Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Antique Flags > American Flags



Web ID: 13j-1677
Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 77" x 48.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 65" x 36.5"
13 star American national flag of the type used by the U.S. Navy on small boats around the turn-of-the-century. 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.

The U.S. Navy flew 13 star flags, not only in the Revolutionary and early Federal periods, following the First Flag Act of 1777, but throughout much or all of the 19th century, particularly the second half. As the total number of states increased, and subsequently the number of stars on our nations flag, the Navy often maintained the lower count on smaller flags, to insure that the stars, themselves, would be easier to discern at a distance.

Flag experts disagree about precisely when the Navy began to employ this practice, on what they referred to as “small boat ensigns.” Some feel that the use of 13 star flags never stopped, which seems to be supported by depictions of ships in period artwork. Less consistent prior to the Civil War, and more so afterwards, the tradition continued until 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson wrote an Executive Order that ended the Navy’s use of 13 stars, in favor of small flags in the full star count. According to flag expert Grace Rogers Cooper, of the Smithsonian, old traditions die hard, and Wilson’s order did not completely dispel the presence of 13 star flags on U.S. Navy craft. While I don’t doubt this to be the case, over the years I have, thus far, personally discovered just one exception.

The flag that is the subject of this narrative is signed along the hoist, on the reverse, by way of a black stencil that reads: "U.S. Ensign No. 7; Mare Island Dec. 02.” "No. 7" is a size designation for a small boat flag that, per U.S. Navy Regulations of 1899, was to measure 2.90 x 5.50 feet.

As a rule, the Navy made its own flags at various locations. In addition to Mare Island, principal seats of manufacture included the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York, Cavite, in the Philippine Islands, the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, and Newport News, Virginia. With but a few exceptions, such flags went unmarked until the 1880's and after, and some were not marked at all.

The stars of the flag are configured in rows of 3-2-3-2-3. In most cases this can also be viewed as a diamond of stars, with a star in each corner and a star in the very center. It is of interest to note that the pattern can also be interpreted as a combination of the cross of St. Andrew and the cross of St. George, which some feel could have been the configuration on the very first American flag, possibly representing a link between this star pattern and the British Union Jack. The arrangement 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. Hopkinson is credited with having played the most significant role of any person in the design of the American flag, but his original drawings have not survived. Further, while he is known to have depicted arrangements of 13 stars on other objects, such as various seals and colonial currencies, his renderings on other devices are inconsistent. Three of the his known renderings illustrate a random scattering, with no particular pattern. None show a 3-2-3-2-3.

The stars are hand-sewn, made of cotton, and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). Note how they are exceptionally large relative to the size of the canton, when compared to most other flags throughout American history. Also note how they are oriented so that the 1st, 3rd, and 5th rows are comprised of stars that all have one arm directed upwards, while the two rows in-between each have one arm directed downwards, and so are “upside-down” with respect to modern convention. Orientation of the stars on Navy-produced, small boat ensigns varied. Some flag historians report that the stars had no consistent orientation in the early periods, then became regimented, but with specifications that varied over time. There were specifications for star orientation in the closing decades of the use of 13 star small boat flags, but with the privilege to examined a large number of these flags over the years, I have discovered numerous inconsistencies. As with many objects in antiques, inconsistency is sometimes more of a rule than an exception.

The canton and stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting, of an unusually heavy weight, that has been pieced and sewn with machine stitching. The patches in the upper and lower, hoist-end corners are called gussets. These are original to the flag's construction and were added for reinforcement at the points where it was subject to the most wear. Note that their coloration is unlike the rest of the flag. This is due to the fact that the fabric was selected from scraps left over from the making of other flags, in which different dye lots of wool bunting were used.

There is a blended, hemp and flax binding along the hoist, with 3 patent-dated brass grommets, each of which reads: “Pat’d Aug. 26, 1884, No. 1”. The presence of this dating is a very nice feature. Grommets on other types of flags are never so specifically marked.

Brief Information on Mare Island:
Located on the western edge of the City of Vallejo, about 23 miles northeast of San Francisco, Mare Island (actually a peninsula) served as a principal seat of U.S. Navy defense, beginning in the mid-19th century. The site was originally chosen following an expedition that set forth in 1850, when Commodore John Drake Sloat was ordered to lead a survey party in quest of a logical site for the nation's first Pacific naval installation. Sloat recommended the island across the Napa River from the settlement of Vallejo; it being "free from ocean gales and from floods and freshets." On November 6th of that year, two months after California was admitted to statehood, President Fillmore reserved Mare Island for government use. The U.S. Navy Department acted favorably on Commodore Sloat's recommendations and Mare Island was purchased in July, 1852, for the sum of $83,410 for the use as a naval shipyard. Two years later, on September 16th, 1854, Mare Island became the first permanent U.S. naval installation on the West Coast, with Commodore David G. Farragut serving as Mare Island's first base commander.

The base became home to what was known as the Pacific Fleet, and remained so until the threat of Japanese expansionism caused the shift to a more advanced position at Pearl Harbor. It was very active in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, but would eventually close in 1993 after Congress approved the findings of the Base Realignment and Closure Report.

In addition to their use on U.S. Navy ships, some private ships flew 13 star examples throughout the 19th century. Beginning around 1890, commercial makers began to produce small flags for the first time in significant quantity. When they did, they chose the 13 star count, mirroring Navy practice. This continued into at least the first two decades of the 20th century. The use of yachting ensigns with a wreath of 13 stars, surrounding a fouled anchor, allowed pleasure boats to bypass customs between 1848-1980. Though they no longer serve this function, their use persists widely today in the boating community, without an official purpose.

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 fabric is 100% cotton twill, black in color, that was washed and treated for color-fastness. The mount was placed in a black-painted Italian molding with a wide, sculpted profile and a silver gilt inner lip. The glazing is U.V. protective Plexiglas. Feel free to contact us for more details.

Condition: Report forthcoming.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1902
Latest Date of Origin: 1902
State/Affiliation: California
War Association:
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281

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