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  13 HAND-SEWN STARS IN A 3-2-3-2-3 PATTERN ON A U.S. NAVY SMALL BOAT ENSIGN OF THE CENTENNIAL ERA, ca 1870-1882

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): Approx. 50" x 67.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 38" x 55.25"
Description....:
Despite the fact that America hasn't been comprised of 13 states since 1791, 13 star flags have been made and displayed throughout our nation's history, from 1777 to the present. The reasons for their manufacture are many, with functions both patriotic and utilitarian. They were hoisted at patriotic events, including Lafayette’s visit in 1824-25, the celebration of the centennial of American independence in 1876, and the sesquicentennial in 1926. They were displayed during the Civil War (1861-65) to reference past struggles for American liberty, and were used by 19th century politicians while campaigning for the same reason.

As the number of stars grew with the addition of new states, it became more and more difficult to fit their full complement on a small flag. The stars would, by necessity, have to become smaller, which made it more and more difficult to view them from a distance. The fear was that too many of them close together would become as one white mass and potentially distort the ability to identify American ships. Keeping the count low allowed for better visibility and for this reason the U.S. Navy flew 13 star flags on small craft. Flag experts disagree about the precisely when the Navy began to revert to the 13 star count (and occasionally other low counts) for these "small boat ensigns," as they were termed. Some feel that the use of 13 star flags never ceased, which seems to be supported by depictions of ships in period artwork, but it clearly appeared for the first time in 1854 naval regulations. 13 was, of course, the original number of stars on the first American national flag, by way of the First Flag Act (1777), and equal to the number of original colonies that became states. Because any American flag that has previously been official remains so today, according to the flag acts, it remains perfectly acceptable to fly 13 star flags by way of congressional law.

The Navy generally produced their own flags during the 19th century. Small boat flags were flown at the stern, from a gaff, or from the yard-arm on a larger vessel, or as the primary flag on a skiff or other small craft that carried sailors back and forth to shore. This particular example is of the type flown during the centennial era. The fabrics, stitching, star configuration and orientation, as well as the hoist binding, grommets, and shades of blue and red, are all congruent with U.S. Navy examples. Measuring 38" on the hoist, this specification meets both 1864 and 1870 Naval regulations for a No. 13 ensign, while details of its construction allow more precise identification to the window between 1870 and 1882 specifically.

The flag was definitely flown for an extended period, as evidenced by the present length of 55 inches. Regulations dictate that the original fly measurement would have been 6 feet. Because shortening of the flag's length during its course of use was the customary and proper means of repair, its present dimensions could be readily expected on any flag that actually saw regular military service and proper maintenance.

If the flag looks unusually square, that isn't so across 19th century examples. Since there were no standard proportions for the Stars & Stripes until 1912, American flags took on countless forms. Battle flags were generally square. Both homemade and commercially-produced flags could be of any length and height desired. Some were exceedingly long, some were short, and some were what one might think of as "normal" in modern terms. So only by knowing the Navy regulations, and that this is a Navy flag, can we actually make an accurate guess as to what the original length of a pre-1912 flag may have been if it was shortened (unless the original measurements are stenciled along the binding or otherwise recorded). In the case of this particular example, the fly end was neatly and securely re-bound with a row of treadle stitching, followed by three rows of hand stitching.

The stars of the flag are made of cotton, hand-sewn and double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). Since there was no official star configuration until the 20th century (1912 specifically, beginning with the 48 star count), the stars on 13 star flags may appear in any one of a host of configurations. The stars of this particular flag are arranged in lineal rows in counts of 3-2-3-2-3, which begins to appear on U.S. Navy flags at the tail end of the Civil War and 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. Note how the stars do not all point upward, as one might expect of a modern flag, but instead are oriented in various positions on their vertical axis.

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 stripes are made of wool bunting and are joined with treadle stitching, which is common for the period both within and outside Navy production. Because wool sheds water, this was the most typical fabric employed in the manufacture of flags for long-term, outdoor use. Blue wool bunting of the time was only available in a maximum width of eighteen inches. For this reason, note how the canton of this particular flag has been pieced from two lengths of fabric. There is a twill cotton binding along the hoist with two brass grommets, one each at the extreme top and bottom.

In summary, this is a very nice example of the period, with beautifully hand-sewn stars, neat, clean, military-used, and well cared for.

Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed within our own conservation department, which is led by expert staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples.

The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color. The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass. Feel free to inquire for more details.

Condition: There is extremely minor mothing and there is very minor foxing and staining of the white cotton. The length of the flag was shortened on the fly as a proper and customary means of repair. 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: 1882
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association:
Price: SOLD
 

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