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November 2010

How Many Presidents were Freemasons?

79_34_1T1 It never ceases to amaze me how much inaccurate information is out there concerning Freemasonry. One of the most common questions circles around how many U.S. presidents were Freemasons – and from there, many people wonder about how many Freemasons signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The answers to these questions range from well-established – how many U.S. presidents were Freemasons – to less clear-cut – how many signers of the Constitution were Freemasons. When searching the internet for more information about this topic, be warned!  There are many websites with inaccurate information. So, allow me to offer an accurate, clear answer.

Fourteen U.S. presidents have been Freemasons, meaning that there is conclusive evidence that these men received the Master Mason degree: George Washington; James Monroe; Andrew Jackson; James Polk; James Buchanan; Andrew Johnson; James Garfield; William McKinley; Theodore Roosevelt; William Taft; Warren Harding; Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Harry S. Truman; and Gerald Ford.

Nine of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons during their lifetime, though not necessarily in 1776: William Ellery; Benjamin Franklin; John Hancock; Joseph Hewes; William Hooper; Robert Treat Paine; Richard Stockton; George Walton; and William Whipple. 77_75_6DI1

Things get a little less clear when it comes to the Constitution. It seems that at least nine of the signers can be conclusively documented as Freemasons: Gunning Bedford Jr.; John Blair; David Brearly; Jacob Broom; Daniel Carrol; John Dickinson; Benjamin Franklin; Rufus King; and George Washington. Some sources suggest that an additional four men were Masons, while other sources make the total number even higher. Additional research – and debate – is welcome. It is also important to be clear about how you are defining a Freemason: Is it men who have received the Master Mason degree? Or is it any man who took the Entered Apprentice degree? Do “Masonic signers” have to be Freemasons when they signed the document, or at some point in their life? Let me know what you think in a comment below!

For more information about Freemasonry, please visit the National Heritage Museum website. Also, you may want to check out an excellent Masonic website that is the brainchild of Paul Bessel: www.bessel.org.  It includes much useful information about American Freemasonry.

Top: Presidents of the United States, ca. 1861, A. Feusier, lithographer, and F. Bouclet, publisher, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, collection of the National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 79.34.1.  Photograph by David Bohl. 

Bottom: The Declaration of Independence, 1840-1880, John Francis Eugene Prud’homme (1800-1892), New York or Washington, D.C., collection of the National Heritage Museum, gift of J. Robert Merrill, 77.75.6.

Made in Japan

77_70_38DI2 With the exceptions of pieces owned by famous people, or particularly rare or valuable examples, ceramics are often overlooked as important aesthetic and historic objects. This is unfortunate because dinnerware, vases, figurines, and the like have much to tell us about the people who made and used them, and their societies. The National Heritage Museum owns a diverse group of ceramics, ranging from commemorative mugs for Masonic events to delicate porcelain teacups. The sugar and creamer set and the vase, seen here, were donated to the museum in 1977, and have been waiting for their stories to be told.

Both the sugar and creamer set and the vase are examples of the so-called "Nippon China" that was popular in American homes between 1865 and 1921.  "Nippon" is the transliteration of the more formal Japanese name for Japan. While Japanese craftsmen had made high-quality porcelain for centuries, the Western world only developed a strong interest in Japanese culture in the late nineteenth century, when many American and European artists began to incorporate Japanese-inspired motifs and imagery into their work. 77_46_1DI1

The end of the Tokugawa policy of seclusion in the 1850s meant that Japanese borders opened to foreigners for the first time since the early seventeenth century. This allowed Westerners to discover Japanese fine art and decorative arts, triggering a new fashion for Japonisme - the influence of Japanese art on Western art and design - that lasted into the early twentieth century. Likewise, Japanese artistic influences inspired many notable decorative artists who were active in the Art Nouveau movement, such as Louis Comfort Tiffany and Edmond Lachenal.

