Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 47.5" x 72.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 35.25" x 61"
13 star American national flag, made sometime in the period between the Civil War (1861-65) and the 1876 centennial of American Independence. The stars are configured in an elliptical medallion that consists of a perimeter of 9 stars, laterally transversed by a row of 3. One of the most rare designs extant across early Stars & Stripes, this pattern exists on just three other 13 star examples. One of these I formerly had the privilege to own and all are privately held. A similar example, with 3 stars in the center, also survives in the 15 star count. Although the reason to configure the stars in this manner remains unknown, all of the identified examples date within the mid-late 19th century, the bold style is unusual to the eye and has plenty of visual merit.

13 star flags have been flown throughout our nation’s history for a variety of purposes. They were hoisted at patriotic events, including Lafayette’s visit in 1824-25, 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 while campaigning for the same reason. The U.S. Navy used the 13 star count on small boats until 1916, because it was easier to discern fewer stars at a distance on a small flag. Commercial flag-makers mirrored this practice and some private ships flew 13 star flags during the same period as the Navy. The use of yachting ensigns with a wreath of 13 stars surrounding a fouled anchor, which allowed pleasure boats to bypass customs between 1848 and 1980, persists today without an official purpose.

The stars of this particular flag are made of cotton, are entirely hand-sewn, and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). The stripes and canton are made of wool bunting that has been pieced with treadle stitching. There is a twill cotton binding along the hoist, treadle-sewn and with 2 brass grommets, along which "3 x.5ft." is stenciled in black pigment to indicate size in feet. Note the unusual placement of the extra period. This type of punctuation is rather common in 19th century advertising text and markings of various sorts.

While the use of an unusual star design is more indicative of pre-Civil War flags, the construction here is common during the Civil War and after. Some military dealers and enthusiasts long maintained that grommets were not used on flags during the Civil War. That assumption is false. I have owned and seen more Civil War flags with brass grommets than I could possibly recall. The first patent for grommets was obtained by E.H. Penfield in 1848. In addition, Penfield’s specifications were simply an improvement to existing grommet designs, so his were apparently not the first. Another patent was taken by J. Allender in 1854, and three more were recorded before 1870. While grommets existed pre-war, it is, however, true that they are practically never encountered in flag-making prior to 1861. The same is true of treadle stitching. While the sewing machine was mass-marketed pre-war, it was rarely utilized for flag-making until the war's opening year. From there on it was used liberally in the sewing of stripes, especially, and the application of bindings.

If not made for wartime use, the most likely reason for the manufacture of the flag would have been for display during the 1876 centennial of American independence. The primary celebration of this important anniversary took place in Philadelphia at the Centennial International Exhibition. Massive in scope and lasting for six months, this was our nation's first World's Fair. Held in Fairmont Park, more than 200 temporary structures were erected on the 285 acre site, drawing 9 million visitors. The primary building was actually the largest in the world, with a footprint of 1,880 x 464 feet, enclosing no less than 21.5 acres. Much of the interiors, exteriors, and grounds were elaborately decorated with flags and patriotic hangings, and while many of these were international, the Stars & Stripes took center stage. Historical examples of all sorts of early American banners were both appropriate and abundant.

In addition to the rarity of the flag's design and the period in which it was made, the flag's size is particularly attractive to both collectors and one-time buyers alike. Prior to the 1890’s, flags with pieced-and-sewn construction (as opposed to printed) were typically eight feet long or larger. This is because they were important in their function as signals, meaning that they needed to be seen and recognized from a great distance. Garrison flags were generally 35 feet on the fly. Regulation infantry battle flags, carried on foot, measured 6 x 6.5 feet and thus were nearly the size of a quilt. Even flags made for decorative purpose were generally very large by today’s standards.

So while a five-foot flag, like this one, might even be considered relatively large today, this scale was unusual at the time of the flag's manufacture. Since the average 19th century sewn flag can be cumbersome to frame and display in an indoor setting, many collectors prefer printed parade flags and smaller sewn flags, like this one, the size of which provides great balance between visual impact and versatility.c 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 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 black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed molding is Italian. The glazing is U.V. protective Plexiglas.

Condition: The condition of the flag is excellent for the period. There is minor mothing throughout, accompanied by minor foxing and staining. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age gracefully.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1861
Latest Date of Origin: 1876
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: SOLD

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