|13 STAR ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG WITH A BROAD, ARCHED FORMATION OF HAND-SEWN, SINGLE-APPLIQUÉD STARS, ARCH ABOVE A BEAUTIFULLY HAND-SEWN FEDERAL EAGLE, ATTRIBUTED TO FLAG-MAKER SARAH McFADDEN – “NEW YORK’S BETSY ROSS” – AT 198 HUDSON STREET IN MANHATTAN, circa 1870-1880
|Frame Size (H x L):||Approx. 76" x 111.75"|
|Flag Size (H x L):||63.5" x 99.25|
|Variants of the American national flag, of any period, that include large eagles within their imagery, are both exceptionally rare and highly desired. This example includes 13 stars in a broad arch, across a blue canton, with a large federal eagle beneath.
For many years, flags of this general format were erroneously termed “Indian Peace” flags. The accompanying story was that they had been produced in the early 19th century, presumably under contract with the federal government, in order to be presented as tokens of peace to Native Americans. While it is known that this practice did actually take place, as evidenced in historical records, no actual flag currently survives with solid provenance that illustrates this purpose. What we do know about flags with eagles, especially in the style displayed on the flag that is the subject of this narrative, is that they can sometimes be encountered in paintings of Hudson River Steamers. During the mid-late 19th century, these fanciful vessels were often decorated with all sorts of flags. A U.S. Navy ship might fly all of its colors when dressed to participate it some sort of maritime parade or event, but passenger steam boats, in order to visually distinguish themselves and look appealing to potential travelers, were often outfitted with a host of interesting colors that they flew all of the time. Visual records by painters, such as those of James and John Bard and their contemporaries, show a wide array of Stars & Stripes variants, plus commission pennants (flys), private owner and cruise line burgees, plus those with the names of the respective ships, as well as jacks and flags with solid colored grounds bearing eagles, federal shields, anchors, stars, and other devices.
The flag presented here is attributed to flag-maker “Sally Ann” (Sarah Ann) McFadden (1808-1904), who worked at 198 Hudson Street in New York City and has been dubbed “New York’s Betsy Ross”. Beginning in 1834 and for more than 70 years that followed, Sarah and her descendants produced flags for every sort of purpose. Working under her own name, then under “S. McFadden & Co.” (beginning approx. 1865-67), her clients included private citizens to merchants and ship owners, yachtsmen, steamship authorities, federal, state and local governments, U.S. military and national guard units, and even the Confederacy. She sold bunting by the yard for flag-making, rented flags, banners, and patriotic draping, and performed flag repair. During the Civil War era, Sally’s firm was extremely active, supplying both the North and the South both before the war and after it began. One 1875 advertisement noted “Always on hand Ensigns, Jacks, Flys, Commercial Code of Signals.”
In addition to large, sewn flags, it is extremely likely that the McFaddens also produced some of the first printed flags. Both of Sally Ann’s grand-nephews, Levi Hitchcock Harrison and James W. Harrison, who resided with her, worked for her, and took over the business, were trained as printers. It thus stands to reason why an 1896 article in the New York Tribune reported that “At the time of the [Civil] war, Miss McFadden gave away so many flag to the school children that the police asked her to desist because children blocked up Hudson-st.” These would have been small, printed flags. The article goes on to explain that “It had become her custom to give away flags to the children on every 4th of July for a number of years.” [Many thanks to David Martucci for the information on Sarah McFadden included here, referenced from a research paper he compiled entitled “The McFadden-Harrison Flag Making Dynasty” (March 1st, 2016)]
While the flag presented here is unmarked, the composition of the McFadden eagle, in both fabrics and appliqué work, is very distinctive. Though very few flags survive that include them, I have owned and/or personally handled most of the ones that exist and have been able to study them first-hand. Some McFadden flags are signed by way of a black-inked stencil, but like most flag makers of the 19th century, the McFaddens appear to have signed very little of what they produced. Another major New York maker, Annin, was comparatively lax in this regard. Although in business from the 1820’s onward (still active today), Annin appears to have signed nothing until the 1864-1867 era, and afterwards sporadically at best. Across the board, flags were generally unmarked by the maker until the 48 star era (1912-1959).
Probably made for a Hudson River Steamer, the stars of this particular flag are made of cotton, hand-sewn, and single-appliquéd, meaning that they are stitched to one side of the canton only, with the blue fabric cut away on the reverse, then under-hemmed so that one star can be viewed on both sides. The eagle is show with one olive branch gripped in one talon and 3 arrows in the other, with the head turned to face the former. Upon its breast is a federal shield with 11 pales (vertical stripes) and 3 stars, 2 of them small, flanking a large center star. The profile of the eagle, the shield, and the stars upon it are all single-appliquéd. The eagle and the white stripes in the device are made of cotton, white the blue and red are of wool bunting. The eye of the eagle is made of a single piece of black, felted wool, carefully double-appliqued with tiny hand-stitches. Two lengths of fine brown piping or cord were applied to form the eagle’s brow. All of the stitchery on the eagle is by hand.
The stripes are made of wool bunting and are pieced and joined with treadle stitching. The canton is joined to the striped field with treadle stitching along the lower edge and hand-stitching along the fly end side. The rectangular patches at the top and bottom corners of both the hoist and fly ends are called gussets and are original to the flag’s construction. These were added for strength where the flag received the most stress when flown. There is a coarse linen and/or hemp binding along the hoist, joined with treadle stitching, with two brass grommets, one each at the extreme top and bottom.
Few 19th century flags have the bold visual presence and heightened patriotic imagery that those with McFadden eagles convey. When this fact is combined with their rarity, and the rarity of eagles in general across 19th century examples, the result is one of the very best of the period that a collector of any level can own.
Provenance: This flag was exhibited from June 14th – July 21st at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, in an exhibit entitled “A New Constellation,” curated by Jeff Bridgman. This was the first ever large scale exhibit of 13 star examples at a major museum.
Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed within 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.
The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color, that was washed and treated for color fastness. The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding with a wide ogee profile and a rippled inner edge. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass.
Condition: There is a scattering of minor holes in the striped field, primarily towards the fly end from the center, accompanied by a patch at the fly end of the 4th red stripe. There are a few very tiny holes and some minor fabric breakdown in the eagle and the stars. There are some small holes, splits and modest fabric breakdown along the hoist binding. There is minor to modest soiling and oxidation throughout. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. The flag presents beautifully. It’s exceptional rarity and desirability warrants almost any condition.
|Collector Level:||Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings|
|Flag Type:||Sewn flag|
|Earliest Date of Origin:||1870|
|Latest Date of Origin:||1885|
|Price:||Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281|