Is this one of the earliest photographs of St Piran’s flag?

This morning, whilst sorting through the digitised photographs from the collection belonging to Mac Waters, one photo in particular jumped out at us. It was a postcard printed around 1900 labelled “The Quay, Penzance”, depicting boats moored in the harbour. Proudly flying from one of the boat’s masts is what appears to be St Piran’s flag. Or is it?

Read on and see the comments below to find out the full story.

The Quay, Penzance. Boat is flying St Piran's flag?

Is this St Piran’s flag? If it is, perhaps this is the oldest photograph in which it appears. (Photo courtesy of Mac Waters. Ref: WAT_13_067)

As you can see, the original postcard is black and white with high contrast. It is possible that this is another flag, and that the black is another dark colour. However, it is perfectly possible that this is the earliest photograph featuring St Piran’s flag. The oldest known representation of the flag is from an 1888 stained glass window in Westminster Abbey.

Here is a crop from the scan at 100% showing the flag in more detail.

100% crop from the scan of the postcard (Ref: WAT_13_067) from Mac Waters' collection. Is this St Piran's flag?

100% crop from the scan of the postcard (Ref: WAT_13_067) from Mac Waters’ collection. Is this St Piran’s flag?

What do you think? Please leave a comment below if you know of any earlier photos featuring St Piran’s flag, similar photos from this period, or have any ideas or information about the photo. We will use any extra information to improve the entry on cornishmemory.com.

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5 Comments

  1. Michael Brown

    Sadly, after studying it carefully I think it is
    almost certainly a Danish flag. 19th century
    photographs render red as black, the cross
    may well be shifted towards the hoist, it is
    worn where a national ensign might be
    expected and at that date the authorities
    would be very particular about such
    regulations on a merchant trading vessel.

    • Tom Goskar

      Dear Michael,

      Many thanks for taking time to leave a comment and for your thoughts. I think you could be right. Given the low dynamic range of the original photo, and Penzance’s position as a port of some importance in the late 19th / early 20th centuries, a visiting ship or boat from Denmark is quite possible.

      We would be interested if anyone can identify the type of boat in question to see if this adds weight to the potential Danish origins.

      It would be nice if this is a St Piran’s flag, and it certainly looks like one at first glance, but a foreign origin must certainly be considered too. We will be scouring through more photos and perhaps some port records if they survive to find out more.

      Thank you once again.

  2. Michael Brown

    The vessel appears to be a brig. According to Chris Carter’s History of the Port of Penzance Norwegian brigs were frequent callers in the summer months landing timber for the mines. It is quite possible that Danish vessels also took part in that trade.

    • Tom Goskar

      We have also just identified it as a brig or brigantine, and an exotic one of that. It would appear that our “St Piran’s flag” is a trick of the postcard. I’m very glad to have included the question mark in the title! I think we can now answer with a fairly certain “No”.

      Many thanks,

      Tom

  3. Michael Brown

    Further to the above most of the local sailing coasters, such as those owned by mining families from St Just, were topsail schooners (and possibly some ketches). These carried copper ore to South Wales returning with coal for the mine engines.

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