Like most other pieces of Japanese export porcelain during this period, the Museum's objects were hand-painted by Japanese artists with designs that were specifically created for Western audiences. Americans who purchased porcelain tableware and housewares in the early twentieth century were drawn to the ornate and the exotic.  They were also used to the gilded, highly decorative designs hailing from Limoges and Staffordshire. Both the floral motif of this vase and the idyllic landscape pictured on the sugar and creamer set reflect the popular designs of contemporary products from France and the United Kingdom, which had dominated the American market. Ironically, during the Meiji Period (1868-1912), when these objects were made, the Japanese favored simpler designs.  Gilded lusterwares, like this vase, were unfashionable in their country of origin.

77_46_3DI2 The marks on each of these objects provide insight into their history. Both the sugar bowl and the creamer are marked on the bottom with a trademark consisting of an “M” encircled by a wreath, with the words “Hand Painted” printed above and “Nippon” printed below the wreath. The “M” signifies that these pieces were made by the Morimura Brothers factory, which later developed into the Noritake China corporation. Morimura Brothers used this mark from 1911 to 1921. Likewise, the maple leaf stamp on the bottom of the vase was also a trademark of Morimura Brothers, which branded various products with this distinctive mark between 1891 and 1921.  

The year 1921 signaled the end of an era for Japanese export porcelain, as a new American law required that foreign manufacturers mark the country of origin of their products in English. Japanese products designed for the American market began being labeled with the anglicized name “Japan.” In turn, this evolved into the once-ubiquitous “Made in Japan” label that came to appear on everything from toys to electronics sold in the United States later in the twentieth century.


Alden, Aimee Neff, and Marian Kinney Richardson. Early Noritake China: An Identification and Value Guide to Tableware Patterns. Des Moines: Wallace-Homestead Book Company, 1987.

“Japanese Porcelain Noritake Marks.” Antique Chinese and Japanese Porcelain Collector's Help and Info Page. Nilsson, Jan-Erik, 2006, http://gotheborg.com/marks/noritake.shtml, accessed September 29, 2010.

“Nippon China Dinnerware History.” Antique China Porcelain & Collectibles. Nacq Partners, Ltd., 2010, http://www.antique-china-porcelain-collectibles.com/nippon_china_dinnerware.htm, accessed September 29, 2010.

Van Patten, Joan F. Collector’s Encyclopedia of Nippon Porcelain: Identification and Values. Paducah, KY: Collector Books, 2001.

Vase, 1891-1921, Japanese, National Heritage Museum Collection, gift of Dorothy A. and Albert H. Richardson, 77.70.38.

Creamer, 1911-1921, Japanese, National Heritage Museum Collection, gift of Edith V. Carlson, 77.46.1.

Sugar Bowl with Lid, 1911-1921, Japanese, National Heritage Museum Collection, gift of Edith V. Carlson, 77.46.3a-b.

Masonic Calling Cards: A Tradition in Victorian Etiquette

A2010_30_Roadhouse_DSCalling cards evolved in England and were an essential part of introductions, invitations, and visits. During the 1800s, Americans followed this Victorian tradition of using calling cards. They used them in calling upon their friends and relatives. This was proper etiquette for men and women of middle and upper classes and a method for screening those who were socially undesirable.

Every gentleman and woman kept a ready supply of calling cards with them to distribute upon visits. Men and women's calling cards were generally simple in design. They gave the caller's name and often included the name of his gentleman's club, or fraternal organization. Masonic calling cards are a wonderful example of this and, like the ones seen here, demonstrate how some fraternal calling cards used more elaborate designs by incorporating emblems and symbols of Masonic organizations that the bearer was affiliated with.

Mr. and Mrs. Levi Roadhouse, of Monmouth, Illinois, carried cards (above) to a Knights Templar event. Levi Roadhouse was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows as well as various Masonic organizations. These affiliations are all printed on his calling card.  Mrs. Roadhouse's card also bears the Knights Templar emblems so that everyone would know that she was associated with this fraternal group.

