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  REVENUE CUTTER SERVICE ENSIGN WITH A BLUE EAGLE AMID AN ARCH OF 13 BLUE STARS, ON A WHITE FIELD, AND 16 VERTICAL RED AND WHITE STRIPES, CA 1890-1900

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 42.5" x 60"
Flag Size (H x L): 30.5" x 48"
Description....:
United States Revenue Cutter Service ensign, made in the period between 1895 and 1915. This stunning design was adopted by an act of Congress in 1799 for use on Revenue Cutter ships. At this time there were 16 states in the Union and for this reason Revenue Cutter Service flags typically have 16 “stripes”. There may have been 16 blue stars on the earliest Revenue Cutter Service flags, set in an unspecified pattern around a large eagle on a white canton. Sadly, no original survives. Some early illustrations show 15 stars with a complement of 16 stripes. 15 was the official star count on the American national flag from 1795 until 1818 and so would have been appropriate for that period.

Among the tiny number of examples of actual flags of the Revenue Cutter Service that survive to the present day, all bear 13 stars and 16 stripes, save one that has 13 stars and 13 stripes, and another that bears 13 stars and 17 stripes. The latter two flags probably represent errors in the design. 13 stripes were probably chosen because there were 13 stripes on the American national flag, and the maker was perhaps unaware of the difference, while 17 stripes was perhaps selected because it seemed illogical to start the flag on a red stripe and end on white. And additional red would have visually balanced the field in a predictable manner.

The best feature on this style of flag is the device, which consists of an arch of blue stars above a blue, spread-winged eagle, with a federal shield upon its breast and grasping the typical olive branch and arrows. Since eagles are both rare and very desirable on surviving early American flags of all kinds, and because the RCS design is so visually arresting, I find them to be the most beautiful adaptations of the Stars & Stripes.

Brief History of the “Revenue Marine” or Revenue Cutter Service:

The Revenue Cutter Service was founded in 1790 by U.S. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, through an act of the United States Congress. Its job was to protect merchant ships in and around major ports. Such measures ensured the safe transport of goods with regard to looting and piracy, and also oversaw that proper tariffs were collected on trade goods. Because there was no income tax, this was an extremely important function for the Treasury.

Following the Revolutionary War, America had no navy. Vast debt incurred to fund the war was partially repaid by the sale of all remaining warships, and the most significant source of government revenue was taxes collected on import goods. 10 ships were ordered by the "Revenue Marine", as it was originally called, and distributed among various ports. And while the U.S. Treasury held the overall umbrella for the Revenue Marine, the captain of each ship was directly responsible to the customs collector in whatever port the ship sailed from. Captains had wide-ranging authority to do what they saw fit to keep order, and could board and search any vessel whether docked or at sea.

From 1790 until the U.S. Navy reformed in 1798, the Revenue Marine cutters were the only armed American ships in government service. Afterwards they fought alongside the Navy and have since participated in every major U.S. seafaring conflict. The mission, general orders, and organization of Revenue Marine was reformed and revised a couple of times during the 19th century. First by default, and later by revised general orders, one of its functions became the rescue of ships in distress. In 1894, the name was formally changed to the Revenue Cutter Service and this is the term most widely used today by historians and collectors of related artifacts.

In 1915 The RCS merged with the U.S. Lifesaving Service to form the U.S. Coast Guard. As of this date it was no longer responsible to the U.S. Treasury, but instead became a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces under the War Department and responsible to the president. Today it falls under the Department of Homeland Security in times of peace, but at times of war its direction can be transferred by the president to the U.S. Navy.

Construction: The canton and stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting that has been pieced with machine stitching. The cotton stars were double-appliquéd (applied to both sides) with a lineal machine stitch. There is a heavy canvas binding along the hoist with two brass grommets. The most likely date of manufacture of this flag is ca 1890-1895, though it could have been produced slightly thereafter.

Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% natural fabrics for support throughout. Fabric of similar coloration was chosen to mask losses. Then flag was then hand-sewn to a background of 100% cotton twill, black in color. The black fabric 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 acrylic.

Condition: There is minor mothing throughout, accompanied by a couple of areas modest to moderate loss in the 3rd and last white stripes. There is a line of moderate to significant mothing that runs horizontally across the flag in the white stripes, about 1/4 of the way from the bottom. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind these areas for masking purposes. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age.
Collector Level: Intermediate-Level Collectors and Special Gifts
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1890
Latest Date of Origin: 1895
State/Affiliation:
War Association:
Price: SOLD
E-mail: Inquire
 

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