ON April 30, Philadelphia auctioneers Freeman’s will sell flags from the U.S. Navy’s most revered ship, the Constitution.
Their whereabouts previously
unknown, this group of a dozen flags spanning six decades from
c.1790 to 1850 has been in private hands for more than 150
The Constitution, a
three-mast 44-gun frigate named by George Washington and launched
in 1797, has the distinction of being America's oldest commissioned
naval vessel - and the ship whose size, speed and sophistication
caused a wholesale redesign of ships in the British Navy.
In 1997 'Old Ironsides' sailed under
her own power for her 200th birthday before returning to her berth
at Pier 1 of the former Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston.
It appears most of the colours were acquired
by the collector H. Richard Dietrich Jr in 1964 via dealers Horace
and Elinor Gordon. At the time they were sold by the grandson of
Virgil Parris (1807-1874), former state senator from Maine and
Keeper of the Stores of the Portsmouth Naval shipyard.
When in 1855 the Constitution
arrived in Portsmouth for decommissioning and use as a training
ship, Parris was informed that her 'light gear' - sails, rigging,
spars, hull timbers, and various instruments, as well as all
colours including small boat and signal flags - were to be removed
and condemned as unfit for service. Parris later bought the flags
at a public auction.
Highlights of the collection include four
rare and extremely early US ensigns and a US Commodore's 'broad
pennant' plus a royal or imperial Brazilian courtesy ensign flown
when visiting a Brazilian port or returning a salute from a
Brazilian warship and a British ensign of similar early to mid 19th
century date. A rare French Republic commissioning pennant was
possibly seized during the Quasi-War with France, 1798-1800.
The global estimate for the collection, to be sold in 12 lots,
is $1m to $2m.