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  ANTIQUE AMERICAN PRIVATE YACHT FLAG (ENSIGN) WITH 13 STARS AROUND A CANTED ANCHOR, IN A VERY LARGE SCALE FOR THE FORM, MADE DURING THE LAST DECADE OF THE 19TH CENTURY

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 72.75" x 101"
Flag Size (H x L): 61.25" x 88"
Description....:
The medallion configuration, 13-star, 13-stripe flag with a canted center anchor was entered into official use in 1848, following an act of Congress that made it the official signal for U.S. pleasure sailing vessels. The need for such a flag arose with the popularity of boating as a pastime for well-to-do Americans, and as a competitive sport, in addition to its longstanding utilitarian role as a vehicle of trade. In early America, all boats were subject to customs searches at every port. Without modern income tax, the federal government derived its revenues mostly from tariffs, so an accounting of foreign goods on ships was a critical venture. As yachting for pleasure became more prevalent, however, more and more time was spent searching boats that had no such inventory, wasting time for both customs officials and wealthy ship owners.

John Cox Stevens, a former president of the Jockey Club and future founder of the Union League Club in New York City, became the New York Yacht Club’s Commodore upon its founding in 1845. In 1847, he approached the secretary of the treasury and suggested that something be done to streamline the customs process for non-trade vessels. In 1848, legislation passed Congress requiring registration of these boats, which could then fly the “American Yachting Signal” to bypass customs. This remained on the books until the 1980’s, when the 1848 legislation was revoked, but the use of flags in this design for decorative function continues to this day.

This particular example was probably made during the last decade of the 19th century. Compared to many American national flags of this era, private yacht ensigns tended to be small. This is because most pleasure boats were commensurately small when compared with merchant vessels and U.S. Navy craft. This becomes even more pronounced during the 20th century. Private yacht flags were most common in lengths of 3 and 4 feet. A five-footer can be considered unusually large. 6-footers are even more so. At approximately 5 x 7.5 feet, this is one of the largest yacht ensigns that I have ever seen.

The stars and anchor of the flag are made of cotton and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides) with lineal, treadle stitching. The canton and the stripes made of wool bunting that has been pieced and stitched in the same manner. Due to the size of the flag and the available width of wool bunting, the canton was pieced from two lengths of fabric. That said, this is the largest width of wool bunting that I can ever recall seeing on a flag of this period. Before hemming, this would have to have been greater than 30", as this is the present, visible size, top-to-bottom. Previous to acquiring this flag, I had never encountered wool bunting that measured over 18", so the difference is very significant. The smaller width of bunting is from a different dye lot. At the time of the flag's making this was likely identical in color or very close to it. Over time the color differentiation has widened and the large swath is brighter. This circumstance is common in late 19th century flags, especially in those made during the 1890's.

There is a binding along the hoist, made of heavy cotton twill, in the form of an open sleeve. This was applied with treadle stitching. Through it a braided hemp rope was passed, looped at the top, and hand-stitched into place with heavy cord.

13 star flags have been flown throughout our nation’s history for a variety of purposes. In addition to their use on private yachts, they were hoisted at patriotic events, including Lafayette’s final 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.

Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed within 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 flag has been hand-stitched to 100% silk organza on every seam and throughout the star field for support. The background is 100% hemp fabric, ivory in color. The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass.

Condition: There is some soiling along the hoist binding and in the stars. There are minor to modest holes and tears in the wool bunting throughout, accompanied by a couple of moderate losses in the 11th and 12th stripes, an area of moderate loss in the 13th stripe, and a 16" diagonal tear in the canton with some loss. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind the red stripes and the blue canton during the mounting process.
Collector Level: Intermediate-Level Collectors and Special Gifts
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1890
Latest Date of Origin: 1899
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association:
Price: SOLD
 

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