Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
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13 STARS WITH SHORT, CONICAL ARMS ON A SMALL SCALE, ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG MADE DURING THE LAST DECADE F THE 19TH CENTURY; POSSIBLY OF PHILADELPHIA ORIGIN; FORMERLY IN THE COLLECTION OF BOLESLAW & MARIE D'OTRANGE MASTAI, THE FIRST MAJOR COLLECTORS TO PUBLISH A PICTORIAL REFERENCE (KNOPF, NEW YORK, 1973):

13 STARS WITH SHORT, CONICAL ARMS ON A SMALL SCALE, ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG MADE DURING THE LAST DECADE F THE 19TH CENTURY; POSSIBLY OF PHILADELPHIA ORIGIN; FORMERLY IN THE COLLECTION OF BOLESLAW & MARIE D'OTRANGE MASTAI, THE FIRST MAJOR COLLECTORS TO PUBLISH A PICTORIAL REFERENCE (KNOPF, NEW YORK, 1973):

Web ID: 13j-1682
Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 42" x 61"
Flag Size (H x L): 30" x 48.75"
 
Description:
13 star flag of the type made from roughly the last decade of the 19th century through the first quarter of the 20th. The stars are arranged in rows of 3-2-3-2-3, which is the most often seen pattern in 13 star flags of the latter 19th and early 20th centuries.

In most cases the 3-2-3-2-3 design 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 3-2-3-2-3 pattern can also be interpreted 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 erroneously attributed 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.

This particular flag was made during the last decade of the 19th century. The canton and stripes are made of wool bunting that has been pieced with machine stitching. The stars are made of cotton and double-appliquéd (applied to both sides) with a zigzag machine stitch. There is a heavy twill cotton binding along the hoist with two brass grommets.

Note how the stars have profiles, with short, conical arms. Though extremely uncommon, their distinctive bulbous shape is sometimes encountered on commercially-produced flags of this era. I once acquired a flag made by Betsy Ross's great-granddaughter, Sarah M. Wilson, who made little flags with 13 stars in the east Wing of Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, and sold them to visitors. Sarah typically signed her flags along their white binding, accompanied by a date and location. As an alternative to signing the hoist, in this particular instance she elected to instead sign a pressed paper pattern of

a star, used in the making of larger flags. The profile of the pattern was in this design. Among the flags I have owned with stars of this format was one in the 44 star count, stamped along the binding with a maker's mark that read: "J.S. Oberholtzer; 5837 Pulaski Avenue; Germantown [Philadelphia], PA." Due to the above two facts, I suspect that the flags that employed stars in this shape to have been manufactured in the Philadelphia area. I have owned other flags with the same, peculiar stars, sewn in the same manner, but the Oberholtzer example was the only one among them that was signed.

This flag was formerly part of the collection of Boleslaw and Marie D'Otrange Mastai. The Mastai’s held one of the most important private collections of American flags in the country, and their landmark book “The Stars and the Stripes” (Knopf, New York, 1973) was the first major pictorial text on flag collecting. The red-inked Mastai stamp appears three times on the binding, including twice on the obverse and once on the reverse. One of these is accompanied by their numbered identification “No. 239” in green or faded blue pencil. In most instances, modern markings such as these would be considered problematic to a collector. In the case of the Mastai’s, however, their presence is just the opposite, adding substantial interest.

In addition to the above, a previous penciled inscription near the Mastai numbering, on the obverse of the binding, appears to read “Phil.” This is very difficult to discern, though such an inscription would not be surprising, given the probability of origin described above.

Why 13 Stars?
We have made 13 star flags in America from at least 1777, when the first Flag Act was passed, until the present. Since that time, 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 keenly appropriate for any device made in conjunction with notions of American independence. They were hoisted at patriotic events of all kinds, including Lafayette’s final visit to the U.S. in 1825-1826, the celebration of our nation’s centennial of in 1876, annual observances of Independence Day, and countless others.

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. 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 the precisely when the Navy began to revert to 13 stars and other low counts. Some feel that the use of 13 star flags never ceased, which seems to be supported by depictions of American ships in period artwork.

Prior to the 1890’s flags with pieced-and-sewn construction, as opposed to printed parade flags, were typically 8 feet long and larger. A 6-footer was considered small. During the last decade of the 19th century, flag-makers began to produce small flags for the first time in large quantities, namely with dimensions of 2 x 3 feet or 2.5 x 4 feet, like this example. Applying the same logic as the U.S. Navy, they chose the 13 star count rather than the full complement of stars. For all practical purposes, commercial flag-makers simply didn't produce flags in these sizes, with pieced-and-sewn construction, with rare exception, until well into the 20th century.

The use of yachting ensigns with a wreath of 13 stars surrounding a fouled anchor, which allowed pleasure boats to bypass customs between 1848 and 1980, persists today without an official purpose. Because any flag that has previously been official, remains so today, according to the flag acts, 13 star flags both were and currently remain official flags of the United States.

Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% natural fabrics throughout for support on every seam and throughout the star field. It was then hand-stitched to a background of 100% cotton twill, black in color, that was washed and treated for colorfastness. The mount was then placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective Plexiglas.

Condition: There is minor mothing and/or minor losses throughout, accompanied by modest to modest of the same in limited areas, the most significant of which are located in the second half of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th white stripes. Fabric of similar coloration was used as the supportive underlay for masking purposes in both the canton and the striped field. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Video:
   
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type:
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1890
Latest Date of Origin: 1899
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association: 1898 Spanish American War
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281
E-mail: info@jeffbridgman.com


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