A2010_30_T_O_Wolfe_and wife_DSMr. and Mrs. Truman Osborn Wolfe (m.1880) carried cards from Milledgeville, Illinois all the way to Boston, Massachusetts for the 1895 Knights Templar Triennial Conclave (see images at right).  They would have exchanged the cards at various Knights Templar events and while calling on acquaintances at their homes. Mrs. Wolfe was a member of Order of the Eastern Star as well as "accompanying Sterling Commandery, No. 57" to Boston in 1895. Her card bears the Eastern Star symbol of the five pointed star in gold. The five points symbolize characters from the Bible. Mr. Wolfe's card bears the emblems of his Commandery, Consistory, and Temple so that new acquaintances would know that he belonged to York Rite and Scottish Rite Freemasonry as well as the Shrine.         


At some Masonic events, entire families carried calling cards. This was the case with at least one family who traveled to the 1895 Knights Templar Triennial Conclave. The Holmes family travelled from Galesburg, Illinois to Boston. The father, Hugh W. Holmes (1859-1936) was an officer of the Galesburg Commandery, No. 8, holding the position of Senior Warden. His wife, Jennie Ann (1864-1965), carried a card letting people know she was "accompanying the Galesburg Commandery." Two of Hugh W. Holmes' nine children accompanied him, Bertha Mae Holmes (b. 1883) and Urcel Lulu Holmes (b. 1892). Both daughters had their own calling cards indicating they were "with the Galesburg Commandery" (below left).

In a certain way, the calling card served to brand one's social identity. In the late 1800s, affiliation with a Masonic lodge, or a Knights Templar Commandery was socially important. And for wives and other family members, a Masonic association was definitely a desirable one.

Images from:

Collection of Masonic Calling Cards, 1895-1900.  Museum purchase, A2010/30/1-463 (MA 056).

Lecture on Classic Diners, Saturday, Nov. 20

If you have ever eaten at a diner--and who hasn’t?--the upcoming Lowell Lecture is for you! We are excited to welcome guest speaker Richard J. S. Gutman, director and curator of the Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI.

RJSG at CAM lg_cropped

He will join us on Saturday, November 20 at 2 p.m. for an illustrated presentation entitled “What Is It about Diners? More Than a Meal, That's for Sure!” Mr. Gutman, about whom Yankee magazine said, “Nobody knows more about these classic eateries,” will elaborate on the staying power of the American diner, based on 40 years of eating and research. He has consulted on more than 80 diner restoration projects across the United States and in Europe. The leading authority on the history and architecture of diners, he has published several books on the topic, including American Diner Then and Now (2000) and The Worcester Lunch Car Company (2004). Long-time visitors to the National Heritage Museum may fondly recall two exhibitions he guest-curated with Kellie  Gutman: “American Diner: Then and Now” (1995)  and “Summer Camp” (1998).

This free public lecture is funded by the Lowell Institute. It is held in conjunction with the new exhibition, “Night Road: Photographs of Diners by John D. Woolf."

Photo credit: Courtesy of Richard J.S. Gutman

"Night Road: Photographs by John D. Woolf" Opens Tomorrow

NightRoad_Coney Island Hot Dogs Drawn to diners and other twentieth-century roadside architecture, photographer John Woolf embarked on a project of capturing images of these buildings—especially those in the Northeast industrial corridor from New Jersey to Maine. Twenty of these compelling photographs can be seen in the exhibition “Night Road,” which opens on November 6, 2010 at the Museum. It will be on view through May 31, 2011. Admission is free.

Most of these structures combine signage—both lettered and neon—designed to attract the attention of nocturnal travelers. As Woolf describes, “At night, with a mixture of the road’s various artificial light sources, interior lights shining through highly visible windows, and eye-catching, garish neon signs, these buildings and their surroundings suggest a film-noir movie set photographed in Technicolor.”

