Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 31.5" x 39.75"
Flag Size (H x L): 20.25" x 28.5"
Homemade 13 star American national flag of exquisite quality, bearing one of the most rare and desirable star configurations that can be encountered on an early example. The stars are arranged in what I have generically termed a "tombstone" pattern, but may depict some other intended image. Across all star counts, there are only a tiny handful of flags presently known to in variations of this rather distinct and graphic, arched formation, and among 13 star flags specifically, this is one of seven. The most famous of these is known as the Bennington flag. Long thought to be the earliest of all American flags, Grace Rogers Cooper of the Smithsonian Institution dispelled its supposed Revolutionary War date in the 1970's. Another was part of the Mastai Collection. Known as the "Prisoner's Flag" and said to have been made by a Revolutionary War soldier while held in captivity by the British, it may actually have been made as late as the Civil War (1861-1865). Whatever the case may be, it is illustrated in their book, "The Stars & The Stripes" by Boleslaw and Marie D'Otrange Mastai (Knopf Publishing, New York, 1973, p. 62. Two are hand-sewn, wool flags of the Civil War period. The last two styles are both parade flags, printed on cloth, made for the 1860 campaign of Abraham Lincoln. One of these includes text advertising "Lincoln & Hamlin" and the other bears both text and Lincoln's portrait.

The flag that is the subject of this narrative was made shortly following Lincoln's death and is carefully dated with silk needlework "July 4th, 1865."

Arched designs of this sort have also been interpreted as having other meanings. One theory that I subscribe to as a distinct possibility is that they represent beehives. Sometimes there are stars outside and above the arch, which would theoretically represent bees. The straw beehive or skep, as it is technically termed, was a popular symbol in early American imagery, where it represents industriousness and hard work. It is also significant among the symbols of the Masons, where it holds the same meaning. Many of the Founding Fathers were Masons, including George Washington, one-third of the signers of the United States Constitution, and thirty-three of Washington's seventy-four Continental Army Generals. Masonic symbols appear throughout early American design. Because there was no official star configuration until 1912, and because there is lots of hidden symbolism in the design of Civil War-era flags especially, it is not unlikely that a beehive or tombstone would appear among the various star patterns.

Others have suggested that the image displayed by this configuration is supposed be represent the Arc of the Covenant, with the additional 2 stars [not present on this flag, but present on others] representing the angels that hold it aloft. Important in both Jewish and Christian beliefs, the Arc has even stronger ties to Masonry than the beehive. The Masonic Lodge Room emulates King Solomon's Temple, which was built to house the Arc. Because there are no stars outside the arch on this example, it can be safely assumed that the Arc is not what's represented here.

Still another concept is that the arch is simply a "U" for Union. A less distinct "U" shape can be seen in a fair number of known flags made between the Civil War era and the two-and-a-half decades that follow. In the canton of this particular flag it is very distinct. Whatever the case may be: tombstone, beehive, arc, or perhaps the letter "U", the various patterns are especially intriguing.

The flag is entirely hand-sewn, made entirely of silk, and was constructed with an unusual degree of skill, care, and selection of the finest fabrics. That used for the white stripes has a plain weave, while both the blue and red are twill-woven, which is unusual in my experience in silk flags. There is a silk binding along the hoist in the form of an open sleeve.

The stars on American flags are seldom ever constructed of silk. These are single-appliquéd, meaning that they were applied to one side of the canton, then the blue fabric was cut from behind each star and the anchor, folded over, and under-hemmed, so that they would be visible on both sides of the flag. While some flag enthusiasts have pointed to this construction method as a way of conserving fabric, others suggest that the real purpose was to make the flag lighter in weight. I believe it to have been more oriented toward the conservation of materials. Whatever the case may be, I always find single-appliquéd stars more intriguing because, one, they are more visually interesting and two, because when executed properly they serve as evidence of a more difficult level of seam-work and stitchery.

The stars of silk flags are typically painted or embroidered. The use of silk stars in appliqué work of this sort demonstrates a particular level of skill. Because various fabrics swell, shrink, and stretch at different rates over time, and because single-appliqué work is difficult, flags with this manner of construction usually display stars with profiles that are particularly whimsical and interesting. This is certainly the case here, where their shapes are profoundly different from one-another, but alike in their own unique way with great visual effect.

A significant part of this flag's appeal is its extremely small size when compared to others with sewn construction that were made prior to the 1890's. Today, in the 21st century, a flag measuring between three and four feet in length is common, but prior to the last decade of the 19th century, this flag is extremely small when compared to its counterparts. Printed parade flags were generally three feet long or smaller, but flags with sewn construction were generally eight feet long and larger. Because the average 19th century sewn flag is difficult to frame and display in an indoor setting, most collectors prefer printed flags and smaller sewn flags, like this one, which are few and far between.

Why 13 Stars?
13 star flags have been continuously produced throughout our nation's history for purposes both patriotic and utilitarian. This was the original number of stars on the American flag, representing the 13 colonies, so it was appropriate for any flag made in conjunction with celebrations or notions of American independence. 13 star flags were displayed at patriotic events, such as Lafayette's final visit in 1825-26, the nation's centennial anniversary in 1876, and celebrations of Independence Day. They were used by presidential candidates when campaigning for office and were carried by soldiers during the Mexican and Civil Wars to draw a parallel between the current and previous struggles for freedom.

13 star flags were flown by American ships both private and federal. The U.S. Navy used 13 stars on the ensigns made for small boats, because they wished the stars to be easily discerned at a distance. As the number of stars grew with the addition of new states, two circumstances occurred. One, it became more and more difficult to fit stars on a small flag and two, it became more difficult to view them from afar as individual objects.

The same logic was adopted in the private marketplace. For all practical purposes, commercial flag-makers simply didn't produce flags with pieced-and-sewn construction that were three to four feet in length (or smaller), that bore the full star count, until well into the 20th century. 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.

This particular flag was obviously made for the 4th of July following both the close of the Civil War and Lincoln's assassination. Because of its size, star configuration, construction, and Civil War era date, it is one of the best examples that I have ever had the privilege to own.

Provenance: This flag was presented 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 paint-decorated, ripple profile frame has a gilded liner and dates to the period between 1830 and 1860. The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% natural fabrics for support on every seam. It was then hand-sewn to a background of 100% cotton twill, black in color. The cotton was washed to reduce excess dye. An acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye and the fabric was heat treated for the same purpose. The mount was then placed in a contemporary, French-made, gilded molding of the highest quality. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.

Condition: There is modest fabric loss in each corner, appropriate evidence that the flag was flown for an extended period, and minor losses elsewhere in both the canton and the striped field. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind these areas for masking purposes, during the mounting process. There is very minor staining. The overall condition is excellent for a silk flag of this period. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1865
Latest Date of Origin: 1865
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: SOLD

Views: 416