How old is my flag?

Discussion in 'Flag Identification and Collecting' started by Brian, Mar 17, 2011.

  1. Brian

    Brian New Member

    I'm new to the forum. I have an American flag that has been in my family since at least 1900. I don't have photos but I will describe it as best I can.

    Size is about 4' x 3' and it is made of what looks to me like linen. It is machine sewn, straight stitch on the stripes and zigzag on the stars. There are 13 stars in a 3-2-3-2-3 pattern.

    Any ideas on it's purpose or when it was made? Why a 13 star flag in the latter half of the 1800's? Maybe a Centennial celebration flag?

    Any info is welcome.
  2. Brian

    Brian New Member

    From reading some other posts...looks like my flag dates from around 1890-1900. That jives with the family history. Still, what was the purpose to the 13 star flag at the turn of the century?
  3. Robin Hickman

    Robin Hickman Well-Known Member

    Hello, Brian! :D

    Welcome to the USA-Flag-Site Forums! :D

    If you've read some of the threads in this Forum, "Flag Identification & Collecting", one of the things that you've already figured out is the "wisdom" behind the old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words".

    It can very difficult, if not almost impossible, to render any kind of "accurate" opinion about a Flag without being able to, at the very least, "see" it.

    Is there ANY way that you could take some pictures of your Flag and post them here? The types of photos that are most helpful are pretty simple. An over-all shot of the entire Flag, and some close-ups of the header (white canvas strip with the the grommets), the grommets, and the construction details such as the sewing/stitching of the stars, the stripes, the hems, etc.

    Although I am NOT a Flag expert by any stretch of the imagination (and I don't play one on TV), I have been around here long enough to know that our real "Flag Experts" ALWAYS want to see some pictures of the Flag(s) in question. An added benefit to having pictures of your Flag, is they might come in handy if you end up wanting to sell your Flag (especially on-lone).

    BTW : It would seem to me that you might be correct in your "guess" that it might be a "centennial" era Flag.

    Thank You for bringing your Flag-related question to our Forums !!!

    Robin Hickman
    Eugene, Oregon, USA
  4. Brian

    Brian New Member

    Thanks Robin. I'll try to get some good pics and post them. I think I have the general date figured out but still not the purpose. The flag came from the Caldwell branch of my family and may have belonged to Harry Caldwell, best man at Admiral Dewey's wedding and commander of the US Navy's first submarine. I have no documentation other than the flag was always stored in a box that contained two original photo portraits of Harry. My hope would be to find a Navy tie-in to the 13 star flag at that period.
  5. csaanv

    csaanv Member

    Hi Brian,
    There is a naval connection. Until the early 20th century (ca.1916) the U.S. Navy had used a 13 star ensign on smaller vessels and boats.
    From the FOTW website:
    Ensigns flown on boats were too small for the 45, 46, or 48 stars to be clearly visible (or maybe they were just too hard to make with the technology of the time), so boats flew a 13-star ensign instead of the standard one. Joe McMillan, 5 July 2000

    Another possibility was a number of commemorative 13 star flags were made for the 1876 centennial but most likely yours would be the former given the naval connection. Is there any way you could post a photo of your flag?
  6. NAVA1974

    NAVA1974 Active Member


    From my experience collecting antique US flags over four decades, small sewn flags from the late 19th century are rare. When you do find them, they are more likely to have only 13 stars than they are to have the full compliment of stars. :eek: This is because, as CSAANV states, "Ensigns flown on boats were too small for the 45, 46, or 48 stars to be clearly visible." The same held for flags on land, apparently.

    I even have one flagmaker's catalog that states that larger flags "come with the full compliment of stars." This implies that small sewn flags (ie up to 3x5 ft) only had 13 stars. You only found all the stars showing up on printed flags.

