Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
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  EXTRAORDINARY CANTON FROM A BRITISH BLUE ENSIGN OF THE MID-19TH CENTURY, WITH OPPOSING, CONCAVE BARS TO REFLECT THE CROSSES OF ST. ANDREW AND ST. PETER, INSTEAD OF THE PROPER, OFFSET SALTIRES, circa 1850-1860’s

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 56" x 98"
Flag Size (H x L): 44.25" x 85.75"
Description....:
Early example of a British Union flag with an unusual presentation that flies in the face of proper British heraldry. The discrepancy occurs in the two, overlaid saltires that represent the Crosses of St. Andrew and St. Peter. Instead of crossing at the center, in their typical, offset fashion, here they present as opposing and slightly concave lines that face one another, almost like curved longbows. Note how the piecework terminates directly into the vertical leg of the Cross of St. George, with its white fimbriation (border).

This atypical format is known on other antique British flags. When it occurs, it tends to appear among the earliest examples, primarily dating to the first half of the 19th century and prior. It is present on a small handful of flags in the collection of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, in the United Kingdom. The latest recorded examples that exhibit this unusual variant have specific history documenting their use at events in the 1860’s and 70’s, according to notes in the museum archives, though both appear to have been constructed pre-1850. I would suggest that each may be earlier than their record indicates, though perhaps still in use later at the aforementioned dates.

The flag that is the subject of this narrative is actually the canton of a larger, blue ensign, subsequently converted into the Naval Union Jack. Made of wool bunting, the piecework is entirely hand-sewn. The original rope, once conventionally rigged for a ship’s mast, appears to have been subsequently re-anchored along the top edge of the flag. This was rolled over and bound about the rope, to form a makeshift, wrap-around sleeve. A hand-carved wooden toggle is tied to the proper left of the flag, at the end of the rope, which is loop-knotted at the opposite end. The hoist and fly ends, certainly hand-sewn before the transformation, were re-bound by treadle machine.

In the upper, hoist end corner is an inked stencil for the Royal Victoria Yacht Club (RVYC). The RVYC was founded on the Isle of Wight by Prince Albert, who sought a club where Queen Victoria could enter as a "mere female." The prince was actively involved in the club's formation, which immediately gained Royal status.

I estimate the flag to have been made in the 1850’s or 60’s, probably the latter. Although it retains no specific history, logic would suggest that this was a flag of some importance, presented to the yacht club by a member, for prominent display. Whatever the case may be, this is an extremely early example among surviving British flags.

Basic Facts Surrounding Use of The British Union Flag / Union Jack:
The combination of the cross of St. George, to reflect England, and that of St. Andrew, to signify Scotland, and of St. Peter, to include Ireland (as of January 1st, 1801), create what is properly known as the British “Union Flag,”

The term “Union Jack” comes from the fact that this device, by itself, was not flown on British ships as its primary colors. Instead, it was flown as a “jack,” which is a smaller flag, meant to be flown off the bow, when a ship was at port or anchor.

The British Royal Navy flew the British Union Flag as a jack. The device also served as the canton/union of all British flags flown at sea, in the same way that the blue field with stars constituted the canton/union of the Stars & Stripes on the American national flag, flown by American ships. U.S. Navy ships also flew jacks when at port or anchor. For the majority of U.S. history, this has been a blue flag with white stars. In both Britain and the United States, the signal is officially called the “Union Jack”—a fact that makes the name pretty confusing. In each case, the size is to be that of the canton of the national ensign flown on the respective ship.

In Britain, there were several variations of the national flag, instead of just one, called red, blue, and white ensigns. Each consisted of either a red, white, or blue field, with the British “Union Flag” in the upper corner of the hoist end.

It is of interest to note that no law has ever been passed to make the Union flag / “Union Jack” the national flag of the United Kingdom. Instead, it has become so through precedent. Its first recorded recognition as a national flag came in 1908, when it was stated in Parliament that "the Union Jack should be regarded as the National flag". A more categorical statement was made by the Home Secretary, Sir John Gilmour, in 1933 when he stated that "the Union Jack is the National Flag". It is still officially a flag of the monarch, however, rather than of the nation.

Civilian use of the Union flag is permitted on land, but non-naval/military use at sea is prohibited. On land, the Union Jack can be flown by any individual or organization on any day they wish. Until very recently, however, government use was strictly regulated. Prior to 2007, it could only be flown on government buildings on certain specified days, such as those marking the birthdays of members of the Royal Family, the wedding anniversary of the Monarch, Commonwealth Day, Accession Day, Coronation Day, The Queen's official birthday, Remembrance Sunday and on the days of the State Opening and prorogation of Parliament.

At sea, different rules apply. Prior to 1864, the Red Ensign, White Ensign, and Blue Ensign were all flown by ships of the Royal Navy (RN). In that year, all RN ships were ordered to fly the White Ensign and it became the sole naval flag of the United Kingdom. Until the mid- to late 1960's, the White Ensign was also flown by Canadian, Australian and New Zealand warships. The Blue Ensign was reserved for merchant vessels whose masters are qualified Royal Naval Reserve [RNR] officers and which meet certain other requirements, while the Red Ensign became the British civil ensign.

At sea, the Union Jack is reserved for the RN and no other British ships are permitted to fly it.

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 presentation of flags and have preserved thousands of examples.

The mount will be placed in a simple, ivory white molding, with a deep, shadowbox profile. The background with be 100% hemp fabric or a hemp & cotton blend (we use both interchangeably), ivory in color. The glazing will be U.V. protective acrylic (Plexiglas). Feel free to contact us for more details.

Condition: In addition to the previously discussed rebinding of the fly and hoist ends with treadle stitching, and the reapplication of the rope hoist along the top edge, there are patch repairs in the upper, hoist end corner, within the arm of the red Cross of St. Peter, and in the uppermost blue area, nearest to the fly, and in the opposing blue area, along the bottom edge. What appears to be a white patch, over which the stamp is applied, appears to be a gusset (an original patch, added for reinforcement when the flag was made. There are modest holes, near the center, in the red, horizontal arm of the Cross of St. George, and the lower, hoist end arms of the Crosses of St. Andrew and St. Peter, and in the lower of the two blue areas that reach the fly end. There are minor to very minor holes elsewhere throughout, and minor to modest soiling. 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:
Earliest Date of Origin: 1850
Latest Date of Origin: 1860's
State/Affiliation:
War Association:
Price: SOLD
 

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