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When most Americans envision a 13 Star flag, the image that most often springs to mind is the Betsy Ross pattern of 13 Stars arranged in a circle.  Although history does not record the actual pattern of the stars on the flags sewn by Betsy Ross, the sensationalized story of her flag making that emerged in the late 1800s was built upon a contrived notion that the stars were arranged in a circle.  Of all the patterns imaginable, this one would make much sense.  The use of 13 chain links or 13 conjoined rings indicating the union of the colonies was a common one in the 1700s.  The fact that the circle is uniform, and that no prevalent position is given to any one star, is another measure of equality.

The truth, though, is that there are a vast variety of star configurations used on 13 Star flags throughout our history.  The 13 Star flag is one of the most common star counts.  It was used on parade flags and for military and naval use even until the early 20th century.  Although the images below are by no means inclusive of all known patterns, some of the most common patterns and a brief description of their history and names will provide you with some idea of the many intriguing ways to arrange a constellation of 13 stars onto a simple blue canton.  I will continue to add to this section as new variations are added to the collection.


 
The Betsy Ross Pattern.  The pattern of 13 stars arranged in a circle is attributed through folklore to Betsy Ross, although no period historical evidence links her to the design of such a flag.  The legend of Betsy Ross began at the time of the Centennial of 1876 when descendents recounted verbal family history attributing her as the designer and creator of the first American flag.  This small sewn flag dates to the early 20th century, as evidence by faint writing on its hoist, "Flag of Pa Estabrook's Boat Florida Capt Chas Estabrook 1904-1932".  The irregularity of the circle, evidence that the maker originally misjudged the arc and then adjusted the curve, is unique and adds a charming human touch to the flag.


 
Snowflake.  This magnificent star pattern for a 13 star flag is exceptionally rare.  Examples of the pattern are known on a handful of surviving small printed parade flags which date to the Civil War era. But the pattern's presence on a sewn flag of the era, as seen on this flag, is unique among known examples.  The beautiful star pattern, in conjunction with the extremely rare six pointed stars, make this flag one of the finest 13 star early American flags known. Click here for to read more about this flag.


 
Scattered.  Scattered stars on a flag are captivating and extremely unusual.  This breathtakingly beautiful masterpiece flag most likely pre-dates the American Civil War.  Though not yet positively dated, the alignment of stars to the right of the canton seems to indicate the maker was anticipating the need to add additional stars, an intriguing proposition that might hint at an earlier, possibly 18th century, origin.  Click here to read more about this flag.


 
Oval With Three Central Stars.  This is one of the rarest patterns of 13 Star flags, and may be unique.  This particular example dates to the period between, and inclusive of, the Mexican War and Civil War.  Click here to read more about this flag.


 
Bennington Pattern.  This pattern is based on a unique 19th century example of the American Flag known as the Bennington Flag.  Purportedly from the American Revolution, but most likely either from the early 19th century (circa the War of 1812) or even as late as the Centennial in 1876, the pattern has become iconic in American culture.  This superb example is a very rare entirely hand sewn homemade flag from the American Bicentennial in 1976.


 
Circle With Three Central Stars. Like the oval with three central stars above, the pattern of a circle with three center stars is very rare, with just a handful of flags, likely less than five, known in this pattern.  This particular example is entirely hand sewn and dates to the period of the American Civil War.


 
Trumbull Pattern. The pattern of 12 stars arranged in a square, with a single center star, is known as the Trumbull pattern after Revolutionary War patriot and artist John Trumbull, who painted this configuration of stars in at least three of his works: The Battle of Princeton (1777), The Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga, New York (1777) and The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia, (1781).  It is one of the rarest configurations of stars on antique American flags.  Click here for more information about this particular flag.


 
Cowpens or 3rd Maryland Pattern. This version of the flag was reportedly carried by William Batchelor of the 3rd Maryland Regiment at the Battle of Cowpens, on January 17, 1781.  The original flag, known as the Batchelor Flag, is currently held in the Maryland archives. It has since been dated to circa 1840 or later, but the pattern was known to have been used during the Revolutionary period based on paintings and drawings from that time.  Regardless of a possible false attribution, the pattern is still known as the Cowpens or 3rd Maryland Pattern, and encompasses flags where a wreath of 12 stars is either in a circle, as in this example, or in an oval.


 
4-5-4 Pattern. The 4-5-4 pattern, like the 3-2-3-2-3 pattern, is known to have been produced in the 18th century.  Although not as common as the 3-2-3-2-3, it also remained in use for over 100 years and can be found on examples as late as the 1890s.  It is rarely found on flags of the 20th century.  This fantastic flag is entirely hand-sewn at the firm of Leighton and Pollard of Boston, circa 1870.  One can easily imagine this magnificent flag hanging from the mast of a clipper ship or American naval vessel.


