If you have a question about the American flag in general, or about a particular flag that you have encountered or that is part of the collection, please feel free to contact me any time. 

About Me and My Collection

Do you do appraisals for flags?   No, since I'm a collector I don't perform formal appraisals of flags.  I'm happy to informally help you identify a flag and tell you more about what similar flags sell for at auctions or public sales.

Do you buy flags?  Yes, I'm always seeking new examples, especially new flags of styles and forms that differ from those in the collection today.

Do you offer your flags for sale?    No, I don't consider myself a dealer, I'm a collector.  I am always looking to acquire new flags for the collection.

About American Flags in General

Are there many original 13 Star flags available?  It is debatable whether or not any 13 Star flags in the Stars and Stripes pattern, that date to the period of the Revolutionary War, exist today.  If they do exist, they are extraordinarily rare.  Attributing a flag to this period is an inexact science that requires deep knowledge of early textiles at the scientific and historical level. There are a few examples that are believed to date to the late 1700s, such as the Nathaniel Shaw Flag at the New London County Historical Society.  That said, 13 Star flags are one of the most common star counts that you can find.  They were made throughout much of our history for a variety of uses, most notably for small parade flags and for sewn flags for maritime use.  Most 13 star flags that do surface date to



13 Star Flag, 4-5-4 Pattern, Circa 1890
 

 the Civil War period or later.  Any pre-Civil War period 13 star flag is very rare.  If you have an antique 13 Star flag, it certainly is special, but probably dates to the Civil War period at the earliest.  It would take examination by an expert to attribute any flag, 13 Stars or otherwise, to the pre-Civil War period.

Is there a museum dedicated to the American Flag?  No, though this is a desire of many flag collectors nationwide.  Some museums have flags in their collections, and many local historical societies possess flags that have been brought to them by their communities.  The closest location to a flag museum that I can think of would be the Statehouses of the states that fought in the Civil War, where large numbers of unit colors were turned in at the end of the conflict.  Even in those cases, most flags are now out of public display, and many states are fighting time and budget to preserve these rare flags.

Did Betsy Ross sew the first American Flag, and was it in a 13 Star Circle Pattern?  Although documents exist that show that Betsy Ross did indeed sew flags for use in the American Revolution, the pattern of the stars and the general form and style of the flags she produced are unknown.  The pattern that we today know as the Betsy Ross Pattern of 13 Stars arranged in a circle on the flag's canton is one contrived by her grandson, William J. Canby, in 1870.

What should I do with old American Flags?  The Boy Scouts of America and various veterans organizations often collect older, unserviceable flags and destroy them in sanctioned burning ceremonies.   While this is one acceptable way to destroy damaged flags, the destruction of historic American Flags is, in my opinion, an unnecessary loss of an artifact that could pass to future generations.  Many historic flags are worn, old and frail.  Their condition would be considered unserviceable by most standards, yet their historic and cultural value is immense.  Historic flags should be preserved and protected.

Should I destroy an American Flag if it touches the ground?  Some people will say that if a flag happens to touch the ground, it's been desecrated and should be destroyed.  Although the action you take is your choice, my personal feeling is that a flag that accidentally touches the ground or dropped, and is carefully picked up and handled with respect and dignity is still a grand old flag, and should fly high once again.  Our national colors have touched the ground many times, most poignantly when a valiant color bearer is killed or wounded on the field of battle.  When the American Flag falls, Americans rally to it, pick it back up and carry it on.  Many battle flags have been torn and damaged beyond what we would consider serviceable, yet they are handled reverently and still preserved today.

 
Questions from Visitors

A Flag with 9 Stars and 13 Stripes
June 4, 2010

Q:  I have been asked "when would there have been a 9 star, 13 stripe flag?".  I have seen one small (5x7)and a very tiny one on a tiny carved ship.  I never have seen them before.  Can you help with this mystery?  Is it a mistake?  Thank you,  my search has not given me any answers.

A:  Thanks for your question. What you write gives a good clue to the answer. There’s never been a time where nine stripes and thirteen stars would have been official, yet often on antique pieces of folk art and artwork, especially very small pieces, the creator might omit stars simply out of necessity due to lack of space. I’ve seen this often on small maritime paintings where the artist was unable to put the full complement of stars on a ship’s flag. Ship flags from the 19th century, and up until the early 20th century, also known as ensigns, commonly featured cantons of 13 stars. This was so that the canton was more recognizable at long distances. Most likely, on the carved ship you describe, the maker attempted to approximate a 13 star ensign. There are printed parade flags that date from the Civil War and Centennial Era that also feature less than 13 stars. Those that surface typically feature star counts of 7, 8 or 9 stars. While some collectors believe that these are prototype confederate flags, or confederate sympathizer flags, they are typically very small and while it may be plausible that they were made by southern sympathizers, I personally believe that the makers of these flags simply opted to print fewer stars to make them look bolder rather than printing the full complement of 13 stars, which might not look as striking.

Zig-Zag Stitching on a 13 Star Flag
June 22, 2010

Q: I have a couple of questions. I recently obtained a 13 star flag (Francis Hopkinson Pattern which is 2 x 3). Although the stars are stitched in s zig-zag pattern, it is very crudely done. Have you very seen hand sewn stars in a zig-zag pattern? My research has led me to learn that the zig-zag sewing machine was patened in 1873, not 1892.  The flag is stamped "2 x 3" and something "& Lord"...I am assuming that is the company that produced the flag. Are you aware of such a company name?

