|OUTSTANDING, 13 STAR, ANTIQUE AMERICAN PRIVATE YACHT ENSIGN WITH GREAT FOLK QUALITIES THAT INCLUDE AN UNUSUALLY WIDE ANCHOR AND A DECIDEDLY LOPSIDED RING OF 13 STARS; MADE DURING THE 2ND HALF OF THE 19TH CENTURY; ITS DEVICE HAND-SEWN AND SINGLE-APPLIQUÉD
|Frame Size (H x L):||58.25" x 78.5"|
|Flag Size (H x L):||46.75" x 67"|
|Private yacht ensigns were approved American signals for maritime use that allowed pleasure boats to bypass customs. Though the legislation that approved them was adopted prior to 1850, almost all such flags that one will encounter were sewn by electric machine and made during the 20th century. The unusual gems among surviving examples are those that are earlier and include hand-sewn elements. Even more rare are a select few with atypical graphics. Barely any fall into both of these categories at once. Take note of the anchor on this particular flag, wide a long horizontal crossbar (stock) that contributes to uncommonly wide stance. Set within a ring of stars that is decidedly lopsided, the result is as bold as it is endearingly whimsical—two of the best qualities in American folk art, a category in which this particular example can be filed. While I have owned 13 star private yacht flags that have displayed star and canted anchor devices that were somewhat larger and/or bolder than typical, I cannot recall any that were so graphically intriguing as this one.
Brief History of Private Yacht Ensigns:
The medallion configuration, 13-star, 13-stripe flag, with a canted center anchor was entered into official use in 1848, following an act of Congress, that made it the official signal for U.S. pleasure sailing vessels. The need for such a flag arose with the popularity of boating as a pastime for well-to-do Americans, and as a competitive sport, in addition to its longstanding utilitarian role as a vehicle of trade. In early America, all boats were subject to customs searches at every port. Without modern income tax, the federal government derived its revenues mostly from tariffs, so an accounting of foreign goods on ships was a critical venture. As yachting for pleasure became more prevalent, however, more and more time was spent searching boats that had no such inventory, wasting time for both customs officials and wealthy ship owners.
John Cox Stevens, a former president of the Jockey Club and future founder of the Union League Club, became the New York Yacht Club’s Commodore upon its founding in 1845. In 1847 he approached the secretary of the treasury and suggested that something be done to streamline the customs process for non-trade vessels. In 1848, legislation passed Congress requiring registration of these boats, which could then fly the “American Yachting Signal” to bypass customs. This remained on the books until the 1980’s, when the 1848 legislation was revoked, but the use of flags in this design for decorative function continues to this day.
13 star flags have been flown throughout our nation’s history for a variety of purposes. In addition to their use on private yachts, they were hoisted at patriotic events, including Lafayette’s final visit in 1824-25, the celebration of the nation’s centennial 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. The U.S. Navy used the 13 star count on small boats until 1916, because it was easier to discern fewer stars at a distance on a small flag. Commercial flag-makers mirrored this practice and some private ships flew 13 star flags during the same period as the Navy.
Construction: The stars and anchor are made of cotton, hand-sewn, and single-appliquéd. This means that they were applied to one side of the canton, then the blue fabric was cut from behind each star, folded over, and under-hemmed, so that one star could be viewed on both sides of the flag. I always find single-appliquéd stars more interesting, not only because they are evidence of a more difficult level of seam-work and stitching, but also because they are more visually intriguing. The two visible rows of hand-stitching emphasize their hand-sewn construction. For these reasons, single-appliquéd stars often appeal to connoisseurs of early American textiles. The canton and the stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting that has been pieced with machine stitching. Because wool bunting generally came in a width of 18 inches in this period, two lengths were required to construct a canton of this height. In this case, note how the top length of blue fabric is full width, with selvedge at the top and bottom, while the lower length was pieced from four small segments that were expertly seamed with hand-stitching, as a means of consuming all available leftover fabric. The use of this many pieces in the canton of one flag is interesting to see and rather unusual. There is a twill cotton binding along the hoist, with two brass grommets.
Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed within 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.
The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% silk organza on every seam and throughout the star field for support. The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color, that has been washed and treated for color fastness. The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. Protective acrylic (Plexiglas).
Condition: The overall condition is great for a wool flag of this period and the flag presents beautifully. There is minor to modest staining throughout, with modest to moderate occurrences throughout the canted anchor, near the center of the 1st, 2nd, and 4th white stripes, at the beginning of the 3rd white stripe, and in the approximate center of the hoist binding. There are minor to modest losses throughout, the most significant which are located toward the fly end of the first red stripe, about 3/4 of the way across the first white stripe, approximately 1/4 of the way across the third red stripe, where it joins with the white stripe below it, about 3/4 of the distance across the 4th white stripe and near the fly end of the last red stripe. Antique wool bunting of similar coloration, and of similar date, was placed behind some of these areas for masking purposes, as well as behind a couple more minor areas of loss, near the center of the 5th white stripe and at near the beginning of the last red stripe. 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|
|Earliest Date of Origin:||1865|
|Latest Date of Origin:||1885|
|State/Affiliation:||13 Original Colonies|
|Price:||Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281|