Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 35.5" x 47"
Flag Size (H x L): 23.75" x 35.25"
A jack is a flag traditionally flown on a military ship. Like the British Royal Navy, American vessels flew three flags. When at anchor or moored, the jack is flown at the bow (front), the national flag or "ensign" is flown at the stern (back), and a commission pennant is flown from the main mast. When under way, the Jack is furled and the ensign may be kept in place or shifted to a gaff if the ship is so equipped.

The American Navy jack is a blue flag with a field of white stars. The design is the mirror image of the canton of an American national flag. In scale, the jack was meant to be the same size as the canton of the corresponding Stars & Stripes ensign with which it was flown.

While the U.S. Navy flew 13 star flags on small boats from at least the mid-19th century onward, over a period lasting officially until 1916, American Navy jacks apparently did not bear 13 stars during this same period. I have owned many 13 star U.S. Navy flags, but have never owned or encountered a corresponding jack in this star count. In fact, American jacks dating to the 19th century are rare in any form. It would seem that these were either inconsistently utilized or else often discarded.

Other ships sometimes flew jacks. The owners of private yachts, who enjoyed emulating traditional Navy practices, seem to have done so on occasion from the early 20th century onward. During the mid-late 19th century, Hudson River steamers were often decorated with all sorts of flags. A 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 by their owners 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, show not only Stars & Stripes, but commission pennants, private owner and cruise line burgees, burgees with the names of the respective ships, as well as flags with patriotic devices such as eagles, federal shields. Some of these were identical to American Navy jacks and some of which were basically embellished adaptations thereof.

This particular jack is not U.S. Navy. Pieced from two lengths of wool bunting and with an open sleeve along the hoist, its 13 cotton stars are arranged in a diamond-shaped pattern that I have never before seen on a 13 star flag of any kind. It was probably flown on a Hudson River steamer on which the national flag bore the same unique star design. This is composed of a large center star, canted at an angle, surrounded by a crude wreath of 8 stars, with a flanking star to the north, south, east, and west of center. The wreath is situated so that a cross is formed by the center star and the two stars extending above, below, to the left and right. Because the wreath does not reach the diamond-shaped perimeter formed by the four outliers, the overall perimeter of the entire configuration is really a superellipse (a diamond with concave sides). This makes the tips look even more pointy, like a twinkling, 4-pointed Great Star. Because the arms of the stars themselves are notably more long and narrow than usual, the combination of these elements is particularly striking.

The star pattern here is especially significant across all known flags of the 19th century, not only because of its beauty, but because only one other 13 star example shares this rare trait. At least 80 varieties of 13 star arrangements are presently known, but the only other with a diamond formation is found on the Hulbert flag, an 18th century example found in the ancestral home of Captain John Hulbert on Long Island and is though by some to date to 1775, carried by Hulbert when he led the 3rd NY Regiment during the Revolutionary War.

The piecework, and double-appliqué of the stars (applied to both sides), and application of the sleeve were accomplished entirely with treadle stitching. The stars are sewn with a lineal stitch, which is most often seen in the first half of the 1890's, though I think that this flag may date just a hair earlier and would place its window of likely manufacture between 1880 and 1895.

While the technical name for this type of flag was a "union jack," the confusing verbiage, being the same as the nickname of the most recognizable British flag, has resulted in a common shortening of the term to simply "the jack". Interestingly enough, the British Union Jack is not the proper name for that signal either. The design commonly called the "Union Jack" is actually the "Union Flag," though practically no one uses or is even familiar with the term. The only time that it can be properly called the "Union Jack" is when it is, in fact, flown as the jack on a British Navy ship. Because the British fly various national flags: the white ensign (Royal Navy), blue ensign (non-navy ships in public service), and red ensign (merchant ships), each of which is composed of a wide field the corresponding color, with the Union Flag design as its canton, the use of the Union Flag as the jack on Royal Navy ships employs the same logic as using the blue field with stars, without the red and white striped field, as the American jack.

Why 13 Stars? 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.

Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed in our own textile 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% hemp or a hemp and cotton blend (we use both interchangeably). The black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed molding is Italian. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglas. Feel free to contact us for more details.

Condition: There is extremely minor mothing and there is moderate foxing and staining of the white cotton. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1880
Latest Date of Origin: 1895
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association: 1866-1890 Indian Wars
Price: SOLD

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