Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Antique Flags > American Flags



Web ID: 13j-1645
Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 46" x 71"
Flag Size (H x L): 33.75" x 58.75"
13 star American national flag, made entirely of cotton by the Annin Company of New York & New Jersey, in the period between approximately 1955-1965. The stars are arranged in the circular wreath pattern most often associated with Betsy Ross. Flags in this design are widely admired, due to the longstanding popularity of the Ross family myth. While many Americans were taught in grammar school that this was what our first flag looked like, there is, unfortunately, no way to substantiate the claim, and no colonial flags have survived with this configuration.

13 star flags have been made throughout American history, from at least June 14th, 1777, when the first Flag Act was passed by Congress, until the present. They have been continuously produced for reasons both patriotic and utilitarian. Because this was the original number of stars on the American flag, representing the 13 colonies, it was appropriate for any device made in conjunction with notions of American independence. 13 star flags were thus displayed at patriotic events such as Lafayette’s final visit, in 1825-26, the nation’s centennial in 1876, and longstanding celebrations of Independence Day. 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, and even today, they are boldly displayed at every presidential inauguration.

13 star flags were flown by American ships both private and federal. The U.S. Navy used 13 stars on the ensigns made for small boats, because they wished the stars to be more easily discernable at a distance. Private ships often copied Navy practice, and when commercial flag makers first began to produce flags with pieced-and-sewn construction, in small sizes, in large quantity, they frequently employed the 13 star count.

One of the interesting misconceptions about 13 star flags is that the Betsy Ross pattern, even if not the original design, must have been common in early America. Logic would suggest this, given the frequency with which it appears in modern times, but this isn’t actually the case. In fact, the pattern is seldom encountered anywhere until much later. No one knows what the first flag looked like. While there is no precise reason that it could not have been a single, circular wreath, one of the best arguments against it, is illustrated by the simple fact that so many 13 star flags exist without it. If the Ross configuration was the original, it stands to reason that the pattern would have been reproduced with at least some degree of frequency. In more than 30 years of buying and selling early Americana, and over 20 years of extensive focus on the American flag specifically, through aggressively buying, researching, evaluating, restoring, and curating exhibitions, I have thus far encountered just three examples of Betsy Ross pattern flags that I can confidently date prior to the 1890's. Early illustrations of the pattern are practically as rare, across not only flags but other patriotic devices that include arrangements of 13 stars.

Because there was no official star configuration for the American national flag until 1912, when the 47th and 48th stars were added, the star design, prior to this time, was left to liberties of the maker. While arranging the stars in a single circle seems quite logical, among the various choices that might come to mind, early American flags with this star pattern are curiously absent. Although there are as many as 80 different star configurations for the 13 star count alone, that can be seen on early flags, paintings, drawings, and the like, the Betsy Ross pattern is practically never encountered among them until the last decade of the 19th century. Exceptions include a 1779-1780 painting of George Washington at the Battle of Princeton, by Charles Willson Peale, that depicts in the background a flag that appears to have a circular wreath of stars, but no stripes. This is one of the few appearances of a circular pattern in a work period to the Revolutionary War, yet it wasn’t the national flag and Peale may have used some artist’s liberty in its inclusion. While known to be especially detailed and keen on accuracy, he made at least four copies of the painting prior to 1782, one of which shows the Battle of Trenton in lieu of Princeton (the original), so he obviously wasn’t opposed to alterations.

Artist John Trumbull included a flag with what may be a circular pattern in a 1787 painting of the Battle of Yorktown but the flag is waving and it is not known if the intended design is circular or oval. Francis Hopkinson, credited designer of the Stars & Stripes, actually rendered a circular pattern of 13 eight-pointed stars, presented like the rowels of a spur, on a piece of 1778 Philadelphia currency. This did not show a flag and was not part of one. He included a similar rendering, surrounding a liberty cap, on a 1778 draft for the seal of the U.S. Board of War, but there is a flag affixed to the liberty pole on which the cap rests, and the flag, which displays only stars, arranges them in a 4-3-4-2 lineal pattern.

