Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
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  ENTIRELY HAND-SEWN ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG OF THE CIVIL WAR ERA, WITH 13 SINGLE-APPLIQUÉD STARS IN A 3-2-3-2-3 CONFIGURATION, IN A GREAT, SMALL SCALE AMONG ITS COUNTERPARTS, PROBABLY MADE IN NEW YORK CITY, SIGNED “GRÜNFILD”

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 40.25" x 59"
Flag Size (H x L): 29" x 47"
Description....:
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 final visit in 1824-25, the celebration of the centennial of American independence 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.

As the number of stars grew with the addition of new states, it became more and more difficult to fit their full complement on a small flag. The stars would, by necessity, have to become smaller, which made it more and more difficult to view them from a distance as individual objects. The fear was that too many of them close together would become as one white mass and distort the ability to identify American ships on the open seas. Keeping the count low allowed for better visibility. For this reason the U.S. Navy flew 13 star flags on small boats. Some private ship owners mirrored this practice and flew 13 star flags during the same period as the Navy.

Flag experts disagree about precisely when the Navy began to revert to 13 stars and other low counts. Some feel that the use of 13 star flags never stopped, which seems to be supported by depictions of ships in period artwork. This was, of course, the original number of stars on the first American national flag, by way of the First Flag Act of 1777, and equal to the number of original colonies that became states. Since there was no official star configuration until the 20th century (1912 specifically, beginning with the 48 star count), the stars on 13 star flags may appear in any one of a host of configurations.

Made during the Civil War era, or shortly thereafter, the stars of this particular 13 star flag are arranged in a 3-2-3-2-3 pattern of lineal rows. This configuration appears to have been adopted by the Navy sometime toward war’s end, probably between 1864 and 1865. Afterwards it becomes the most common design across all known styles, for the balance of the 19th century through the first quarter of the 20th.

Entirely hand-sewn, the stripes and canton of the flag are made of wool bunting. Note in particular the square profile of the canton, which makes it visually different from modern flags. The stars are made of cotton and are single-appliquéd. This means that they were applied to one side of the canton, then the blue fabric was cut from behind each star, folded over, and under-hemmed, so that one star could be viewed on both sides. I always find single-appliquéd stars more interesting, not only because they are evidence of a more difficult level of seam-work and stitching, but also because they are more visually intriguing. The two visible rows of hand-stitching emphasize their hand-sewn construction. This is one reason why single-appliquéd stars appeal to connoisseurs of early American textiles. While some flag enthusiasts have pointed to this as a means of conserving fabric, not having to cut and sew another star to the opposite side, others suggest that the real purpose was to make the flag lighter in weight. I believe it to have been a byproduct of both objectives.

A length of faded, red, herringbone, twill cotton tape was stitched along the hoist end for reinforcement, in lieu of a more formal binding. To this, six lengths of cotton knit shoelace were added (one now absent) as a means of affixing the flag to a staff. This is generally the accepted method for a flag that is to be hand-carried. The cloth tape and ties both add substantially to the flag’s visual presentation.

The name “Grünfild” was at some point hand-inscribed beneath the canton. It was common to mark flags in this fashion, during the 19th and early 20th centuries, to indicate ownership. An unusual name in America at this time, I believe that this likely belonged to the only man by this name that is recording as having served during the Civil War. Born around 1843, Morris Grünfild [a.k.a. Grünfield / Greenfield / Grünfildt] emigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe in 1854. A merchant tailor, who I believe may have been of Russian Jewish descent, he records himself as having been born in “Poland / Rus,” but may have moved to Austria in the interim, before traveling to the States.

In May of 1861, Grünfild enlisted with the 31st New York Volunteer Infantry, at the rank of Private, in New York City, and was assigned to “C” Company. He served two years, mustering out in New York on June 4th, 1863.

Around 1877, Grünfild joined Frank Head Post #16 of the New York State Grand Army of the Republic. The GAR was the primary veteran’s organization for the Union Army. He married a Russian woman from Philadelphia, had many children, and continued to work as a tailor into the 20th century, possibly selling both his services and clothes.

