13 Stars on a U.S Navy Small Boat Ensign, Entirely Hand-Sewn
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13 Stars on a U.S Navy Small Boat Ensign, Entirely Hand-Sewn
13 stars on a U.S. Navy small boat ensign, entirely hand-sewn, probably made between 1882 and 1884, a beautiful example in a remarkable state of preservation: 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. Small boat ensigns 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 entirely hand-sewn, Its stars are made of cotton and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). These are configured in rows of 3-2-3-2-3. The canton and stripes are made of wool bunting. The rectangular patches at the top and bottom of the hoist are called gussets. These are called gussets and were added for reinforcement at the points where the flag was subject to the most wear. There is a coarse linen binding along the hoist, golden tan in color, as is indicative of the Navy's flag in this period and shortly thereafter. There are three, hand-sewn, whip-stitched grommets along the binding, one each at the top and bottom and one centered. Because very few flags were entirely hand-sewn at this time, this is a particularly nice feature. During the period in which this flag was made, the scale of these signals varied between 2.37 feet on the hoist x 4.5 on the fly, and 3.52 feet on the hoist x 6.67 on the fly. At approximately 2.9 x 5.5 feet, this is classified as a #7 small boat ensign, and is so marked by a black stencil on the reverse side of the hoist. This particular flag was probably made sometime in the very brief window between 1882 and 1884. The Navy generally produced their own flags during the 19th century. Because these objects were hand-made, there was a good deal of irregularity and variation, but inconsistencies diminished over the course of time. Brass grommets generally replaced hand-sewn grommets or open sleeves on these flags sometime in or around 1870 (though there appear to be a few exceptions). Some sources indicate the mid-1880's as the transition point to brass grommets, but having owned more of these flags than most persons throughout history and thus have had the advantage of being able to examine a great number of them to gain superior information. In my experience, brass grommets abound in Naval flags of the 1870's, then actually disappear for a couple of years, at least on some flags, when Naval regulations changed in 1882. During the brief window between that year and 1884, hand-sewn grommets are encountered once again. In 1884, patent-dated and numbered brass grommets appear, and grommets bearing this date were installed on Naval flags consistently through at least 1915. In 1888, the Navy started to date its flags to the year of manufacture with a black-inked stencil. This too appears to have been consistent through 1915 in the States, though at a base in the Philippines it was inscribed by hand. 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. In 1882, the scale of the stars changed. These became significantly larger and their orientation was, for the first time, fixed. The stars in the first row were oriented with one point up, followed by the second row, with one point oriented down, alternating throughout the pattern, as can be seen in this example. 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. While the flag may seem on the larger side in modern terms, the scale is actually small among pieced-and-sewn examples made prior to 1890. This is a very desirable trait. Because 19th century flags can be cumbersome to frame and display, both collectors and one-time buyers alike often prefer smaller examples, like this one. When this fact is added to the flag's entirely hand-sewn construction, its identified, U.S. Navy function, and its overall presentation, the result is a wonderful example among 13 star flags of the period. 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: The overall condition is exceptional for the period. There is extremely minor mothing. There is some oxidation of the white stars and moderate water staining in two of them. There is minor to modest soiling along the hoist binding and in two of the white stripes. There are period darning repairs in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th white stripes, two of which bridge into the lower edge of the canton. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age. Frame Size (H x L): 48" x 77.5" Flag Size (H x L): 35.5" x 66".
- Production TimeAvailable Now
- Place of Origin
- Date of Manufacture1882-1884
- Condition DetailsSee Item Description
- DimensionsH 48 in. x W 77.5 in. x D 2.5 in.H 121.92 cm x W 196.85 cm x D 6.35 cm
- Seller LocationYork County, PA
- Seller Reference Number13j-1279
- Reference NumberLU849710756751
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About the Seller
5 / 5
1stdibs seller since 2008
Located in York County, PA
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