    Please see my Flickr site for photos of other antique 13 star flags. Is yours like one of them? 13 Star Flags - a set on Flickr

    Nick A
    Columbia Maryland
  7. AmericaHurrah

    AmericaHurrah Member

    The size you are describing is not a Navy flag, but a private yacht ensign. Say mid-1890's through the 1920's. They bring about $300-$400 at auction, depending on the quality and condition. But this is just an educated guess. Like these guys said, a picture is worth 1,000 words.
  8. NAVA1974

    NAVA1974 Active Member

    Just being a stickler on terminology here, but 13 star flags with the arrangement that Brian has may very well have been used as ensigns on private yachts, but that is not the same as the "Yacht Ensign."

    The United States Yacht Ensign has the 13 stars in a circle with a fouled anchor inside:
    The Yacht Ensign was created by Act of Congress in August, 1848 as a flag to be used by licensed U.S. yachts. This was apparently not intended to be an ensign, but rather was intended to be used as a signal flag by a licensed yacht to declare herself exempt from customs duties. Due to its similarity to the national ensign, however, many yachts started using this as the ensign, and eventually the US government announced that it would accept this practice for yachts in United States waters; but the national flag is the only ensign allowable in international or foreign waters.

    Nick A
    Columbia MD
  9. AmericaHurrah

    AmericaHurrah Member

    I have to very respectfully disagree with the strict use of the term.

    I use this term for both the 13 stars with an anchor style and the "anchor-less" styles. By the 1890's the 1848 legislation was no longer in effect, correct? People thereafter flew various little flags with 13 stars, sometimes with an anchor, sometimes without. In the 1890's it seems to have been more typically without.

    So in the 1950's or even today, would you call the unofficial "private yacht ensign" a "private yacht ensign" or simply a "13 star flag with an anchor in the center of a wreath design?"
  10. NAVA1974

    NAVA1974 Active Member

    I appreciate that.

    Not exactly. According to Wikipedia, the existence of the Yacht Ensign in United States statute was repealed by the Vessel Documentation Act of 1980. So throughout the late 19th century and most of the 20th century, the "Yacht Ensign" was the flag with 13 stars in a circle surrounding the fouled anchor, distinct from 13 star flags in the 3-2-3-2-3 pattern.

    I agree that, since most small sewn American flags were made with 13 stars, most smaller yachts would fly the 3-2-3-2-3 flag or the Yacht Ensign with the fouled anchor in the circle of stars. But even though they flew from many yachts, I believe it is inappropriate to call the 3-2-3-2-3 flag a "yacht ensign" since there was a different flag legally established as the Yacht Ensign. The only photos that I have seen which show a 13-star flag in the 3-2-3-2-3 pattern show them on boats of the US Navy and I would like to see photos of this flag used elsewhere.

    The fouled anchor flag is the "Yacht Ensign" both by law (up to the 1980's) and by tradition, while the 3-2-3-2-3 flag is simply a small United States Ensign, whether used on yachts, in parades, on homes, etc.

    Nick A
    Columbia MD
  11. AmericaHurrah

    AmericaHurrah Member

    You had to obtain a license to fly the yacht ensign with a canted anchor up and until the 1980's?
  12. csaanv

    csaanv Member

    Hi America Hurrah,
    Since the size of government flags were not regulated until the Executive Order of 1912 by President Taft and this flag predates that, by what authority are you using saying this was the incorrect size for a US naval flag of that period? We know for a fact the US Navy used different sizes of 13 star flags (with the 3-2-3-2-3 pattern), called "boat" flags up to and into the early 20th century.
    From Wikipedia:
    During the 19th century, for its smaller-sized ensigns, the U.S. Navy used a 13-star flag which became known as "boat flag" due to its predominate use on boats (i.e., launches, gigs and tenders). The reason for the lesser number of stars was so that the stars in a smaller size flag would have greater visibility at a distance. Because they flew smaller-sized ensigns, the US Navy's first submarines and destroyers in the early 20th century also used the 13-star ensigns, even though they were not boats. In 1912, President Taft formally recognized the Navy's longstanding use of the 13-star ensign in Executive Order 1637, and precise dimensions were defined. This lasted just four more years however, as President Wilson acting through Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels discontinued the practice in 1916 with Executive Order 2390, after which all ensigns were supposed to have the full complement of stars. However, some of the flags remained in the supply system until the 1950s.