Presuming that it was this Morris Grünfild who owned and marked the flag, it is hard to be sure just how he came into possession of it. The construction is actually typical of flags produced in New York, during this time frame and after, by the Annin Company. Known for single-appliqued stars, and for hand-sewing the stripes of smaller flags in particular, as well as for simply producing more, small, sewn flags than their competitors, the flag closely approximates signed, Annin-made examples that I have previously owned. It may, of course, be that Grünfild acquired the necessary bunting at the wharf and sewed the flag in the same fashion as Annin, but I don’t think so. I do, however, believe that it was he who added the herringbone tape and shoelace ties to a flag probably of Annin manufacture.

It’s possible that the 31st NY Regiment used the flag as a flank marker or as camp colors. Though a little large in scale for either when compared to military regulations, the flag is small enough to have served effectively in either function. This unit appears not to have turned any colors in to the state at the war’s end, so likely they were taken home. The role that Grünfild played as a private in C Company is unknown. As a tailor, it’s conceivable that he may have played a role in the care or upkeep of flags, but no further information is available.

The 31st NY was a very active unit. Recruited from Williamsburg (just over the Brooklyn Bridge) and Manhattan, it had several nicknames, including the “Montezuma Regiment,” “Baxter Light Guards,” and the “First New York Union Volunteers.” They engaged the enemy at Fairfax Courthouse, 1st Bull Run (a.k.a, 1st Manassas), the Battle of Eltham's Landing (Kent County, Virginia), The Seven Days Battle, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. It also participated in the renowned “Mud March.”

It is also possible that the flag was simply acquired by Grünfild privately, following his 1863 return to civilian life, either to use at his shop or home, or as some sort of function within his forthcoming involvement in the G.A.R., where he may have also, by way of his profession, been expected to be involved in some way in the handling and care of any textiles that the post may have owned.

The scale of the flag is extremely small when compared to others of this era with pieced-and-sewn construction, which adds considerable appeal. During the 19th century, printed parade flags (sometimes called hand-wavers) were generally three feet long or smaller, but flags with pieced-and-sewn construction were generally 8 feet long and larger. Prior to 1890, a flag that was 6-feet in length on the fly was considered small. This is because flags needed to be seen from a distance to be effective in their purpose as signals, while today their use is more often decorative and the general display of patriotism. The smaller the flags are with sewn construction during this era, the more unusual they are. At just 2.5 x 4 feet, this flag is especially desirable. Because the average 19th century sewn flag can be cumbersome to frame and display in an indoor setting, many collectors covet small sewn flags, like this one.

In most cases the 3-2-3-2-3 design can also be viewed as a diamond of stars, with a star in each corner and a star in the very center. It is of interest to note that the 3-2-3-2-3 pattern can also be interpreted as a combination of the crosses of St. Andrew and St. George, which some feel could have been the design of the very first American flag and may identify a link between this star configuration and the British Union Jack. The pattern is often attributed--albeit erroneously in my opinion--to New Jersey Senator Francis Hopkinson, a member of the Second Continental Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence, who is credited with having played the most significant role in the original design of the American national flag. Hopkinson's original drawings for the design of the flag have not survived and his other depictions of 13 star arrangements for other devices are inconsistent.

Due to its probable Civil War date and association to a New York City volunteer soldier, plus the flag’s entirely hand-sewn construction, single-appliqued stars, and square canton, red herringbone tape and brown cotton ties, as well as the extremely small size of the flag among its sewn counterparts, this is an exceptional example for any collection.

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 mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass. Feel free to inquire for more details.

Condition: Although it remains largely intact with very little fabric loss, there is significant breakdown in the canton in the form of horizontal splits. This was stabilized during the mounting process. There is very minor mothing elsewhere, in limited areas. There is significant fading of the herringbone tape header and likely in the cotton ties, which have some breakdown and may have once been black. One tie is absent. There is minor soiling, accompanied by some modest to moderate spots in the 4th white stripe and in one of the stars. 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: 1861
Latest Date of Origin: 1877
State/Affiliation: New York
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: SOLD
 

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