|This 13 star antique American flag is of a type made during the last decade of the 19th century through the first quarter of the 20th. The stars are arranged in rows of 3-2-3-2-3, which is the most often seen pattern in 13 star flags of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
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 canton and stripes of the flag are made of wool bunting that has been pieced by machine. The stars are made of cotton and double-appliquéd (applied to both sides) with a zigzag machine stitch. There is a heavy, twill cotton binding along the hoist with two brass grommets, along which there are penciled notations, a size, and a signature. The notations read "ET" followed by "1.00" and "2x3." The original cost may have been $1.00. The initials are unknown, but the last is clearly the size in feet, which is repeated in the red-inked stamp. The signature, which reads "S.R. Frank," would represent the name of a former owner. It was common to mark flags in this fashion during the 19th and early 20th centuries to indicate ownership.
Why 13 Stars? 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 as individual objects. The fear was that too many stars would become one white mass and distort the ability to identify American ships on the open seas. The U.S. Navy used 13 stars on its small-scale flags for precisely this reason. This was, of course, the original number of stars on the first American national flag, by way of the First Flag Act of 1777, and equal to the number of original colonies that became states.
For all practical purposes, commercial flag-makers simply didn't produce flags with pieced-and-sewn construction that were 3 to 4 feet in length before the 1890's. There are exceptions to this rule, but until this time, the smallest sewn flags were approximately 6 feet on the fly. The primary use had long been more utilitarian than decorative, and flags needed to be large to be effective as signals. But private use grew with the passage of time, which led to the need for long-term use flags of more manageable scale.
Beginning around 1890, flag-makers began to produce smaller flags for the first time in large quantities, typically measuring either 2 x 3 feet (like this example) or 2.5 x 4 feet. Applying the same logic as the U.S. Navy, they chose the 13 star count rather than the full complement of stars, for sake of ease and visibility. Any flag that has previously been official, remains so according to the flag acts, so even today 13 star flags remain official national flags of the United States of America.
The 13 star count has been used throughout our nation's history for a variety of other purposes. 13 star flags were hoisted at patriotic events, including Lafayette’s visit in 1825-26, the celebration of the nation's centennial in 1876, and the Sesquicentennial in 1926, as well as for annual celebrations of Independence Day. They were displayed during the Civil War, to reference past struggles for American liberty, and were used by 19th century politicians in political campaigning. The use of yachting ensigns with a wreath of 13 stars surrounding a fouled anchor, which allowed pleasure boats to bypass customs between 1848 and 1980, persists today without an official purpose.
Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% silk organza for support on every seam and throughout the star field. It was then hand-sewn to a background of 100% cotton twill, black in color, that 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 cove-shaped molding with a rope style inner lip and very dark brown, nearly black surface with reddish highlights, to which a gilded liner was added, gold in color, with silverish overtones. The glazing is U.V. protective plexiglass.
Condition: There is extremely minor mothing, accompanied by a tiny L-shaped tear near the center of the last red stripe. There is extremely minor staining along the hoist binding. The overall condition is remarkable for a wool flag of this period.