Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 91.5" x 53"
Flag Size (H x L): 79.25" x 40.5"
13 star American national flag of the type used by the U.S. Navy on small boats around the turn-of-the-century. 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 size of such signals varied between 1.31 feet on the hoist x 2.5 on the fly, and 3.52 feet on the hoist x 6.67 on the fly. This particular example represents the largest variety dictated by U.S. Navy regulations between 1899 and 1914.

This flag is signed along the hoist on the reverse by way of a black-inked stencil that reads: “U.S. Ensign No. 6 New York Navy Yard February 1912.” This is accompanied by another stencil with the initials “NH.”

As a rule, the Navy made its own flags at various locations. In addition to New York, principal seats of manufacture included Mare Island, California, Cavite, in the Philippine Islands, the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, and Newport News, Virginia. With but a few exceptions, such flags went unmarked until the 1880's and after and some were not marked at all.

The Navy flew 13 star flags on small boats, not only in the Colonial period, but throughout much of the 19th century, particularly the second half. The practice was less consistent prior to the Civil War, but more consistent afterwards. It came to an end with an executive order of Woodrow Wilson in 1916, one year prior to U.S. involvement in WWI (1917-18).

The canton and stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting that has been joined with a lineal machine stitch. The cotton muslin stars are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides) with a zigzag machine stitch. There is a coarse linen binding along the hoist with 2 patent-dated brass grommets, each of which reads: “Pat’d Aug. 26, 1884, No. 0”. The presence of this dating is a very nice feature. Grommets on other types of flags are never so specifically marked.

Note how the stars are exceptionally large, relative to the size of the canton, when compared to most other flags throughout American history. Also note how these were positioned so that those in the first row are oriented with one point up, followed by the second row, with one point oriented down, alternating throughout the pattern. I have always like this feature, which adds a strong visual element to flag that already exhibits ample graphic impact.

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 pattern can also be interpreted as a combination of the cross of St. Andrew and the cross of St. George, which some feel could have been the configuration on the very first American flag, possibly representing a link between this star pattern and the British Union Jack. The arrangement 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. Hopkinson is credited with having played the most significant role of any person in the design of the American flag, but his original drawings have not survived. Further, while he is known to have depicted arrangements of 13 stars on other objects, such as various seals and colonial currencies, his renderings on other devices are inconsistent.

Why 13 Stars? 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.

Flag experts disagree about precisely when the Navy began to revert to 13 stars and other low counts for this practice. 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.

Although the official use of 13 star flags by the U.S. Navy theoretically ended in 1916, old military traditions die hard and according to at least one expert, Wilson’s order did not completely dispel the presence of 13 star flags on U.S. Navy craft.

In addition to their use on U.S. Navy ships, some private ships flew 13 star examples throughout the 19th century. Beginning around 1890, commercial makers began to produce small flags for the first time in significant quantity. When they did, they chose the 13 star count, mirroring Navy practice. This continued into at least the first two decades of the 20th century. The use of yachting ensigns with a wreath of 13 stars, surrounding a fouled anchor, allowed pleasure boats to bypass customs between 1848-1980. Though they no longer serve this function, their use persists widely today in the boating community, without an official purpose.

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 fabric 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 contact us for more details.

Condition: There is very minor mothing throughout. There is a small perpendicular tear in the 4th red stripe, extending slightly into the white stripe below it, and a small lateral tear in the same stripe. There is very minor foxing and staining. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age.
Collector Level: Intermediate-Level Collectors and Special Gifts
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1912
Latest Date of Origin: 1912
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association:
Price: SOLD

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