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This is a superb example of a Navy small boat ensign flag that dates to the era of the Civil War.  The unusual low star count of 16 stars might seem to indicate an earlier flag commemorating Tennessee statehood in 1796, but this is a later period flag of the mid-1800s, based on its construction and materials such as the use of double-appliqué cotton stars.  The use of even rows of lower count stars on Navy flags is an intriguing practice from this era.  The Navy made flags such as this so that the canton of stars were more distinctive and visible at longer distances such as when seen through a looking glass on the high seas.  The Rare Flags collection has the great privilege of containing several very rare 19th century maritime flags of the type in various star counts and sizes, from small boat flags to large ship flags, including counts of 12 stars, 13 stars, 15 stars, 16 stars, 20 stars, 22 stars, 24 stars, 28 stars, and 30 stars.  Although other flag scholars have speculated that there may be symbolic meaning in the star counts of the mid-19th century Navy boat flags in low star counts, my personal opinion is that these flags were designed to have symmetrical, evenly distributed rows of large stars simply to best fill the space of the canton to make the flags easily recognizable at sea.  Small boat flags in the star counts of 12 stars (IAS-00316) and 15 stars (IAS-00317) are the only examples in these star counts that I'm aware of, and this flag is one of just three or four that I've seen surface with a count of 16 stars.  One particularly special trait of this flag is that its canton sits on the red stripe, also known as the "war stripe" or "blood stripe".  Although there are examples to the contrary, flag lore holds that flags with this trait were made during a time when the nation was at war, which in the case of this flag, may in fact be accurate.  In an unusual reversal of what is typically encountered, the stripes of the flag are hand sewn, but the stars of the flag are machine sewn using a treadle sewing machine.  Typically when machine stitching is encountered on a Civil War era flag, the stars are hand sewn and the stripes are machine sewn.  The small size, beautiful coloration, rare star count, hand sewn construction and blood stripe all add up to a rare and special early American flag.

 
Learn more about flags with cantons the fall on the "blood stripe". Star Count:  16 Stars

Dates:  1861-1865 or earlier

War Era:  Civil War

Statehood:  Tennessee

Construction:  Wool Bunting and Cotton Stars

Catalog Number:  IAS-00329

   

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A Magnificent Grand Luminary
34 Stars, American Civil War Period


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