Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 45.5" x 55"
Flag Size (H x L): 33.25" x 43.25"
Despite the fact that America hasn't been comprised of 13 states since 1791, 13 star flags have been made and displayed throughout our nation's history, from 1777 to the present. The reasons for their manufacture are many, with functions both patriotic and utilitarian. They were hoisted at patriotic events, including Lafayette’s visit in 1824-25, the celebration of the centennial of American independence in 1876, and the sesquicentennial in 1926. They were displayed during the Civil War (1861-65) to reference past struggles for American liberty, and were used by 19th century politicians while campaigning for the same reason.

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. The fear was that too many of them close together would become as one white mass and potentially distort the ability to identify American ships. Keeping the count low allowed for better visibility and for this reason the U.S. Navy flew 13 star flags on small craft. Flag experts disagree about the precisely when the Navy began to revert to the 13 star count for "small boat ensigns," as they were termed. Some feel that the use of 13 star flags never ceased, which seems to be supported by depictions of ships in period artwork. The practice continued until at least 1916, when Woodrow Wilson wrote an Executive Order that brought their star count to the full complement of the period (48 stars at the time), just one year before the U.S. entered WWI.

This particular 13 star flag was made sometime between the tail end of the Civil War and the 1876 centennial. Entirely hand-sewn throughout, it is made entirely of plain weave cotton. The stars, which are expertly sewn, are double-appliquéd, meaning that they are applied to both sides. Note how these are oriented in various directions on their vertical axis, which adds a strong visual quality to the design. There is almost a method to their positioning, with the star in the center and those in the corner all having one arm directed roughly upwards, and those adjacent to the center star, to either side, mirror imaging one-another. Even more powerful is the tall, skinny canton on which they are placed. In this way the flag is reminiscent of infantry battle flags of the Civil War era and prior, many of which shared this otherwise unusual feature.

Since there was no official star configuration until 1912, the stars on 13 star flags may appear in any one of a host of configurations. The stars of this particular example are arranged in lineal rows in counts of 3-2-3-2-3, which is the most often encountered design across 13 star flags with pieced-and-sewn construction that were made during the latter half of the 19th 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. Due to the vertical orientation of the canton, this actually results in a tall and narrow diamond, which is intriguing to the eye.

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.

Note the unusual shades of blue and red, the latter of which has faded to a salmon orange color. Most likely homemade, the flag employs no grommets or an open sleeve. Instead two ties, made from cotton tape, are stitched at the extreme top and bottom.

Also of interest is the small scale of the flag, which is appealing to both collectors and one-time buyers alike. Prior to 1890, most flags were 8 feet long and larger, which can make them challenging to frame and display in an indoor setting. Even a 6-foot flag was considered small at the time. Measuring just 33 x 43 inches, this flag is extraordinarily so among its counterparts of the period with pieced-and-sewn construction, which makes it especially desirable.

The sum of all of the above features results in a wonderful example among 13 star flags of the latter 19th century. This one-of-a-kind example surely makes a statement and stands out from the many that I have owned and examined.

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 is 100% cotton twill, black in color. The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass. Feel free to inquire for more details.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1864
Latest Date of Origin: 1876
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association: 1866-1890 Indian Wars
Price: SOLD

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