  13. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Since the size of government flags were not regulated until the Executive Order of 1912 by President Taft

    This is actually a common misunderstanding. The size of government flags *was* regulated long before 1912. The earliest Navy regulation was promlugated in 1818 (I think -- I'm travelling and away from my library!), and the Army promulgated regulations also. The purpose of the 1912 Executive Order was to standardize the sizes and arrangements of the flags used by the Army and the Navy. It had to come from the President, because the two services were independent in those pre-DoD days.

    Peter Ansoff
  14. AmericaHurrah

    AmericaHurrah Member

    A thoughful and compelling response. Thanks. It will prompt me to do some work, that's for sure. There are many patterns of flags that I believe were made for nautical use with 13 stars, but maybe that wasn't so. It's a plausible theory.

    But let me ask you how many images of little 13 star flags like these have you seen in use on land? I have seen a couple. And by that I mean maybe 2 images. There are many images of big 45 star flags being used on land, but not the 13's.

    On another note, among surviving examples, you almost never see 13 star yacht ensigns with a fouled anchor that pre-date the zigzag machine patent for the appliqueing of stars. In the period between say 1890 and 1920, there are many 13 star flags without an anchor. That's why I suggest that these effectively replaced the fouled anchor style in this era. I am not saying that production of the foulded anchor style stopped, but I am suggesting that it went out of vogue with the owners of pleasure boats.

    In any event, there are practically no photos of the little 13's being used anywhere, on land or water, in my experience.
  15. AmericaHurrah

    AmericaHurrah Member

    p.s., The post below is in response to Nick's post. I will hit Peter's later when I get the chance... Thanks to you both for the lively discussion?
  16. AmericaHurrah

    AmericaHurrah Member

    As for size, 2' x 3' and 2.5' x 4' were the sizes of most (but certainly not all) of the commercially made, small, 13 star flags (whatever you wish to call them). There were some larger ones too and there were oddball sizes, especially in the early 1890's.

    I am not going to list all of the sizes here of the Navy's flags with 13 stars, but suffice to say that theirs were quite different. Around the turn of the century (1900) they were not 2'x 3' or 2.5" x 4'. When you see those sizes (minus shrinkage or plus an additional inch or two for a binding), you know you don't have one unless it was altered.
  17. Robin Hickman

    Robin Hickman Well-Known Member

    ( I hate seeming to go "off topic", BUT..... )

    Gee! I wonder how BRIAN is doing ?!?!?!? :confused:

    Y'all remember BRIAN, don't you ?!?!?!? :confused:

    You know, BRIAN, the guy that started this thread? Has anybody heard from him? Any pictures or anything like that?

    Just Wondering . . . . . :cool:

    Robin "Where's Brian?" Hickman
    Eugene, Oregon, USA
  18. NAVA1974

    NAVA1974 Active Member

    Oh we're having too much fun without Brian or his photos:p.

    Tho' he would certainly be welcome to re-join the discussion.:)

    And to AmericaHurrah, your comments have certainly made me actually THINK about the uses of 13 star flags in the late 19th to early 20th C era. I just assumed they were for decorative / commemorative purposes, or simply used in lieu of flags with the full number of stars. It wasn't until this era that American homeowners began to display the flag, so you really didn't have much need for small flags except to wave in parades, or to fly from a small boat. Without a number of period photos of these flags in use it's hard to tell just where the 3-2-3-2-3 flags were used. I assumed that yacht owners would use the fouled anchor flag since it had been designated for use on yachts. But maybe that usage was limited to yacht club members? Or maybe they were completely interchangeable?

    AT LEAST we are beyond the point where everyone who has one of these flags swears that it was a flag that G-G-G-G-G-G-Grandfather carried in the Revolutionary War! (even when the flag is machine sewn:D)

    Nick A
    Columbia, MD

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