Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 47" x 72"
Flag Size (H x L): 35.25" x 59.75"

13 star American national flag, made around the time of the 1876 centennial of American independence. The stars of the flag are hand-sewn and double-appliquéd, meaning that they are applied to both sides of the blue canton. These are arranged in rows of 3-2-3-2-3, which is the most often encountered design across 13 star flags with pieced-and-sewn construction that were made during the latter half of the 19th century, especially in the period following the Civil War. Note how the stars do not point upward, however, as one might expect of a modern flag, but instead are canted to the left when the flag is being viewed on the obverse (front), with one tip directed approximately in the 11:00 position.

Why 13 Stars? 13 star flags have been used throughout our nation's history for a variety of purposes. The U.S. Navy used 13 stars on ensigns made for small boats, because they wished the stars to be easily discerned at a distance. This was the original number of stars on the American flag, representing the number of original colonies. As the count 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.

When small flags were produced, commercial makers often applied the same logic as the Navy, selecting the 13 star count, rather than the full complement of stars for the sake of ease and visibility. Any American national flag that has previously been official, remains so today according to the flag acts, so 13 star flags were, and still are, official flags of the United States. Since there was no official star configuration until the 20th century (1912 specifically), the stars on 13 star flag may appear in any one of a host of configurations. At least 60 different designs are known.

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 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 inconsistent.

The purpose of this particular flag is not known with certainty. The construction and general appearance are akin to U.S. Navy flags of this era, but there were regulations for size of small boat ensigns, none of which was specified as measuring 3 feet on the hoist, which is the approximate size of this flag (allowing for slight shrinkage of the wool fabric). U.S. Navy small boat flags varied from 4.5 - 10 feet in length on the fly, with regulations altering as time passed. This flag was shortened during its course of use, as a proper means of in-use repair, so the original length cannot be precisely determined. Unless dictated by military regulations, the American national flag had no official proportions prior to 1912. While the Navy made its own flags during the 19th century, they also acquired them from other sources. At this time in American history, there was little conformity and precise regulations were often overlooked in light of what was practical given available time and resources. So this flag could have seen Navy use, but it does not conform to regulations.

In addition to their use by the Navy, commercial ships sometimes flew 13 star flags for the same purpose. They were also hoisted at patriotic events, and the most major one occurring at the approximate time of this flag's manufacture was the 100th anniversary of American independence. At this time, flags in the 13 star count were being flown to commemorate the original 13 colonies and our victory over Britain in the Revolution. Given its construction, general patriotic use at the centennial is certainly a likely function of this particular flag.

In addition to the uses outlined above, 13 star flags were displayed for other purposes throughout American history. They were flown and waved during the Civil War, to reference past struggles for American liberty, as well as 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. The Navy's use of the 13 star count on small boats officially ended in 1916 following an executive order of President Woodrow Wilson.

Construction: The stars are made of cotton and are hand-sewn and double-appliquéd, meaning that they are applied to both sides. The stripes and canton of the flag are made of wool bunting that has been pieced with treadle stitching. There is a twill cotton hoist with 2 brass grommets.

Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% natural fabrics on every seam and throughout the star field for support. Fabrics of similar coloration were chosen for masking purposes. 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 with a substantial serpentine profile. The glazing is U.V. protective Plexiglas.

Condition: There is an area of minor loss along the top of the canton, near the center, and there is a tear with associated loss along the top edge, where the canton meets the stripe field, continuing into the red stripe. There is moderate loss at the fly end of that same stripe and there is an area of moderate loss in the 2nd white stripe, adjacent to the canton. There are moderate losses along the bottom of the last red stripe and there are minor losses elsewhere in the stripe field. One of the stars is slightly more soiled than the others and there is minor soiling elsewhere. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind the flag during the mounting process for masking purposes. The flag was once longer. The fly end was turned back and hemmed as a proper means of repair. This is both acceptable and expected. 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: 1870
Latest Date of Origin: 1880
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association: 1866-1890 Indian Wars
Price: SOLD
E-mail: Inquire

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