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Antique Revenue Cutter Service Flag w/ a Blue Eagle and 17 Stripes, 1880-1895

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RARE REVENUE CUTTER SERVICE FLAG WITH A BLUE EAGLE AMID AN ARCH OF 13 BLUE STARS, ON A WHITE FIELD, AND AN UNUSUAL COUNT OF 17 VERTICAL RED AND WHITE STRIPES, CA 1880-1895: United States Revenue Cutter Service flag, made in the period between 1880 and 1895. This beautiful design was created by an act of Congress in 1799, when there were 16 states in the Union. For this reason Revenue Cutter Service flags typically have 16 vertical, red and white stripes. For some unknown reason, this example has 17 stripes. Perhaps the maker who was solicited to sew the flag did not count them properly when it was constructed. Perhaps there was some now-forgotten reason to alter the count from 16. Whatever the case may be, this eccentricity is akin to an error or deviation in the design of an already scarce stamp or coin. Unusual features like this are very attractive to collectors, who generally seek out the rare, the beautiful, and the unusual. There may have been 16 blue stars on the earliest Revenue Cutter Service flags, set in an unspecified pattern around a large eagle on a white canton, but no original survives. Some early illustrations show 15 stars, complemented by 16 stripes. 15 was the official star count on the American national flag from 1795 until 1818. Among the tiny number of other surviving examples of Revenue Cutter Service flags, all that this author is aware of have 13 stars and 16 stripes, except one, which has 13 stars and 13 stripes. This particular eagle has a rather unusual profile for the period. Tall and narrow and with a pronounced brow, is not in the design seen on most RCS flags, nor on most American objects with eagle imagery. The overall impact is one of a flag with greater folk presence than the small handful of the others that I have seen that were produced in the last quarter of the 19th century through the beginning of the 20th. Since eagles are both very desirable and rare on early American flags of all kinds, and because the RCS design is so visually arresting and different, this is a particularly fine example. Many people don't know that all U.S. Navy warships were sold following the Revolution to pay war debts to France. The last Continental warship, the Frigate Alliance, was sold in 1785, leaving no protection for American merchant ships. During the war, France shouldered a financial burden similar to that of Great Britain, as debt from the American Revolutionary War was piled upon already existing debts from the Seven Years' War. The French spent 1.3 billion livres on war costs. When the war ended, France had accumulated a debt of 3,315.1 million livres, a fortune at the time. The debt caused major economic and political problems for France, and, as the country struggled to pay its debts, eventually led to the Financial Crisis of 1786 and the French Revolution in 1789. The Revenue Cutter Service was founded in 1790 by U.S. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, through an act of the United States Congress. Its job was to protect merchant ships in and around major ports, and to thus ensure not only the safe transport of both goods and money with regard to looting and piracy, but also to oversee that proper tariffs were collected. The most significant source of revenue for the Treasury Department was taxes on trade goods. Ten ships were ordered by the "Revenue Marine", as it was originally called, and distributed among various ports. And while the U.S. Treasury held the overall umbrella for the Revenue Marine, the captain of each ship was directly responsible to the customs collector in whatever port the ship sailed from. Captains had wide-ranging authority to do what they saw fit to keep order and could board and search any vessel, whether docked or at sea. From 1790 until the U.S. Navy reformed in 1798, the Revenue Marine cutters were the only armed American ships in government service. Afterwards, when we went to war at sea, they fought alongside the Navy and have since participated in every major U.S. seafaring conflict, including D-Day during WWII. The mission, general orders, and organization of Revenue Marine was reformed and revised a couple of times during the 19th century. First by default, then by general orders, one of its functions became the rescue of ships in distress. In 1894, the name was formally changed to the Revenue Cutter Service and this is the term most widely used today by historians and collectors of related artifacts. In 1915 The RCS merged with the U.S. Lifesaving Service to form the U.S. Coast Guard. As of this date it was no longer responsible to the U.S. Treasury, but instead became a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, responsible to the president. Today it falls under the Department of Homeland Security in times of peace, but at times of war its direction can be transferred by the president to the U.S. Navy. Construction: The flag is entirely pieced and sewn by treadle machine. The canton and stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting. The stars and eagle are made of plain weave cotton. There is a heavy cotton binding along the hoist with 2 brass grommets. The name "McCabe is penciled along the hoist. This would represent the name of a former owner. Mounting: The flag has been hand-sewn to 100% silk organza throughout for support. It was then hand-stitched to 100% cotton, black in color, which was washed to reduce 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 acrylic. Condition: There is minor soiling in the upper fly end corner. There is very minor soiling elsewhere throughout, accompanied by minor mothing.


  • Dimensions
    Height: 58.75 in. (149.23 cm)Width: 95.5 in. (242.57 cm)Depth: 2.5 in. (6.35 cm)
  • Materials and Techniques
  • Period
  • Date of Manufacture
  • Condition
    See Item Description.
  • Seller Location
    York County, PA
  • Reference Number
    Seller: ofj-8681stDibs: LU8497821708

Shipping & Returns

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    Rates vary by destination and complexity. We recommend this shipping type based on item size, type and fragility.
    Ships From: York County, PA
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About the Seller
5 / 5
Located in York County, PA
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Established in 1991
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