Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 21.5" x 48.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 11.75" x 39" (2.5" x 114" unfurled)
By tradition, U.S. Navy ships flew a trio of American flags, including the American national flag (the Stars & Stripes), the Union Jack (not to be confused with the British Union Flag often called by this name), and a commission pennant.

Flown off the bow when a ship was at port or anchor, the American Union Jack, often referred to simply as the "jack," was comprised of a blue rectangular field with white stars, exactly like the blue canton of the Stars & Stripes. By Navy regulations, this was to actually be the same size as the canton on the national flag flown by the particular ship.

Flown at the top mast at all times, the United States Navy commission pennant was a long streamer comprised of a narrow blue field with white stars, followed by two stripes, red over white. Hoisted during both times of peace and war, the only time that the commission pennant is not flown is if a flag officer or civilian official is aboard and replaces it with their own.

The pennant in question here is virtually identical the U.S. Navy commission pennant, save that the blue and red colors are reversed, so that it has a red field with white stars, followed by two stripes, blue over white. Curiously, records allowing identification of this signal fall between scant and non-existent. After more than a year of periodic, intensive but frustrated searching, I stumbled across the necessary information by dumb luck, while researching an unrelated flag. Having exhausted American military references, and designs used by governmental and pseudo-governmental agencies, I had presumed that the pennant must be yacht or private steam line-associated. Yacht club commandants sometimes flew similar signals, while Hudson River steamers were sometimes bedecked with all sorts of fanciful, patriotic flags in a host of nautical styles for decorative purposes only.

In the end I discovered the reason behind the similarity between this pennant and that of the U.S. Navy had a perfectly good explanation. This is the commission pennant of the United States Department of War, a civilian organization founded in 1789, the year of George Washington's first inauguration as president. The War Department existed until shortly following WWII (U.S. involvement 1941-45). A civilian served as its chief official, under the title "Secretary of War."

The Navy was basically separate from this agency all-together. In 1785, heavily indebted following the Revolutionary War, which ended in 1783, the United States disbanded the Navy and sold its ships to pay debts to France. In 1794, monies were allocated for new ships and in 1798 the Navy and Marine Corps were reformed as their own entities, outside the Department of War. In 1947, the War Department was split into the Department of the Army and the Department of the Air Force, each becoming it own entity, like the Navy and the Marines. Previous to this time, the U.S. Army Air Corps had served as the primary aviation-oriented entity of the non-Naval military. (The Navy maintained its own aircraft, having acquiring its first three planes in 1911.)

Made sometime in the period between WWI (U.S. involvement 1917-18) and WWII, the count of 7 stars on this pennant mirrors the star count found on U.S. Navy commission pennants of the same period. Commissioning pennants were once very important in their role as signals and thus needed to be seen from great distance. During the 18th and 19th centuries, they usually exceed ten feet in length, with some reaching as long as a hundred feet. This was the first thing that would be seen coming over the horizon and, in early America, would aid in the identification of a military vessel. During the 1st quarter of the 20th century commission pennants became largely ceremonial and customary, which is why most Navy examples made in or after WWI range between just four and six feet on the fly.

At 9.5 feet on the fly, this pennant is noticeably larger than its U.S. Navy counterparts of the same period. Because it is the only example of this flag that I have ever seen, I cannot be sure if this was commonly the case or otherwise.

Note that there are two sizes of stars, 4 larger and 3 smaller. It is interesting to note that, according to the U.S. Navy, the reason for the choice of 7 stars was not recorded. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the star count would typically reflect either the current number of states, like the U.S. flag, or there would be 13 stars, referencing the original number on the Stars & Stripes and the count often employed by the Navy on small boats between the mid-19th century and 1916.

Some of the very smallest Navy commission pennants did have 7 stars as early as the Civil War (1861-65). I have always suspected that the count of number might reference the "7 Seas", though this is an ancient term and geographers disagree on its precise meaning. Whatever the case may be, the number seems to represent some logical design choice when the overall length of the average pennant was substantially shortened.

Construction: This particular pennant is made of wool bunting that has been pieced by machine. The cotton stars are double-appliqu├ęd (applied to both sides) with a zigzag, machine stitch. There is a heavy canvas binding along the hoist with a single brass grommet.

Mounting: The pennant has been hand-stitched to 100% hemp fabric. It has been folded back-and-forth in a visually interesting zigzag fashion, which simultaneously allows it to be accommodated in a cove shaped molding with a very dark brown finish, almost black, to which a hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding was added as a liner. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass.

Condition: Excellent.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 07
Earliest Date of Origin: 1916
Latest Date of Origin: 1945
War Association: WW 2
Price: SOLD

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