Using a digital camera and making multiple exposures for each light source and then combining them together in software, Woolf has tried to recreate the lurid color and dramatic lighting of these roadside structures. Digital photography enables this process, which would not be possible with a traditional film camera.

NightRoad_Rosebud Diner The popular architectural treasures highlighted in the photos date from an era when commercial  buildings were more playful and symbolic than they are today. In the mid-1900s, builders constructed even common structures with a high level of craftsmanship and imagination. Some of these relics remain, and Woolf has captured them before they fade away.

The Museum is operating on its winter hours schedule and is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 am - 4:30pm

 Leading Diner Authority Richard J. S. Gutman to Speak on November 20 at 2 pm

In conjunction with "Night Road," Richard J. S. Gutman, the leading authority on New England diner culture, will present the lecture “What Is It About Diners? More Than a Meal, That’s for Sure” on Saturday, November 20, 2 pm. One of the Museum’s most popular speakers, Mr. Gutman will draw on his more than 40 years of diner eating and scholarly research to elaborate on the staying power of this enduring American classic. Admission is free, made possible by the Lowell Institute.

Richard_Gutman Richard Gutman is director of the Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, and curator of their ongoing exhibition on the history of the American diner. Much of the collection, from photos and menus to stools and floor tile, is on loan from Mr. Gutman, who has been acquiring diner memorabilia since 1970. He is the recognized historian on the subject of diners, and popularized them through lectures, articles, exhibitions, and the publication of books on the subject, including American Diner (New York: Harper & Row, 1979) and American Diner Then and Now (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000; New York: HarperCollins, 1993). He and his wife Kellie were guest curators of two highly popular exhibitions at the Museum: “American Diner: Then and Now” and “Summer Camp.”

Coney Island Hot Dogs, Worcester, MA. Photographed 2009.

Rosebud Diner, Somerville, MA. Photographed 2009.

Richard J. S. Gutman

Phony as a $3 Bill

3-dollar bill cropped “Phony as a $3 bill.” Today, this phrase conjures up images of smarmy swindlers selling counterfeit merchandise. So I was surprised to learn that legitimate $3 bills, like the one seen here, once existed. So did bills in a variety of denominations that might seem strange to us today, from 1/2¢ on up.

In the early 1800s, the newly formed United States made several attempts to nationalize banking. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton convinced Congress to create the First Bank of the United States in 1791. Its charter expired in 1811. To control inflation and pay debt from the War of 1812, Congress established the Second Bank of the United States in 1816. President Andrew Jackson vetoed its recharter in 1836, letting loose a banking free-for-all.

From 1836 to 1866, no Federal laws regulated banks. Each state chartered its own financial institutions, and each bank issued its own currency. According to one source, over 30,000 different bank notes were created during this 30-year time period. Not always backed by gold or silver and often easy to counterfeit, many of this wide variety of bills could prove worthless—or, as we say might today, phony as a $3 bill.

The U.S. government reestablished control of the banking system to finance the Civil War. In 1861, it began issuing bank notes. Then the National Bank Act of 1863 created a national banking system and uniform national currency, printed by private companies under contract to the U.S. government.  In 1865, the government levied a 10 percent tax on state bank notes, rendering them unprofitable for the banks to issue, thus ending what is now known as the free banking era. Since 1877, the U.S. Department of the Treasury has been responsible for printing all U.S. currency, and it hasn’t printed any $3 bills. But you can see this one at the National Heritage Museum, on view in “Curators’ Choice: Favorites from the Collection.”
Reference: Gene Hessler, The Comprehensive Catalog of U.S. Paper Money, 4/e (Port Clinton, OH: BNR Press), 1983.

Photo: Bank Note, 1800–1860. The Merchants and Planters Bank, Georgia; Bald, Cousland and Co., Philadelphia; Baldwin, Bald and Cousland, New York. Gift of Clinton E. Brooks, 78.17.1.