Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 53.25" x 82.25"
Flag Size (H x L): 41.75" x 71"
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 second to the smallest. Although roughly three inches taller on the hoist measurement than was specified, this sort of variability was common in my experience. 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 hoist binding is much wider than typical, although the length on the fly is practically spot-on. The size of 3.2 x 6 feet, specified as “No. 13,” appeared during the 19th century in Navy regulations of 1864-1870, and 1870-1882. This particular flag shares characteristics I often see in flags made during the era of Reconstruction, and likely pre-dates the 1876 centennial.

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 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.

The stars are made of cotton, hand-sewn, and double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). It is typical for flags of this time to not have stars with consistent orientation. Note how the arms of the stars are bent this way and that, which results in an appearance not unlike moving starfish, which adds a great folk element to the overall appearance.

The stripes and canton are made of wool bunting that has been pieced and joined with treadle stitching. The flat fell seams are poorly done and probably reflect someone new at the task, especially with regard to flag-making. Note, in particular, the irregularity of the workmanship, and the inconsistency in the width of the stripes. Also note the fact that 8 out of the 13 of these are pieced from multiple lengths of fabric. While this certainly reflects carful conservation of resources, it is nonetheless unusual to see this much piecing in one flag. There is also more fabric than necessary above and below the stars. The top and bottom stripes are much larger than usual, and the combination of these things would certainly explain the inconsistency in height from the prescribed measurement. The irregularities and piecework, in conjunction with the folk quality of the stars, and the unusually wide binding, result in a flag with interesting graphics that accurately reflect its handmade nature and age.

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.

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 molding of Italian design. 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 are modest holes in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th white stripes, accompanied by minor losses elsewhere throughout the striped field. There is minor soiling along the binding. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Collector Level: Intermediate-Level Collectors and Special Gifts
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1865
Latest Date of Origin: 1875
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association: 1866-1890 Indian Wars
Price: SOLD

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