 
3-2-3-2-3 Pattern, or Francis Hopkinson Pattern.  Although there is some intrigue and controversy surrounding the history of Francis Hopkinson's submission of designs to the Continental Congress, which included design of the first Great Seal and a representation of the American Flag, the 3-2-3-2-3 pattern of stars is also known to collectors as the Francis Hopkinson Pattern.  The 3-2-3-2-3 pattern is one of the most common variations of 13 Star flags.  In fact, when it comes to antique stars and stripes, it is much more common than the Betsy Ross configuration, which in reality is quite scarce.


 
Scattered. The canton of this beautiful 19th century thirteen star flag is features a unique and unusual random pattern of stars.  The pattern approximates to be a rare 3-3-3-3 pattern with a final thirteenth star added to complete the flag.  A rare trait is that the flag is actually longer on its hoist than it is along the fly.  Its nearly square proportions and narrow, tall canton are very unusual and wonderfully folky.  Such a flag is a prime example of how collectors can always be surprised by the unique and unexpected.


 
4-5-4 Notched Pattern.  This unusual flag of the early 19th century likely dates to the period circa 1820-1840. It features an unusual notched pattern where the 13th star appears to be an afterthought of the design.  This rare flag's horizontally elongated canton and narrow stripes are a striking contrast to the style of the flag directly above, with its broad stripes and vertically oriented canton.


 
Trumbull Pattern.  This flag is another example of the Trumbull pattern named after patriot and painter John Trumbull.  This particular flag features bold, folky stars that are nearly pentagonal in shape.  Based on its construction techniques and materials, it dates to the first quarter of the 19th century, and perhaps even to the 18th century, and is one of the oldest flags in the Rare Flags collection.

Six-Pointed Great Star Pattern.  The practice of arranging 13 stars into a six-pointed Great Star pattern in American heraldry dates at least as early as 1782.  The first American treaty die of the Great Seal of the United States featured six-pointed stars arranged into a large single six-pointed Great Star. The six-pointed Great Star arrangement (1-4-3-4-1) still appears above the eagle on the official Great Seal of the United States.  This exceptionally rare 19th century hand sewn flag of the features six-pointed stars arranged into a large six-pointed great star and may well be unique among 13 star flags of pieced-and-sewn construction.
 


 
Hopkinson Variation. This interesting variation is one of many on the 3-2-3-2-3 pattern.  In this canton, the stars are all tilted to the 11 o'clock position, they are spaced widely across the canton, and a large central star dominates the star field.  It is a beautiful and rare variation.

 


 
Medallion Pattern. This pattern was prevalent during the American Centennial celebrations of 1876, although some flags of this style date to the Civil War or even earlier.  The pattern consists of 8 stars in a circle, a single central star, and 1 star in each corner of the canton.


 
Medallion Variation  or Trumbull Variation. This canton of 13 Stars on a printed paper flag advertising "Hop Bitters", a medicinal drink of the 1870s, seems to be a hybrid of the medallion pattern and the Trumbull pattern.  Not quite a circular medallion, and not quite a square, the pattern could arguably be considered a separate variation unto itself.


 
Yacht Ensign. The yacht ensign consists of a boat anchor enclosed within a wreath of 13 stars.  The pattern first emerged in 1848 when Congress officially designated the design for use on non-commercial U.S. sailing vessels.  Although the legislation for its use was eventually revoked, the use of the flag persisted throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and continues to be widely flown on private boats and yachts today.  This small 2' x 3' example dates circa 1920.


 
3-2-3-2-3 Hopkinson, Pattern, Official U.S. Navy.  The United States Navy continued to produce 13 star flags in the 3-2-3-2-3 pattern well into the 20th century.  This U.S. Navy Ensign No. 7 was manufactured at the New York Navy Yard in April, 1904.


 
3-2-3-2-3 Hopkinson, Pattern, Private Yacht Ensign.  Unlike the official U.S. Navy example above, which is clearly marked as a U.S. Navy flag, this flag is an example of a private yacht ensign from the same period, circa 1895-1925.  Both flags feature 13 stars affixed with zigzag stitching. The official Navy flag, however, features more traditional coloration, tighter weave, higher quality wool bunting and cotton, higher quality grommets and a more rectangular canton.  These are all indicators of official government procurement, compared to the yacht ensign which was manufactured commercially for private sale.


 
Oval Variation of the 3rd Maryland Pattern.  This flag dates to the first half of the 20th Century.  It possesses a maker's mark on the hoist that reads "Marstin 3 x 5", indicating that the flag is three feet on the hoist and five feet on the fly.  Oval variations of the 3rd Maryland Pattern are scarce.  This flag is made of cotton and is entirely machine stitched.

Oval Variation of the 3rd Maryland Pattern.  This flag dates circa 1890-1925.  The dimensions and pattern of this flag are similar to the flag pictured above (IAS-00272), but this flag is a bit earlier, and its canton and stripes are made of wool rather than cotton.  Oval variations of the 3rd Maryland Pattern are scarce.

 

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