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  ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG WITH 13 HAND-SEWN STARS IN THE 3-2-3-2-3 PATTERN, A U.S. NAVY SMALL BOAT ENSIGN, MADE BETWEEN ROUGHLY 1870 – 1882, WITH ENDEARING WEAR FROM OBVIOUS USE

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 47.25" x 67.75"
Flag Size (H x L): 30" x 56.5"
Description....:
13 star American national flag of the type flown by the U.S. Navy on small craft. These flags were flown at the stern, from a gaff, or from the yard-arm on a larger vessel, or as the primary flag on a skiff or other small craft that carried sailors back and forth to shore. During the period in which this flag was made, the scale of these signals varied between 2.5 feet on the hoist x 5 feet on the fly, and 5.28 feet on the hoist x 10 feet on the fly. There were five specified regulation sizes, of which this was the smallest. Although a bit shorter on the fly, which is something that is in no way surprising to see, due to both shrinkage and human error, the hoist measurement is spot-on. The Navy generally produced their own flags during the 19th century. Because these objects were hand-made, there was a good deal of irregularity and variation. The manner in which the hoist binding is applied, for example, can easily account for approximately 1.5 inches of error. The size of 2.5 x 5 feet, specified as “No. 14,” appeared during the 19th century in Navy regulations of 1864-1870, and 1870-1882. This particular flag likely dates within the latter of these two date windows.

The stars of the flag are arranged in rows of 3-2-3-2-3, which appeared in late Civil War Navy flags, beginning around 1864, and is the most often seen pattern in 13 star flags of all kinds post-war. In most cases the design can also be viewed as a diamond of stars with a star in each corner, or as a combination of the crosses of St. Andrew and St. George, which some experts feel was the design of the very first American flag and serves as a link between this star pattern and the British Union Jack.

The stars are made of cotton, hand-sewn, and double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). Nine of these are oriented such that one point is directed towards 11:00, when viewed on the obverse (front), while the rest point in various directions on their vertical axis. It is typical for flags of this time to not have stars with consistent orientation. The stripes and stars are made of wool bunting that has been pieced and joined with treadle stitching. There is a heavy twill binding along the hoist, with brass grommets at the extreme top and bottom. 23 tack holes, with associated rust stains, provide evidence that the flag may have been hand-carried at one point, probably following its term of use at sea. It could be that the flag was rigged this way for quick use on a skiff, possibly by those who would then need to possibly take it ashore, perhaps by delegations of officers and/or by Marines. Not a lot is recorded concerning Marine Corps flag use in this era, though it is suspected to have fallen under the umbrella of Navy regulations.

Whatever the case may be, this particular flag saw extended use and has endearing wear because of it. In some cases, this can actually add to the visual aspects that make it beautiful to look at, which is certainly the case here.

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 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. Any American flag that has previously been official remains so according to the flag acts, so it remains perfectly acceptable to fly 13 star flags today by way of congressional law.

Due to a combination of U.S. Navy use, the possibility of a Civil War period date, the especially large and very attractive stars, great colors, and entirely hand-sewn construction, this is an excellent example among 13 star flags of the latter 19th century.

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 mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded, and distressed Italian molding. The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color, that has been washed and treated for colorfastness. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass.

Condition: There are rust stains along the hoist, where metal tacks had once been added to affix the flag to a staff. There is some foxing and staining elsewhere in the white fabrics, the most significant of which is an arched rust stain near the top of the binding, on the obverse. There is extremely minor mothing throughout, accompanied by moderate to significant losses from wind shear, all along the fly end. 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: 1870
Latest Date of Origin: 1882
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association:
Price: SOLD
 

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