Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 62.75" x 90"
Flag Size (H x L): 49.75" x 76"
13 star American national flag of the mid-19th century, the stars of which are arranged in a six-pointed version of what is known as the "Great Star" or "Great Luminary" pattern, which is distinguished by one large star made out of smaller ones. This is one of about 6 early pieced-and-sewn examples that are known to share this very rare configuration. Though the reason behind the decision to select this particular design is unknown, several explanations are plausible. One is that it mimics the arrangement of stars found on the Great Seal of the United States, which appears within the cloud-like formation above the American eagle. This can be most ready viewed on the reverse of the U.S. one dollar bill, or on the flag of the President of the United States.

In present times, one might identify the design as the Star of David, though this symbol, often identified as the “Shield of David” in early Judaic references, was not in widespread use by members of the Jewish faith until the 20th century.

It could be that the star configuration draws a connection between this particular flag and a historical one of the Revolutionary War era. No 18th century flags are presently known to have survived with this pattern, however, and I know of none that are illustrated in period paintings or drawings. It may be that the source was simply lost to time, but whatever the case may be, one may note that it does represent the most logical manner in which 13 stars may be arranged in a star-shaped pattern.

In addition to the extreme rarity, the graphic presentation is especially compelling. Entirely hand-sewn, the flag was made during the Civil War era. The stars are made of cotton and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides) of the blue canton, which is constructed of fine wool or a wool and cotton blended fabric. Note how the stars are oriented in various positions on their vertical axis and how this contributes to the overall visual effect. The stripes are made of plain weave cotton. Many of the flags of the Civil war era with cotton stripes have cantons that are instead made of wool or a woolen blend, such as this one, which probably reflects a wartime shortage of blue cotton and/or the dye necessary to color it. A narrow cotton sleeve was used to bind the hoist and braided cotton rope, looped at the top and bottom, was stitched firmly inside it. There is an unusual reinforcement around the other three sides of the flag’s perimeter, in the form of a thin cotton cord. When these edges of the flag were bound, the cord was rolled inside the fabric.

The flag is of a size that might be gifted to a military unit as a presentation colors. It also exhibits the sort of wear that one might expect in such a flag if it were carried with some regularity. With beautiful wear, some fading, and many repairs, executed in the period, its appearance is both attractive and endearing. The precise use and history is not known, but an inscription on the white stripe, directly below canton, reads "Mrs. Byron Fay" and appears to be dated "1861" in a separate hand, although this mark is difficult to decipher. Signatures of this fashion typically denote the name of a former owner and it was common to mark flags in this fashion during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The flag is accompanied by a ninth plate daguerreotype of a middle-aged woman who is identified on a modern note as "Laura B. Fay, Aunt, possibly the maker of this flag," as well as a sixth plate daguerreotype of an unidentified gentleman. A 3 x 4.5 in. housewife containing 2pp of inked family inscriptions dating back to 1839 is also included, and references the Fay family name, among others, as well as a connection to the state of Massachusetts.

Small, printed, hand-held parade flags with 13 stars arranged in a 6-pointed, Star of David-like fashion seem to have first appeared in or around 1860. One such flag, with overprinted advertising for the campaign of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin, was discovered in Elmira, New York and is the only surviving example of its kind. Three other parade flags of similar size and vintage, printed with different pigment, have also surfaced without the Lincoln & Hamlin text. Other parade flags are known, of a slightly later period, with this configuration. Some are known to have been printed alongside 39 star flags that are definitely 1876 vintage, made for the celebration of our nation’s 100-year anniversary of independence from Great Britain. Others, printed on a slightly different fabric, have been found with hand-written dates that place their use [though not necessarily their manufacture] in the late 1880's. These could be left-over centennial flags, or they may be of even earlier manufacture, but probably do not pre-date the Civil War (1861-65). All of the above printed flags are extremely scarce, but pieced-and-sewn examples, like the one in question here, are extremely rare. While thousands of 13 star flags exist that were made throughout the 19th century, flag-makers did not, for some reason, prefer this star configuration, despite its prominent presence on the Great Seal.

At approximately four by just under six-and-a-half feet, the flag is actually small in scale for the period. Flags needed to be large to serve their purpose as signals. Garrison flags of this time measured between 35 and 45 feet on the fly. Even infantry battle flags measured six by six-and-a-half feet on the fly. Collectors generally prefer smaller examples, like this one, which can be more easily framed and displayed in an indoor setting.

In summary, this is an exceptional flag of the Civil War era, with one of the rarest of all known star patterns, with beautiful and endearing wear, and in a rather small scale among pieced and sewn examples of the period. Of masterpiece quality, it would be an outstanding addition to even the most advanced collection.

Why 13 Stars?
13 star flags have been flown throughout our nation’s history for a variety of purposes. They 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. 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. The U.S. Navy used the 13 star count on small boats until 1916, because it was easier to discern fewer stars at a distance on a small flag. Commercial flag-makers mirrored this practice and some private ships flew 13 star flags during the same period as the Navy. The use of yachting ensigns with a wreath of 13 stars surrounding a fouled anchor, which allowed pleasure boats to bypass customs between 1848 and 1980, persists today without an official purpose.

Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% silk organza for support on every seam and throughout the star field. 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. The glazing is U.V. protective Plexiglas.

Condition: There are repairs to the fly end in 10 of the 13 stripes. There are numerous minor losses throughout. There is consistent fading throughout the original portion of the red stripes and minor staining throughout the same portion of the white stripes. The canton has three patched repairs to areas with loss and areas of uneven fading. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. The flag presents beautifully and the extreme rarity of 13 star flags in this configuration warrants almost any condition.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1861
Latest Date of Origin: 1865
State/Affiliation: Massachusetts
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: SOLD
E-mail: Inquire

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