Freeman’s to Sell Historic USS Constitution Colors from the Collection of H. Richard Dietrich, Jr.
PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 10, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Freeman’s is delighted to announce that it will offer for sale a unique collection of historic and rare naval flags from one of the most revered patrons and collectors of American art, the late H. Richard Dietrich, Jr., on Monday, April 30, 2012 following the American Furniture, Silver and Decorative Arts auction. Included are some of the earliest known and significant patterns of our Nation’s naval ensigns from our country’s most iconic ship, the USS Constitution. This exceptional grouping of 12 flags spanning six decades has been in private hands for more than 150 years and never been on the open market. Dietrich’s ambition and foresight to preserve American history through material culture combined with his lifelong passion for the sea has secured the survival of these flags; the ensigns are testaments to American pride, patriotism and preservation. Dietrich’s flag collection is estimated at $1-2 million.
Commenting on the sale, Samuel M. “Beau” Freeman II, Freeman’s Chairman and specialist in Americana, said, “We are privileged to offer these exceptional and rare flags. Mr. Dietrich was one of the great collectors of his time and committed to the city of Philadelphia and the preservation of American art. These flags are actual artifacts of ‘Old Ironsides’, flown during many pivotal moments in the Nation’s as well as the world’s history.” The Constitution, a three mast 44 gun frigate named by President George Washington and launched in 1797, has the distinction of being the oldest commissioned naval vessel. In 1997 she sailed under her own power for her 200th birthday. The Constitution will be lauded again with this year’s bi-centennial of the War of 1812.
Highlights of the collection include four rare and extremely early U.S. ensigns and a U.S. Commodore’s Broad Pennant. “Dietrich’s flags are the most important collection to come up for sale since the Tarleton Colors. The collection includes a rare 13-star naval ensign and an unparalleled grouping of flags from the U.S.S. Constitution that have survived with a rich and colorful provenance almost equal to that of the ship itself,” shared Col. J. Craig Nannos, consulting specialist for the auction.
Eleven of the colors were acquired by Dietrich in 1964 via Horace and Elinor Gordon, friends and advisors to Dietrich on his private collection as well as The Dietrich American Foundation. The colors were sold by Ken Parris, grandson of Virgil Parris (1807-1874), former US representative and state senator from Maine and appointed “Keeper of the Stores” of the Portsmouth Naval shipyard in 1858. The Constitution arrived in Portsmouth on June 14, 1855, decommissioned from active duty and saved from salvage to be converted to a training ship. During this period, Parris was informed that her “light gear”–sails, rigging, spars, hull timbers, and various instruments, as well as all flags–including small boat and signal– were to be removed and condemned as “unfit for service,” and ordered sold at public auction. Parris purchased the acclaimed vessel’s naval flags and the family retained them into the mid-twentieth century.
An extremely rare 19-star United States Ensign from the USS Constitution was officially used from December 1816 to December 1817. This flag is one of the earliest authorized U.S. Navy ensigns to survive and dates prior to the 3rd Flag Act of 1818. It is comprised of wool bunting with 19 appliqued cotton stars and nine full and two fragmentary wool bunting stripes remaining, hand sewn throughout. Approximately H 10’6″x W 16’8″.
A rare 28-star United States Ensign from the USS Constitution authorized in 1846 with modifications made for continued usage. The 28 stars mark the admission of the state of Texas into the U.S. in 1846. The additional two stars mark the admission of Iowa in 1847 and Wisconsin in 1848 and extended the use of the Ensign. It is comprised of wool bunting, with 28 appliqued cotton stars, two slightly larger stars later additions, thirteen stripes, hand sewn throughout, without hoist. Approximately H 12’9″ x W 20’1″.
A very fine 31-star United States Ensign of the USS Constitution (1851-1858) is most likely her last ensign prior to the ship being laid up in ordinary at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in 1855. Inscribed on the hoist is “Constitution No. 1” which refers to the size of the flag. In the US Navy the No. 1 ensign was the vessel’s largest. The 31-star pattern is arranged 6-5-5-5-5-5, the same arrangement and star pattern as the ensign used for Commodore Perry’s famous visit to Japan in 1853. The flag is comprised of wool bunting and appliqued cotton stars, all hand sewn, 13 stripes. Approximately H 11’4″ x W 15’3″.
The earliest and rarest flag from Dietrich’s collection is a superb 4-5-4 patterned, 13-star, 8 stripe American naval flag. Its construction and fabric date it to the late 18th century/early 19th century. From 1777 to 1818 both the number of stars and stripes were mutable and variety is found in period paintings. The flag is comprised of wool bunting and 13 appliqued cotton stars and hand sewn with cotton thread throughout. Approximately H 6′ 1″ x W 10’10″.
The Third Flag Act of 1818 stated, “That from and after the fourth day of July next, the flag of the United States be thirteen horizontal stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be twenty stars, white in a blue field and be it further enacted, that on the admission of every new state into the Union, one star be added to the union of the flag; and that such addition shall take effect on the fourth day of July then next succeeding such admission.”
A rare and early U.S. Commodore’s Broad Pennant from the USS Constitution, is the oldest known representation of a U.S. Commodore’s “broad pennant,” in use from 1837 to 1845. It is comprised of dark blue bunting with a swallow-tailed shape, and a design based on a 26-star pattern. The inscription on the hoist reads “Constitution Bradd pendened.” Approximately 8’9″ x 19’5″.
The pennant was raised on the ship of a commodore when he took command of a squadron and remained on the ship as long as he was in that position. This Broad Pennant dates from the period when the Constitution served as the flagship of both the Mediterranean Squadron (1837-1838) and the Pacific Squadron (1839-1842) under Commodores Jesse Duncan Elliot and Daniel Turner.
Other remarkable flags of interest from the Constitution’s locker are: a United Kingdom Red Ensign (the largest in the collection measuring H 13’2″ x W 20’8″); a Royal or Imperial Brazilian Ensign with its hoist inscribed in ink “Constitution” and “USS Ohio“; a French Republic Commissioning Pennant circa 1798-1800, extremely rare and possibly from a French ship during the Quasi-War with France 1798-1800; and a USS Constitution Commissioning Pennant circa (1797-1854) which may be the oldest example with 11 stars remaining.
America’s oldest auction house, founded in 1805, is pleased to be offering historic naval colors from America’s oldest war ship, the USS Constitution. In honor of ports the Constitution has visited, Freeman’s will be hosting special events in Boston, Newport and Annapolis. Please visit www.freemansauction.com for more details.
Founded in 1805, Samuel T. Freeman & Co has upheld an exemplary role as America’s oldest auction house and achieves record-setting prices for clients around the world. Located on Chestnut Street, Freeman’s offers over 30 auctions a year in categories including: American Furniture, Decorative & Folk Arts, English & Continental Furniture & Decorative Arts, Asian Arts, Fine American & European Paintings & Sculpture, Modern and Contemporary Art, Rare Books, Oriental Rugs, Fine Jewelry & Watches. For more information, visit www.freemansauction.com or contact 267.414.1240.