A: Thanks for the question, and congratulations on your flag acquisition. 13 Star flags of the pattern and construction you describe were made for use primarily as maritime ensigns. The 2” x 3” size is typically the smallest size, often made and sold for use on private yachts. You’re correct about sewing machines capable of performing zig-zag stitching prior to 1892. The earliest machined zig-zag stitched flag that I have is a 42 star flag from 1889. The date of 1892 is significant with regards to zig-zag stitching and American flags in that on February 23, 1892, Mr. Henry Bowman, an African American, was awarded patent #473,653, Device for Making Flags, in which he patented the use of zig-zag stitching specifically for sewing stars onto American flags. Henry’s flag company began producing flags and marking the hoist of the flag with the date and patent number. Unfortunately, he was unable to protect his patent, and others also made flags using this technique. On March 26, 1894, Bowman brought the case of Bowman v. De Grauw, et. al. to the Circuit Court of New York. He lost the case, with the judge ruling that the technique was not sufficiently novel to warrant a patent, and soon the Bowman company went out of business. (You can read about the case here, in the Federal Reporter, vol. 60, pp. 907-912. http://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F1/0060/0060.f1.0907.pdf)

I’ve seen unusual hand-done herringbone type stitching on flags, but not hand-done zig-zag stitching, though I would never say such a thing does not exist. On small flags, the zig-zag stitching can look very crude, even though they are machine sewn. The type of thread used, the skill of the seamstress and the age of the machine are important factors. Also, as Bowman’s patent describes, the approach was to sew the white fabric blanks to each side of the canton, using zig-zag stitching, and to then cut away the blanks and leave the stars. Probably not the most efficient use of raw materials, but an improvement in speed, versus cutting stars separately. The rough edges of the stars were more secure with the zig-zag stitching (so the patent claims). This can also leave them looking more crude than a carefully turned-under star. Look very closely at the zig-zag stitching, paying particular attention to the space between each stitch. Also, look closely at the overall width of the entire zig-zag stitch. If it is consistently the same width, then it’s a good indication that the stitching is machine stitching. The one variable is the speed at which the seamstress guided the flag as it was sewn. This might make the stitches “compressed”, but zig-zag motion of the machine’s needle would still move the same width distance.
 
I’ve not heard of the name of the company, though if I do come across another flag similarly marked, I’ll let you know. Attached is a close-up of a machined zig-zag stitched star on a 13 star flag from the same period (late 19th century) as your flag, also of relatively crude manufacture, zig-zag stitched and then cut in the manner described in Bowman’s patent.


Early/Crude Machine Zig-Zag Stitching (last quarter, 19th Century)

48 and 49 Star Flags
July 30, 2010

Q: Hello. When my step-dad passed away I came into possession of two flags: a 48 and 49 star. Both are cotton with stars and stripes sewn on, 9.5 feet long and in perfect condition. He was a funeral director and I supposed he had these around for military funerals (?) and kept back one when the number of stars officially changed. Are these worth anything or are they rather common?

A: Thank you for your question.  48 Star and 49 Star flags are relatively common, and in the marketplace flags such as yours would probably sell in the $40-$60 range.  At any given time on eBay you will find relatively large numbers of 48 Star flags for sale.  A quick search today in the Flags & Pennants category on eBay for the words "48 star flag" returns 120 items, most are flags.  49 Star flags are less common since they were produced for only a year, but they were still manufactured in large quantities.  A search today for "49 star flag" returns 7 flags.  Your flags are large, and that makes them a bit more difficult for a person to frame and display, so often when it comes to flags, smaller is better.  Despite their being relatively common, your flags are still special and should be preserved.  I personally prefer the construction of a sewn flag to a printed flag, and that's a nice trait of yours. I hope that you enjoy the flags and keep them well, in a dry place outside of the range of moths.  They're great family heirlooms and since they're not exceedingly valuable in monetary terms, your family can enjoy actually flying the flags on special occasions like the 4th of July, Veteran's Day, Memorial Day and other national holidays.  Flags that were once official are forever official and can be flown and appreciated at any time.

Patriotic Bunting
September 4, 2010

Q: I have a flag from the 1876's I think??? It has thirteen stars with a large on in the middle and has only 3 stripes 2 red and 1 white.    I heard its bunting. it is large and very long - what is it and what is it worth.  I am going to frame it.

A: From what you describe, it certainly sounds like a piece of historic bunting. It might have been made in 1876, but if it has zig-zag stitching on the stars then it would date to later, and perhaps might even be from the 20th century. The most common style for this kind of bunting, in my experience, is with the stars arranged in what is known as the Cowpens pattern, in which a central star (sometimes larger than the others) is surrounded by a wreath of 12 stars. The stripes on this kind of narrow bunting are typically as you describe, with just 3 stripes (red-white-red). The hoist is above the canton of stars and usually has two grommets in it, one in each corner. The bunting can be very long, sometimes tens of feet long, and often the top corners of the cantons where they join with the hoist are reinforced by gussets. These banners come up periodically for sale on sites such as eBay. Since they're not standard US flags, they often sell for a considerably lower price than a full 13 star Cowpens flag of comparable time period, usually in the $200-$300 range. They're terrific pieces of Americana, and framed they can be impressive and beautiful. For long lengths of bunting, you can swag the stripes several times to effectively shorten the bunting in the framed mount. That will make the presentation of the bunting more compact and also save you money on the framing.


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