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Entirely hand-sewn, 13 star American national flag. This is a U.S. Navy small boat ensign, made sometime between 1850 and the opening years of the Civil War (1861-1863); probably the latter, since production increased with the need driven by war. Small boat ensigns were sometimes 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 4-5-4 lineal configuration is both scarcer and more appealing than rows of stars in counts of 3-2-3-2-3, and is generally seen on flags made during the Civil War period and prior. For some reason the 4-5-4 pattern was not popular during the celebration of our nation’s 100-year anniversary of independence in 1876, or thereafter, so it is both desired and more interesting than some other 13 star designs. It is sometimes seen in the 1890’s on small-scale 13 star flags produced by commercial makers, but these are scarce. There was no official star pattern for the 13 star flag set forth in the flag act of June 14th, 1777, and because the original does not survive, nor are descriptions of it recorded in public documents or private journals, no one actually knows what the very first one looked like. Due to its apparent popularity in early America, however, as evidenced by both drawings and surviving 19th century examples, more than one flag expert has hedged that lineal rows of 4-5-4 was probably the original configuration. The flag is entirely hand-sewn. The canton and stripes are made of wool bunting. There is a heavy canvas binding with two hand-sewn, whip-stitched grommets for hoisting. The stars are made of cotton and are 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 appliquéd star could be viewed on both sides of the flag. Although it did conserve fabric, attaching the stars in this fashion took a great degree of skill and was a very time consuming process. I prefer this manner of construction because it almost always results in stars that appear more homemade, less uniform in shape, and thus exhibit the sort of folk qualities that are more desired among collectors. This particular flag is no exception. Note how the irregular profiles and bent arms of the stars add a whimsical element and, in addition to the two rows of hand-stitching, lend a great deal to the overall presentation. This particular 13 star flag is an unusually large among small boat ensigns. The most common variety measured approximately six feet in length. Because the proportions of naval flags was customarily long and narrow, this particular example was certainly longer originally, probably measuring between 8 and 10 feet on the fly. An elongated format was more practical for nautical use, both because it allowed for the fly end to be turned back and hemmed many times to repair losses sustained during windy use at sea, and so that a greater size could be displayed on a shorter amount of vertical space. 13 star flags have been used throughout our Nation’s history for a variety of purposes. The U.S. Navy used the 13 star count on small boats, not only in the 18th century, but throughout much or all of the 19th century, particularly the second half. Ship captains were paranoid about the ability of foreign ships to recognize the flag on the open seas. On small flags in particular, viewed through a spyglass at a distance, the ability discern individual stars was of great concern. Keeping the count at 13 maintained better visibility and consistency. The practice theoretically ended in 1916 following an executive order from then-President Woodrow Wilson, though old military traditions die hard and according to at least one expert, Wilson’s order did not completely dispel the presence of 13 star flags on U.S. Navy craft. Some private ships flew 13 star flags during the same period as the Navy, and the use of yachting ensigns with a wreath of 13 stars surrounding an anchor, which began in 1848, still persists today. Among other uses, 13 star flags were carried by soldiers during the Mexican and Civil Wars and displayed at various patriotic events, including Lafayette’s final visit to the U.S. in 1825-26, the celebration of the Nation's centennial of independence in 1876, and the sesquicentennial in 1926. Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% natural fabrics for support on every seam and throughout the star field. Fabrics of similar coloration were chosen to mask losses. The flag was then hand-stitched to a background of 100% cotton, black in color, which was washed to remove excess dye. An acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye, and the fabric was heat-treated for the same purpose. The mount was then placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.
Inventory Number: 13j-1184


Jeff R. Bridgman American Antiques, llc
Contact   Jeff Bridgman Phone: (717) 502-1281
Period: 19th Century (1801-1900)
Date: 1850-1863
Condition: The fly end of the flag has been significantly shortened during the course of its use as a customary and proper means of repair. There are minor holes throughout from obvious use and moderate soiling. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age.
Measurements: Frame: 57" x 93" Flag: 46.25" x 81.5"
Inventory Other Inventory by this Dealer
Price: Please Call
E-mail: Inquire
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