and small scale, the presentation of the flag is especially attractive. The culmination of all of these things results in a terrific example of the period.

In addition to their use by the U.S. Navy, 13 star flags have been used from the 18th century to the present for a variety of purposes. They were hoisted at patriotic events, including Lafayette’s visit in 1825-26, 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.

* Many thanks to David Martucci for his words and insights into use and acquisition of flags by the U.S. Navy during this period.

Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed in our own conservation department, which is led by masters degree trained staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples; more than anyone worldwide. Feel free to contact us for more details about how this particular flag was mounted.

The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color. The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding, but this can be easily changed if you desire, to meet the needs of your particular design. The glazing is U.V. protective Plexiglas.

Condition: There are modest losses from obvious use in the top and bottom red stripes at the fly end, and there is minor scattered mothing elsewhere in the striped field. There is minor to moderate soiling in the white cotton fabric.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1861
Latest Date of Origin: 1865
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: SOLD

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