Canton +

Canton +



Time Cover Image

Time Cover Image

Time  Cover - 4/7/1980

Time Cover - 4/7/1980


U.S. Navy 13 Star Masthead Commission Pennant.

Sub-collection: Mastai - Early American Flags

13 Star U.S. Navy Masthead Pennant, 1870's - former Mastai Collection.
This flag is wool, 13-star, US Navy Masthead Pennant of machine-sewn wool bunting, and the stars are hand sewn. Large pennants are very rare, and this pennants appearance on the 7 July 1980 issue of "Time Magazine," surely makes it unique. Its large dimensions and details of production date this pennant to the mid 19th century. This large pennant was intended for use by the U.S. Navy at the closing stages of the age of sail. After the mid-19th century, steel-hulled, coal burning steam ships came to replace the wooden hulled warships of the United States Navy. As full rigging became superfluous, the size and star count of these pennants was reduced.

This masthead pennants precise history is unknown, though we know it was formerly part of the acclaimed collection of noted antique dealer Mr. Boleslaw Mastai and his wife Marie-Louise d'Otrange Mastai, formerly of New York City, and later Amagansett, Long Island. Their collection was the result of fifty years of collecting, research and study by the late husband-wife team. Mastai, started collecting in the mid 20th century and amassed to greatest private flag collection in the United States which he detailed in his ground breaking book, "The Stars and The Stripes: The American Flag from Birth of the Republic to the Present " (Alfred Knopf, New York: 1973). Vexillologists (flag scholars) consider the work a revelation of the American flag as art and as social history. This pennant is depicted on page 71. The Mastai's also exhibited this flag as flag #24 in the acclaimed exhibition, "The Stripes and Stars: The Evolution of the American Flag," at The Amon Carter Museum, in Fort Worth Texas, from October-November, 1973.

Traditionally, masthead pennants were flown from a nation's warship. This type of flag is also called by such various names as a commissioning, masthead, and a long, narrow, or coach whip pennant. Customarily, these pennants were used primarily on public vessels of sovereign states. In 1674, Britain had limited these pennants to use on the King's ships. Presently, such pennants serve as the "distinctive mark" stipulated in Article 8 of the "1958 Convention on the High Seas," by which to distinguish warships from other vessels.

Hoisting the commission pennant is of symbolic importance in the commissioning of a ship. Once raised, it is to fly perpetually, except when substituted by an admiral's flag, command pennant, or the flag of a senior civilian official as directed by U.S. Navy Regulations. Influenced by British naval tradition, the commission pennant is flown day and night at the loftiest point on the aftermost mast.

In the 19th century, masthead pennants were extremely long and narrow. The "1854 Tables of Allowances" issued by the Bureau of Construction, Equipment and Repair called for pennants measuring as much as seven inches by 100 feet for ships of the line and 6.75 inches by 90 feet for frigates.

Masthead pennants at first flew 13 stars. But with such a narrow breadth, pennants for vessels commanded by high ranking officers were redesigned. The quantity of stars was reduced to a seven-star version in 1854 to facilitate easier identification.

The USN uses the commission pennant as the symbol of the commanding officer of a ship. It is depicted on their personal stationery, flown at half-mast if they die aboard ship, and is carried on a staff before their casket in funeral processions, draped in black mourning. Another tradition allows the last commanding officer to keep the commission pennant when a ship is decommissioned.

The ceremonies for commissioning and decommissioning a U.S. Navy warship call for the hoisting of the ensign, jack, and commission pennant as the first procedure after the new captain reads the commissioning order and as the final act before the last captain declares the ship decommissioned.

The term "commission pennant" was officially adopted in lieu of "masthead pennant" in 1922. Masthead Pennants were used to indicate that a warship was in the service of the U.S Government.

ZFC Significant Flag

Publication History
Mastai, Boleslaw and Marie-Louise D'Otrange, The Stars and The Stripes: The American Flag as Art and as History from the Birth of the republic to the Present, Knopf, New York, 1973. p.

Time Magazine, Volume 116, No.1,7 July 1980, Front Cover.


• Acquired by Mr. & Mrs. Boleslaw & Marie-Louise D'Otrange Mastai, New York City, and Amagansett, NY, The Mastai Collection, until 2002.
• Sold via Sotheby's Auction in New York City to the Zaricor Flag Collection, 2002.


Mastai, Boleslaw and Marie-Louise D'Otrange, The Stars and The Stripes: The American Flag as Art and as History from the Birth of the republic to the Present, Knopf, New York, 1973.

Preble, George Henry, The History of the Flag of the United States of America, Boston, Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1894.

National Colors: Ensign, Jack, and Commission Pennant, Sea Flags, 14 November 2011, from: http://mysite.verizon.net/vzeohzt4/Seaflags/ensign/Ensign.html

Navy - Command and Commissioning Pennants (U.S.), Wikipedia, 14 November 2011, from: http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/us%5Envcp.html

Commissioning Pennant, NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER, 14 November 2011, from: http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq106-1.htm

Image of 13 Star Masthead Pennant, Time Magazine, Volume 116, No.1, 7 July 1980, Cover.

Image Credits:
Zaricor Flag Collection.
Time Magazine, Volume 116, No.1, 7 July 1980, Cover.

Hoist & Fly

Width of Hoist 9
Length of Fly 239


Width of Union/Canton 9
Length of Union/Canton 80


Comments on Star Measurements Horizontal rows
Size of Stars 3.5


Width of 1st Stripe 3.5
Width of 3rd Stripe 3.5
Width of Last Stripe 3.5
Size of Hoist 1.5


Is it framed? no


Number of Stars 13
How are the stars embeded? Single Applique
Are there stars on obverse? yes
Are there stars on reverse? yes
Comments on Stars Obverse


Number of Stripes 2
Color of Top Stripe Red
Color of Bottom Stripe White
Has a Blood Stripe? no
Comments on Stripes One red stripe and one white stripe. Stripes are machine stitched.


Description of Crest/Emblem USN Masthead Pennant.


Nation Represented United States


Fabric Wool


Stitching Combination
Comments on Stitching Stars are hand stitched; stripes are machine stitched.
Hand & Machine stitching


Type of Weave Plain


Method of Attachment Grommets


Applique Sides Single Faced = Mirror Image Reverse


Research Documents

Public Copy & Signs


Condition Good
Damage Flag is used and worn.
Displayable yes


Date 1860's


Publication Copy Time Magazine cover 7 July 1980
Flag Books
The Stars and The Stripes - Mastai

The Stars and The Stripes - Mastai