Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 53.75" x 87"
Flag Size (H x L): 42.5" x 75"
13 star antique American flag, entirely hand-sewn, made sometime during the opening years of the Civil War, or perhaps just prior. The canton and stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting. The stars are made of cotton and are double-appliqued (applied to both sides). These are arranged in lineal rows of 4-5-4. There is a coarse, hemp or linen binding along the hoist, hand-stitched with especially coarse thread, with hand-sewn, whip-stitched grommets at the extreme top and bottom. Along this, the word “Gettysburg” is hand-inscribed with a dip pen. This is a curious mark, because the flag was almost certainly made by the U.S. Navy, for use as a small boat ensign. Such 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. Having had the privilege of handling numerous examples of this era, I can attest to the similarities in the construction throughout, from the smallish stars, to the portion of the canton and field turned back upon itself and partially exposed next to the binding, to the coarse linen hoist, the consistent, hand-stitching, and the manner in which the fly end is bound. Not all examples conform to these attributes, as some flags were jobbed out via sub-contract, and the availability of materials likely fluctuated from Navy yard to Navy yard, and because there is always some variation in hand-made textiles of the 18th and 19th centuries. Some flags were simply precured by the Navy, as need dictated. But often it produced its own flags, and this particular one scores a win on all fronts, across all of the traits that I expect to see in the quintessential example produced in this era, between roughly 1854, when the first actual regulations were issued for small boat flags, and their subsequent change in 1864.

The reason for the use of 13 stars on smaller flags—which, to the Navy, meant those measuring up to 10 feet on the fly until 1882—was to make sure that the stars were discernable at a distance as individual objects. Although the flag’s measurements do not match up exactly with U.S. Navy regulations, there is little unexpected about this fact. They seldom do on surviving examples, likely because of the difficulty of ending up at an exact measurement, when seaming 13 strips of fabric, or the availability of pre-cut materials vs. the necessary speed of production or cost overheads, and/or the shrinkage, stretching, damage and loss from use. Presuming this was to be a 3.25 x 6-foot example from the 1864 regs, at 39 x 72 inches, the measurements of this particular flag, at 42.5 x 75 inches, is 3.5 inches off on the hoist and 2 inches on the fly (excluding the one inch binding from the overall). This is well within what I know to be an expected margin of error. One must remember that these are maximum measurements, taken at the widest points of a type of textile that, simply due to there being so many pieces of fabric, on something that stretches a lot when flown, or shrinks if improperly stored, is almost never square. Examine any stripe and you will see that it probably varies by one quarter inch in its height or width at some point, perhaps more, simply because it’s hand-made and perfection wasn’t critical. Multiply this by any number of stripes and you will see why 2 inches isn’t meaningful.

While the star configuration wasn’t specified in the early regulations, the 4-5-4 pattern is generally seen on U.S. Navy small boat flags in the 1850’s through the opening years of the Civil War. In or about 1864, when the new regulations took effect, hand-sewn flags, that appear to be of Navy manufacture, start to turn up with lineal rows of 3-2-3-2-3. This new design is thereafter encountered on most Navy small boat ensigns. Though experts disagree on when this change actually took place, the overall picture is actually a lot muddier. Even those flags that I feel were probably Navy-produced seem to have varied from regulations not only in size, but in star count. Flags with 12, 20, and 24 stars are known and/or suspected to have been flown as small boat ensigns, as well as flags with other odd star counts, and flags with the full complement of stars for the period.

There was no official star pattern for the American national flag set forth in the flag act of June 14th, 1777, and the original is not known to survive, nor are descriptions of it recorded in public documents or private journals. No one presently knows what the very first one looked like. What we do know is that the 4-5-4 pattern seems to have been popular in early America, as evidenced by surviving examples of the early-mid 19th century, at least one probable surviving example of the 18th century, and surviving illustrations of both the 18th and 19th centuries. More than one flag expert, including myself, has hedged that lineal rows of 4-5-4 are a worthy candidate for the configuration on the first flag. There is no actual proof, just informed guesswork, but we know it was around early on and is among the runners-up for the most prevalent design. This, plus the scarcity of its presence on actual flags, explains much of why the 4-5-4 is more appealing to advanced collectors than rows in counts of 3-2-3-2-3. The latter, by stark contrast, is almost never encountered prior to 1863-1864, and becomes the most common design of all thereafter on 13 star flags both public and private.

For some reason the 4-5-4 pattern was not popular during the celebration of our nation’s 1876 centennial of American independence, or thereafter. While it can be encountered post-Civil War era, surviving examples are very scarce.

The reason for the word “Gettysburg,” that appears on the hoist, is not known. After the battle, it seems very likely that the flag was flown there from some patriotic purpose, perhaps when Lincoln gave the Gettysburg address, on November 19th, 1863, when all manner of flags were most certainly acquired for the necessary decoration, probably from every imaginable source. The presumption of a Navyman, perhaps traveling from Washington or Baltimore, and lending the flag for the festivities, or flying it in respect of a lost friend or family member—or perhaps for the dead in general—is certainly within the realm of reason. More soldiers became casualties at Gettysburg (51,000) than in the Revolution (23,800) and the War of 1812 (15,000) combined. This was the first time any president visited the town, and a solemn occasion of patriotic import. Whatever the case may be, this 13 star flag is both a beautiful and wonderful, hand-sewn survivor of U.S. Navy manufacture, from the most significant military event of the 19th century, evidently flown in the location of the most famous battle ever fought on American soil.

Additional Facts About 13 Star Flags in Early America
13 star flags have been flown throughout our nation’s history for a variety of purposes. In addition to their use by the U.S. Navy, 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. Some private ship owners mirrored Navy practice and flew 13 star flags during the same period.

From at least 1840 onward, 13 star flags were produced for presidential campaigns, drawing a parallel between the past and present struggles for freedom, and were carried by soldiers during the Mexican and Civil Wars for the same purpose. Throughout history, even today, 13 star flags are boldly displayed at every presidential inauguration.

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 in our own textile conservation department, which is led by expert trained staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples. Feel free to contact us for more details about how this particular flag was mounted.

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

Condition: There are minor holes and losses in limited areas, accompanied by modest losses in the 3rd, 7th, and 13th stripes. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind the latter three areas during the mounting process, for masking purposes. There is modest soiling near the center, within the 3rd and 4th white stripes, accompanied by very minor stains elsewhere in limited areas. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1854
Latest Date of Origin: 1863
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: SOLD

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