|13 STARS ARRANGED IN A HIGHLY UNUSUAL VERSION OF A 3-2-3-2-3 LINEAL STAR CONFIGURATION THAT FEATURES A LARGE CENTER STAR; A SMALL-SCALE FLAG OF THE 1890-1910 ERA:
This 13 star antique American flag is of the type made during 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 late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it displays a very unusual feature by way of the large star in the center of the third row.
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. That condition is particularly keen in the graphic thrust of this flag, due to the presence of the large star. In this instance the optical presence of horizontal rows virtually disappears in favor of a diamond-shaped medallion.
Large stars are commonly found at the center of circular star patterns, but are especially rare in lineal formations. That said, the feature of a large star amidst rows appears in some of the earliest flags, among them a 4-5-4 pattern 13 star flag that may date to the 18th century and the only 17-star, 17-stripe flag presently known to exist, which has specific history to the War of 1812.
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 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, 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 not consistent.
Why 13 Stars?
As the number of stars grew with the addition of new states, it became more and more difficult to fit the full complement of stars 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 stars would become one white mass and distort the ability to identify American ships on the open seas.
The U.S. Navy used 13 stars on its small-scale flags for precisely this reason. This was, of course, the original number of stars on the first American national flag, by way of the First Flag Act of 1777, and equal to the number of original colonies that became states.
For all practical purposes, commercial flag-makers simply didn't produce flags with pieced-and-sewn construction that were 3 to 4 feet in length before the 1890's. There are exceptions to this rule, but until this time, the smallest sewn flags were approximately 6 feet on the fly. The primary use had long been more utilitarian than decorative, and flags needed to be large to be effective as signals. But private use grew with the passage of time, which led to the need for long-term use flags of more manageable scale.
Beginning around 1890, flag-makers began to produce 3 and 4-foot flags for the first time in large quantities. Applying the same logic as the U.S. Navy, they chose the 13 star count rather than the full complement of stars for sake of ease and visibility. 5-foot examples, like this one, can appear in either the full star count or 13 stars.
Any flag that has previously been official, remains so according to the flag acts, so 13 star flag remain official national flags of the United States of America.
The 13 star count has been used throughout our nation's history for a variety of other purposes. 13 star flags were hoisted at patriotic events, including Lafayette’s visit in 1825-26, the celebration of the nation's centennial in 1876, and the Sesquicentennial in 1926, as well as for annual celebrations of Independence Day. They were displayed during the Civil War, to reference past struggles for American liberty, and were used by 19th century politicians in political campaigning. The use of yachting ensigns with a wreath of 13 stars surrounding an fouled anchor, which allowed pleasure boats to bypass customs between 1848 and 1980, persists today without an official purpose.
Construction: The canton and stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting, pieced by machine. The cotton stars are machine-sewn with a zigzag stitch and double-appliquéd (applied to both sides of the flag). There is a sailcloth canvas binding along the hoist with two brass grommets.
Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% silk organza 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, which was washed to reduce 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 Plexiglas.
Condition: There is very minor mothing. There is a series of 6 small tack holes with associated rust stains along the hoist. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.