13 Star U.S. Commercial or Merchantman's Jack of S.S. Arctic, 1850s
This is an American Eagle jack styled after the eagle canton flags which became popular at the beginning of the 19th century. They were widely used at sea on commercial or merchant ships, in harbors and on rivers by steamboats.
These eagle jacks often complimented their ensigns, which often bore an eagle in the canton. The exact identity of the ship that flew this flag remains a mystery as at least seven ships bore the name Arctic during the 19th century, the period from which this flag dates.
This magnificent flag features the stylized arms of the United States: The American bald eagle bearing the arrows of defense and the olive branch of peace under an arc of 13 white, five-pointed stars. This large flag, stenciled "Arctic" on the hoist, was misidentified in the auction catalog as a Revenue Cutter Service Jack Flag. In fact, the flag conforms to no known jack ever used by the U.S. revenue cutter service, which never commissioned a ship christened "Arctic."
Note the flag usage recorded in this 1802 oil painting of the Salem Massachusetts dockyards. Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.
A jack is any flag which is displayed on a jackstaff in the bow of a boat. In United Kingdom the practice is confined to vessels of the Royal Navy. The United States Navy also flies a jack on ships, but the proscription does not extend to the merchant marine in the United States.
Commercial ships which bore no commission were freed from the strictures imposed on commissioned ships of the United States with regard to jacks, house flags, private signals and other flags. Often referred to as jacks, they could be seen on the jack staff. Contemporary paintings show jacks flown on locations other than the bow, such as the rigging, especially when dressing a ship for a launching, christening or other celebration.
Acquired from Sotheby's Auction in New York City on October 10, 2002. Mastai Lot No. 99. To be framed April 2003.
Second Presidio Exhibit
2003 Gallery III
13-Star American Commercial or Merchantman's Jack, of S.S. Arctic
Madaus, Howard M., Dr, Whitney Smith, The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord and Conflict. Santa Cruz: VZ Publications, 2006, pp. 56-57.
• S.S. Arctic, 1850/54.
• 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.