The only surviving 18th-century illustration of a 13 star, Stars & Stripes with a circular wreath and no center star, appears in a sketch by William Barton, which served as his 2nd draft for the Great Seal of the United States, presented to the 3rd Committee designated to select it. Though it does not survive, Barton’s first draft is also said to have included such a flag. The final draft was not rendered by Barton, but by Congressional Secretary Charles Thompson, who included no flags, but did include an arrangement of 13 stars above the head of a federal eagle, placed in a random pattern. It is of interest to note that Francis Hopkinson produced some of the initial drafts of the seal, which also included 13 stars in a random scatter.

Research conducted by the National Museum of American History notes that the story of Betsy Ross making the very first American flag for General George Washington, in the company of George Ross and Robert Morris, entered into American consciousness about the time of the 1876 centennial. The tale was immensely popular among an American public eager for stories about the Revolution and its heroes. The first documentation of it appeared shortly beforehand, in 1870, in a paper written by Betsy’s grandson, William Canby, for the Pennsylvania Historical Society. At the time, Canby made no mention of how the flag was designed, save for the fact that it had 5-pointed stars, per his grandmother’s suggestion. Because no earlier documentation supports the story, most flag scholars feel it was a grand hoax, fabricated by Canby for his own interests. Nothing survives in the collective writings of the three men, for example, nor in records of their words and deeds, which are fairly extensive. As with most things, reality is perhaps somewhere in the middle ground, with some of the details based on fact and some on fiction, made up, misinterpreted, or imagined from family accounts.

The first time that a star configuration gets attached to the Ross story appears to have occurred during the last decade of the 19th century. In 1892, Charles Weisgerber painted a nine-by-twelve-foot rendition of the fabled meeting between Betsy and George Washington, in which there is a flag with a circular wreath. Shortly afterwards, in 1898, Betsy’s granddaughter and great-granddaughter began to make flags in the East Wing of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, selling them to tourists while disseminating the family folk tale. In that same year, Weisgerber and a “group of concerned citizens” sought to preserve Betsy’s former Philadelphia residence at 239 Arch Street, where she lived at the time the flag would have been sewed. Weisgerber moved his family into the house and immediately opened to the public the room in which Betsy was said to have worked her magic. Ten-cent memberships were sold to fund renovations and donors received a small calendar, to which a cotton 13 star Betsy Ross pattern parade flag was affixed. The effects of these events caused the Ross legend to stick and the story, with the corresponding flag design, has appeared ever since in more places than one could ever hope to count.

Even in the early 20th century, the Betsy Ross pattern remained fairly unusual on actual flags. From the 1890’s – the 1920’s, most 13 star flags displayed a staggered, 3-2-3-2-3 pattern of lineal rows, or else a medallion pattern that featured a single, center star, surrounded by a wreath of 8 stars, with a flanking star in each corner of the canton.

Construction: The canton and stripes of the flag are made of cotton or a cotton blended fabric that has been pieced and joined by machine. The stars of the flag are made of cotton and double-appliquéd (sewn to both sides) with a zigzag stitch. There is a sailcloth canvas binding along the hoist, with two brass grommets, one each at the top and bottom, along which is a maker’s tag that reads: “The Name Annin Guarantees Quality; Defiance; 100% Cotton Bunting.” Defiance was a brand of the Annin Company. Annin is our nation's eldest flag-maker that is still in business today. The company was founded in the 1820's on the New York waterfront, incorporated in 1847, and, though it opened a large manufacturing operation in Verona, New Jersey in 1916, maintained its head office and some production in Manhattan until 1960.

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 is 100% cotton twill that has been washed the treated for colorfastness. The mount was placed in a deep, cove-shaped molding with a very dark brown surface, nearly black, and a rope-style inner lip, to which a flat profile molding, with a finish like old gunmetal, was added as a liner. The glazing is U.V. Protective acrylic (Plexiglas).

Condition: There is modest water staining and oxidation throughout the white stripes, stars, and binding. There is modest to moderate fading in the canton in a pattern that fans out from the upper, hoist end corner. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Collector Level: Beginners and Holiday Gift Giving
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1955
Latest Date of Origin: 1965
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association:
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281

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