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  U.S. NAVY JACK WITH 30 STARS, AN ENTIRELY HAND-SEWN, PRE-CIVIL WAR EXAMPLE WITH GREAT COLOR AND BOLD VISUAL QUALITIES, WISCONSIN STATEHOOD, 1848-1850

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 66" x 87.25"
Flag Size (H x L): 51.5" x 72.75"
Description....:
Like the British Royal Navy, American vessels flew three flags. When at anchor or moored, the jack is flown at the bow (front), the national flag or "ensign" is flown at the stern (back), and the commission pennant is flown from the at the main mast. When under way, the Jack is furled and the ensign may be kept in place or shifted to a gaff if the ship is so equipped.

The American Navy jack is a blue flag with a field of white stars. The design is the mirror image of the canton of an American national flag. In scale, the jack was meant to be the same size as the canton of the corresponding Stars & Stripes ensign with which it was flown.

Made sometime between 1848 and 1850, this terrific early example has a complement of 30 stars, arranged in a fairly rectilinear pattern, comprised of 5 rows with 6 stars each. All have one point canted in the 11:00 position when the flag is viewed on its obverse (front). With fat, starfish-like profiles, the stars are notably huge, encompassing much of the available space. Both these and the field are made entirely of wool bunting. This is typical for the canton and stripes of American national flags of the 19th century that were produced for maritime use, but the stars of such flags are almost universally made of cotton. Wool stars are encountered on only the rarest of occasions in my experience and are a particularly interesting find.

The flag is entirely hand-sewn, as-is expected in this period. The stars are single-appliquéd, meaning that they were applied to one side of the flag (in this case the obverse), 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. While some flag experts have suggested that this method was a means of conserving fabric, since the maker didn’t have to sew a star to both sides, others suggest that the real purpose was to make the flag lighter in weight. I believe that it probably was intended to serve both functions.

I always find single-appliquéd stars more interesting, both because they are evidence of a more difficult level of seam-work and stitchery and because with two rows of stitching instead of one, they naturally appear earlier and more hand-made than their double-appliquéd counterparts. This method of construction appeals to connoisseurs of early American textiles, who appreciate the texture and homemade qualities of single-appliqué work. Although on rare occasion the technique can be seen on flags made into the very beginning of the 20th century, it tends to be most prevalent in flags of the Civil War (1861-65) and prior, and is the method of choice on the very earliest American flags with appliquéd stars. Note the careful use of two colors of thread, chosen accordingly with the colors of the adjacent fabric.

A sleeve of coarsely woven linen binds the hoist, through which a braided length of cotton rope was passed and stitched into place, with a loop at the top and a wooden toggle below. This type of hoist is typical for maritime use.

The field is constructed of three lengths of wool bunting, and of particular note is its beautiful shade of Prussian blue. When this appealing and fairly unusual color is combined with the size and shape of the stars, the irregularity of their placement within the rows, and the their beautiful single-appliquéd construction, the result is a dramatic display of folk quality and visual interest.

The 30th state, Wisconsin, joined the Union on May 29th, 1848. The 30 star flag was official until July 3rd, 1851, but 30 star flags would not likely have been made following the addition of California in 1850. Flag-makers paid little heed to official star counts unless required by the person(s) requesting that flags be produced to some particular design. While the Flag Act of 1818 dictated that the star count would officially change on the 4th of July following the date of a state's acceptance, stars were generally added by the makers of flags when the state was added (sometimes even beforehand). This means that the 30 star flag had a realistic window of production of just over two years.

Flags made prior to the Civil War are rare, comprising less than one percent of 19th century flags that exist in the 21st century. Prior to the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, the Stars & Stripes was simply not used for most of the same purposes we employ it in today. Private individuals did not typically display the flag in their yards and on their porches. Parade flags didn't often fly from carriages and horses. Places of business rarely hung flags in their windows. Private use of the national flag rose swiftly during the patriotism that accompanied the Civil War, then exploded in 1876.

Even the military did not use the flag in a manner that most people might think. Most people would be surprised to learn that the infantry wasn’t authorized to carry the Stars & Stripes until the 1830’s, and even then did not often exercise the right, because it was neither required nor customary. The primary purpose before the Mexican War (1846-48) was to mark ships on the open seas. While the flag was used to mark garrisons and government buildings, the flags of ground troops were often limited to the flag of their own regiment and a federal standard.

Further Comments on Terminology & Use:

While the technical name for this type of flag was a "union jack," the confusing verbiage, being the same as the nickname of the most recognizable British flag, has resulted in a common shortening of the term to simply "the jack". Interestingly enough, the British Union Jack is not the proper name for that signal either. The design commonly called the "Union Jack" is actually the "Union Flag," though practically no one uses or is even familiar with the term. The only time that it can be properly called the "Union Jack" is when it is, in fact, flown as the jack on a British Navy ship. Because the British fly various national flags: the white ensign (Royal Navy), blue ensign (non-navy ships in public service), and red ensign (merchant ships), each of which is composed of a wide field the corresponding color, with the Union Flag design as its canton, the use of the Union Flag as the jack on Royal Navy ships employs the same logic as using the blue field with stars, without the red and white striped field, as the American jack.

Early American ship paintings suggest that the various flags and pennants common to U.S. Navy ships, were sometimes flown on non-navy vessels. One may occasionally observe them in portraits of merchant ships and yachts, dressed with a complement of colorful ensigns and signals for special occasions. Because ship paintings were often commissioned, with both painter and purchaser wishing to display the craft in the most splendid manner possible, flags may be present in these images that were not regularly flown or even appropriate in the chosen setting. The same can be true in the sketched and painted views of U.S. Navy ships.

Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% natural fabrics throughout for support. It was then hand-stitched to a background of cotton twill, ivory in color. 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 to moderate loss in the blue wool bunting, with the most affected area being the bottom, fly-end corner, followed by the upper corner on that end and the bottom of the hoist, adjacent to the binding. There are minor to moderate losses in the white wool bunting of the stars. There is moderate soiling in one star and very limited, minor soiling elsewhere. 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
Star Count: 30
Earliest Date of Origin: 1848
Latest Date of Origin: 1850
State/Affiliation: Wisconsin
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: SOLD
E-mail: Inquire
 

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