48 Star Antique US Navy Flag | A Rare and Early Example of a Mare Island California Ensign | Circa 1919

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48 Star Antique US Navy Flag | A Rare and Early Example of a Mare Island California Ensign | Circa 1919

from 1,650.00

Frame Size (H x L): 41” x 28”
Flag Size (H x L): 31” x 18”   

Offered is a forty-eight star U.S. Navy ensign.  An ensign, or sometimes referred to as a boat flag, is a national flag that is flown on a boat or ship, typically on the stern of the vessel.  In the 18th century and much of the 19th century, the US flag was primarily considered a maritime flag, and for this reason, the national flag used on land was the same as the one used at sea.  Beginning in the 1850s (and perhaps earlier), the U.S. Navy utilized thirteen-star flags, so that the each star could be as large as possible and, thus, make the US flag easily identifiable at long distances upon the open seas.  In 1916, however, the US Navy discontinued this custom, and transitioned into incorporating a full star count on the flag, as is seen on this example.       

Beginning in the 1880s, most naval ensigns were marked along their hoists, so as to specify where and when each flag was made.  This particular ensign includes an overprint on the reverse of its hoist, and states the following: U.S. ENSIGN. NO 12 MARE ISLAND FEB 1919.  The "NO 12" refers to the size of the flag, and the "FEB 1919" refers to when the flag was made.  A "NO 12" flag is 1.31 feet along the hoist and 2.49 feet along the fly.  This is the smallest size under post-1914 Navy regulations, and as a result of it being the most displayable size, it is the most coveted by collectors.   

"MARE ISLAND" refers to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard (MINS), which is where this flag was made (see the images).  The US Navy made flags not only at the MINS, located outside of San Francisco, but also made them at the New York Navy Yard in Brooklyn, the Charleston Navy Yard in Boston, and Cavite in the Philippine Islands.  The MINS was the first US Navy base on the Pacific Ocean, and a primary base for seafaring and war operations, particularly during World War II as one of the key builders of battleships. 

During World War II, the MINS included over 900 buildings and employed 46,000 workers, 500 of which worked in the "Flag Loft."  The "Flag Loft" operated eight hours a day, and six days per week.  Most "NO 12" Mare Island flags date to this period of operation, and thus date to the 1940s.  In contrast, this particular flag is much earlier and exponentially rarer than its World War II era counterparts, in that it dates to 1919.  This is also an interesting date, in that it is only three years after the Navy discontinued its use of thirteen-star flags in 1916.   

Its stripes and canton are made of wool bunting, and each individual piece is machine sewn into place.  The World War II era Mare Island flags include painted stars, but this much earlier version includes individual cotton stars that are sewn into place with a lineal stitch.  The use of a lineal stitch is quite unusual in a flag this late, as most flag makers had transitioned to a zig-zag stich around the turn of the century.  Due to the extreme environment that this flag would have had to endure, it includes three grommets along its hoist, instead of two; heavy grade wool; and extra stitching along several of its seams.      

The forty-eight star flag represents the inclusion of New Mexico and Arizona to the Union.  New Mexico was admitted on January 6th, 1912, and Arizona was admitted on February 14th, 1912.  The forty-eight star flag became official on July 4th, 1912.  Presidents Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower all served under this flag.  World Wars I and II, and the Korean War were all fought under it. 

The forty-eight star flag was official for forty-seven years up until July 4th, 1959, the time at which the forty-nine star flag became official and began to represent the inclusion of Alaska in the Union.

Conservation Process: This flag was hand sewn to silk organza, and both were hand sewn to cotton fabric.  The silk organza provides a strong layer of protection and a professional appearance.  The flag, the silk organza, and the cotton fabric were then hand sewn to a mounting board.  To prevent the black dye in the cotton fabric from seeping into the flag, it was first washed in a standard wash and then in a dye setting wash.  The flag is positioned behind a UV resistant acrylic, and spaced apart therefrom using spacers. 

Frame: This offering is in our Large Black and Gold Frame.  However, it can be reframed and would look great using any one of our Large Frames, which are shown in the final image.  The pricing associated with the different framing options may vary.  Reframing of an offering may delay shipment by up to two weeks.      

Condition Report: The top four red stripes are slightly faded, but still very attractive.  The flag includes some small holes and tears, most of which are on the red stripes and the blue canton.  Further, there is a small amount of what appears to be paint on the bottom right corner of the flag.  Despite these issues, the flag presents wonderfully.  Many collectors prefer flags that show their use and age.

Collectability Level: The Great – Perfect for Rising Collectors  
Date of Origin: 1919  
Number of Stars: 48
Associated War: WWI   
Associated State: Arizona  

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