Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 50" x 73.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 6" x 237.5" (unfurled)
Commissioning pennants are the distinguishing mark of a commissioned U.S. Navy ship. These have a narrow blue canton, followed by one red over one white stripe. A ship becomes commissioned when this pennant is hoisted. Flown during both times of peace and war, the only time the pennant is not flown is if a flag officer or civilian official is aboard and replaces it with his/her own flag.

Homeward Bound Pennants (a.k.a., Coming Home Pennants) were not part of Navy regulations, but were a matter of tradition. These are limited to ships that had been outside the United States for at least 270 consecutive days. Flown in place of the normal commission pennant, they were hoisted from the time the ship got under way to a U.S. port and remained at mast until sunset on the day of arrival.

Early on, commissioning pennants had a number of stars equal to that on the national flag. As more and more states joined the Union, however, it became impractical to use the full complement of stars, especially on smaller examples. During the mid-late 19th century, many substituted 13 stars for the full count, to reflect the original colonies and to mirror the star count used by the navy on most of the Stars & Stripes flags that it flew on small craft. "U.S. Navy small boat ensigns," as they are called, most often had 13 stars.

Early commissioning pennants could reach as long as 100 feet on the fly, while homeward bound pennants could conceivably have been of equally great length. A small pennant was 20-30 feet, though even smaller examples were sometimes used. Those in the 8-20 foot range sometimes bore 7 stars, for reasons unknown. Sometime around 1910, the function of commissioning pennants leaned away from identification and more toward ceremony and custom. By WWI (U.S. involvement 1917-18) all such signals bore 7 stars and the largest measured just two-and-a-half inches by six feet.

Because longer examples appear to have been regularly discarded, they are somewhat of a rarity in the antiques marketplace. Often mistaken for merely a piece of flag, they were destined to be overlooked by family members when salvaging important relics from an estate of a sailor.

The difficulty in distinguishing a commission pennant from a homeward bound pennant is that they look the same. Only the number of stars differed. Homeward bound pennants received one star for the ship's first 9 months continuously outside U.S. waters, then another star for each additional 6 months. The length of the pennant was to be one foot for each member of the crew who has been on duty outside the United States for nine months or more, but was not supposed to exceed the length of the ship itself.

Once the ship arrived home, a homeward bound pennant was traditionally divided among the crew, with the captain getting the blue segment and stars and the crew dividing the red and white striped portion equally. Coming home pennants are rare and this would probably explain why.

Most of the pennants that I encounter that date between the 19th century through the 19-teens are commissioning pennants with the tell-tale 13 stars that identify their function, plus a few with 7 stars. While a ship could theoretically be out of the U.S. for exactly the number of months to arrive at a count of 13 stars, the probability that any given example with 13 stars is a coming home pennant is understandably slim. Every navy ship had a commissioning pennant, but few had homeward bound pennants and most of these were cut up and souvenired by the crew.

A further factor allowing proper distinction may exist in a pennant's construction. Commissioning pennants would normally be brought aboard ship before it set out, made by the Navy's own professional flag-makers or else commercially produced to an officer's specifications. The coming home pennant, on the other hand, was traditionally sewn aboard ship, or perhaps made by modifying a commissioning pennant.

This particular pennant, with just 10 stars, would reflect 15 months of service in foreign waters. At just 2.5" shy of 20 feet, it can be reasonably assumed that 20 feet may have been its original length, or it may have been slightly longer, probably no more than 24 or 25 feet. It seems quite apparent that 10 was its original was its original complement of stars. Made of wool bunting and commercially-produced, both the stripes and canton are pieced with treadle stitching. The stars are made of cotton and are double-appliqu├ęd (applied to both sides) with a lineal machine stitch. There is a heavy canvas binding along the hoist, sewn in the same manner, which encases a wooden dowel for extra support and has one brass grommet. The name "Jordan" is carefully written along the binding in what appears to be pencil.

Although there was no Navy ship by this name until WWII, the name could be that of the captain who took it home in place of a typical souveniring. The lettering is indicative of the 19th century, while the construction of the pennant is typical of the period between 1890 and 1895, though it could date slightly prior to or following that time span. The Spanish-American War (1898) or the tour of Theodore Roosevelt's Great White Fleet (1907-1909) are both possibilities.

My research turned up no obvious matches on the name "Jordan". Admiral Dewey's chief gunner's mate on his flagship, Olympia, was a man by the name of John Jordan. The first man to fire a shot at the Battle of Manila Bay was Robert Penn Jordan. Both men were African American. Neither seems precisely likely to having been presented with an entire homeward bound pennant in lieu of souveniring.

While the specific story remains unknown, this is the norm as opposed to the exception. Perhaps 1% or fewer of 19th century flags retain any sort of known specific history, and whatever the case may be, it remains a rare and interesting artifact among early American naval signals.

Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed in our own conservation department, which is led by masters degree trained staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples; more than anyone worldwide.

The fabric is cotton twill, black in color. The black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed molding is Italian and has a wide ogee profile. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.

Condition: There is very minor mothing. The end of the pennant was frayed. This was turned back and hemmed during the mounting process. There is a general overall oxidation of the hoist binding and stars. 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: Other
Earliest Date of Origin: 1890
Latest Date of Origin: 1909
War Association: 1898 Spanish American War
Price: SOLD
E-mail: Inquire

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