Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 57.5" x 94"
Flag Size (H x L): 45.5" x 82"
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. At approximately 3.8 x 6.8 feet, this flag does not precisely conform to naval regulations for a “No. 12” ensign, though it is clearly designated as such on the reverse with a black-inked stencil. This is anything but surprising. 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 two inches of error on the fly. The hoist measurement is extremely close. The size specified as “No. 12” appeared during the 19th century in Navy regulations between the closing two years of the Civil War, 1864-65, and 1882. Although this flag might theoretically date anywhere within this 18-year window, I believe this to be a Civil War period example and have owned others of the same variety.

The stars of the flag are made of cotton and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). Note their especially large scale, which is particularly attractive. The stripes and stars are made of wool bunting. The rectangular patches in the top and bottom corners of the hoist end are called gussets and are original to the flag’s construction. Gussets were included at points where the flag would endure the most stress. There is a coarse linen binding along the hoist, stitched with thick linen cording, along which there are 3 whip-stitched grommets that may be sewn around small metal rings.

The name “Robert Patterson” is inscribed along the hoist with a dip pen. This would be the name of a former owner, and it was common to mark flags in this fashion during the 19th and early 20th centuries to indicate ownership. Unfortunately, the flag has no specific history and the name is far too common to yield any interesting results. There were 161 men by this name, for example, that served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

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.

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 acrylic (Plexiglas).

Condition: There is some foxing and staining in the white fabrics. There is extremely minor mothing throughout. 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: 1864
Latest Date of Origin: 1865
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: SOLD

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