Jeff Bridgman, American Antiques

Jeff Bridgman

Q. What about your background prepared you for being the foremost expert on American flags?

A: I was a dealer in Americana, but I specialized in several areas including quilts and samplers. Buying and selling tons of quilts was a great preparation, because one naturally ends up handling a lot of other textiles and having long conversations about all manner of early fabrics. I also sold folk paintings and painted furniture so that helped a great deal in evaluating painted flags.

Q. What part of the country was important to you when you were studying and pursuing your interest in Americana?

A: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New England, Ohio, Maryland and Virginia. I did shows in all of these areas. Before I was a dealer, I was in graduate school in Boston. There I frequented the Museum of Fine Arts and particularly walked the Freedom trail. When I was younger, I traveled to historic places with my parents including many battlefields and forts.

Q. What was your pivotal moment that crystalized your focus on the Stars and Stripes?

A: This occurred while shopping at an annual Americana show. In the booth of a friend, I found two little flags with dramatic circular star patterns, they intrigued me and that's how it all began.

Q. What was the level of interest in the history of American flags when you got started?

A: I was surprised to discover that despite my admiration for American textiles and despite the level of respect for them among collectors and dealers no one in my industry specialized in American flags. I never encountered fine examples at shows and quickly discovered that no one knew even the basic facts about them. They didn't know what our American flag looked like through history let alone how examples were identified and dated.
Recognizing with awe, the lack of understanding of America's most beloved symbol and the great historical value it held for potential collectors, I opened a new door within the field of Americana.

Q. Is first hand experience the most important aspect of your business?

A: In any area of focus within the antiques trade there is no substitute for learning than actually holding the object in ones hand, in order to make first-hand comparisons and rule out fakes, forgeries and misrepresented material. If you want to acquire a flag used in the presidential campaign of Abraham Lincoln or for that matter any antique, who better to ask than the person who has held and sold more than anyone else.

Q. How do you preserve valuable textiles and ready them for sale?

A: For many years we have operated a textile conservation lab. Here flags, banners, and other textiles are mounted and framed by master –level trained conservators. Once again there is no substitute for experience, flags will sag on their own weight if not supported properly, resulting in both damage and poor appearance.

Q. What is your advice for the new collector?

A: My objective as a buyer and my advice for the new collector are the same. Buy the best you can and you will seldom be dismayed. Don't buy because of price; buy because it's great! My further advice would be don't wait and miss the great stuff, because it disappears year-by-year. You can put money on a shelf or live with great things and enjoy them.