Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 40" x 58.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 29" x 47.5"
13 star flag of the type made from roughly the last decade of the 19th century through the first quarter of the 20th century. The stars are arranged in a medallion configuration, with a single, center star and four flanking corner stars. Most 13-star, flags of this period have a less-desirable, staggered row design with stars arranged in counts of 3-2-3-2-3. Medallion patterns, like this one, seem to comprise about 20-25% of such flags that were produced during this era. The pattern had become popular during the Centennial of American independence and remained so through the 1920's.

This particular flag would have been made during the last decade of the 19th century. Note how the stars have an interesting shape with unusually short, conical arms. This "fat" star form is sometimes seen on flags of this particular era, but is very uncommon. I once acquired a small 13 star flag made by Betsy Ross's great-granddaughter, Sarah M. Wilson, in Philadelphia, who sometimes signed her flags along their white cotton hoists with her name, date, and place of manufacture. As an alternative to signing the sleeve, she sometimes signed a small piece of paper and gave it to the purchaser. In this particular case, however, she had chosen to sign a heavy cardboard star pattern to accompany her flag. The star pattern was of this design.

I also bought and sold a 44 star flag with the same peculiar stars. Along the hoist binding was a stamped maker's mark that read: "J.S. Oberholtzer; 5837 Pulaski Avenue; Germantown [Philadelphia], PA," which tends to denote a further correlation between this unusual star shape and Philadelphia area manufacture. I have owned other flags with these stars, sewn in the same manner, but the Oberholtzer example was the only signed one among them.

Why 13 Stars?
13 star flags have been continuously produced throughout our nation's history for purposes both patriotic and utilitarian. This was the original number of stars on the American flag, representing the 13 colonies, so it was appropriate for any flag made in conjunction with celebrations or notions of American independence. 13 star flags were displayed at patriotic events, including Lafayette’s visit in 1825-26, 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 in political campaigning for the same reason.

13 star flags were flown by American ships both private and federal. The U.S. Navy used 13 stars on the ensigns made for small boats, because they wished the stars to be easily discerned at a distance. As the number of stars grew with the addition of new states, two circumstances occurred. One, it became more and more difficult to fit stars on a small flag and two, it became more difficult to view them from afar as individual objects.

The same logic was adopted in the private marketplace. For all practical purposes, commercial flag-makers simply didn't produce flags with pieced-and-sewn construction that were 3-4 feet in length that bore the full star count until well into the 20th century. There are exceptions to this rule, but until this time, the smallest sewn flags were between approximately 5 and 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 small flags for the first time in large quantities. Most measured approximately 2 x 3 feet or 2.5 x 4 feet (like this example), though there was certainly variation. Applying the same logic as the U.S. Navy, flag-makers chose the 13 star count rather than the full complement of stars for sake of ease and visibility. Any flag that has previously been official, remains so according to the flag acts, so 13 star flags were and still remain official today.

The 13 star count has been used throughout our nation's history for a variety of purposes. In addition to its use on small commercial flags and by the U.S. Navy, 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 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.

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 minor mothing throughout, accompanied by minor breakdown along the hoist binding from obvious use. There is minor soiling along the hoist where tacks once aided in affixing the flag to a staff. There is also a small nick in the fabric along the hoist at the center, and remnants of heavy cotton twine along the hoist used to stitch it to a staff or some other object. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Collector Level: Intermediate-Level Collectors and Special Gifts
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1890
Latest Date of Origin: 1900
State/Affiliation: Pennsylvania
War Association: 1898 Spanish American War
Price: SOLD
E-mail: Inquire

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