Navigator's or sea captain's flag chart, silk, maker unknown, England, 1836-1840
This navigator's flag chart is a well-preserved and rare example of a type used by sea captains, navigators, ship chandlers and others during the 18th and early 19th centuries to identify the nationality of ships encountered at sea. For this purpose, images of mercantile and naval flags of the world's nations were assembled. Flag charts were either printed on fabric, like this example which is printed on silk, or paper. Being made of silk, the chart could either be worn around the neck or folded up easily when not required, without being damaged.
The flag chart is typical of those produced in England during the 1800s. The particular design depicted for the Royal Standard of Great Britain and Ireland (British Empire) was current between 1816 and 1837, while the United States National Flag shown bearing some 25 individual stars dates this pattern to between 1836 and 1837, which gives an earliest date for the flag of 1836.
The main body of the chart consists of a 12 x 12 grid with 144 flags, mostly maritime, of various nations; around the central grid is a border containing eight larger flags and eight large scenes of sailing ships. The larger flags, in each corner and at the centre of each side, represent the standards of America, England, France, Holland, Belgium, Portugal, Russia and Spain.
Bridget Berry, Volunteer researcher, Curatorial Design & Society, April 2012
Christina Sumner, Principal Curator Design & Society, April 2012
The printed silk navigational flag chart was possibly made in England in the late 1830s, maker unknown. The silk is lightweight and in good condition and may have been printed using roller printing technology, which was invented in the 1780s and would have allowed a series of charts to be printed along a length of silk. The registration of the print is not exact.
A loom width of silk has been used, leaving selvedges at either side. Small hems at each end have been handstitched with red thread.
This silk flag chart has been in the possession of the family of the donor, Dr Peter White, since at least the late nineteeth century. According to Dr White, family tradition has it that the flag may date back to Napoleonic times in the early 1800s. However the particular design of the flags seems to date the flag chart to the 1830s, after the death of Napoleon I in 1821..