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March 2011

A Masonic Cash Box

90_3T1 This unusual cash box, which the National Heritage Museum purchased for its collection in 1990, is a favorite with several staff members. So it comes as no surprise that it is currently on view in our exhibition, Curators’ Choice: Favorites from the Collection.

The inlay work draws the eye around the entire box. On first glance, you may think that it is inlaid with ivory, but it was actually made using sulfur! The preference for this material seems to have been localized to German woodworkers in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, area during the early and mid-1800s. Despite the unpleasant smell of the sulfur, these craftsmen seem to have enjoyed the speed and ease of completing the inlay this way. Initially, the sulfur dried into a yellow color, which has lightened to its current ivory shade over the decades.  Our box is helpfully dated to 1861 (along with the Masonic date of 2395), although it is not signed by its maker.

The box's maker melted the sulfur and poured it into the wooden sections while in a liquid state. Once it hardened, he polished it and, in this case, it was decorated with pen and ink. The delicate illustrations are copied from the sixteenth edition (1851) of The True Masonic Chart, or Hieroglyphic Monitor by Jeremy L. Cross (1783-1861). Cross first published his book, with illustrations engraved by Amos Doolittle (1754-1832), in 1819 after witnessing the “improper classification” of Masonic symbols at degree lectures. Cross soon became America’s leading Masonic lecturer, and his book became a best-selling and influential source of Masonic symbolism. 90_3T2

The box has a tray inside with spaces fitted for coins and bank notes, suggesting that it was used as a cash box by the Treasurer of a Masonic lodge or Royal Arch chapter. Do you know of other examples of household accessories made using sulfur inlay? If so, let us know in a comment below!

Masonic Cash Box, 1861, Pennsylvania, National Heritage Museum Special Acquisitions Fund, 90.3a-b. Photographs by David Bohl.

A Memorable Gift

GL2004_10165DP1 side view At almost two feet high, this pitcher stands out from the crowd of transfer-printed jugs made in the late 1700s and early 1800s.  During this time, English pottery manufacturers designed and sold great quantities of light beige-to-white earthenware, called creamware, to Americans.  Much of it was plain or minimally decorated tableware, but consumers who wanted to splash out could order transfer-printed designs with gilded or enamel-painted decorations to embellish jugs, bowls or platters. 

Some of these surviving objects celebrate accomplishments, GL2004_10165DP4 inscription both individual and national.  This monumental pitcher, personalized with an inscription that says, “From John Walton to St. Paul’s Lodge,” may have marked either the founding of the Groton, Massachusetts, lodge in 1797 or Dr. John Walton’s (1770-1862) term as master from 1806-1808.  Much bigger than typical examples, which are large enough for 2-3 transfer prints, this pitcher features over a dozen different Masonic and floral transfer-printed designs.  Hand-applied gilding decorates the top and base and also highlights elements of the printed decoration. Walton most assuredly gave his lodge a lavish gift.

GL2004_10165DP5 detail cropped Unlike the majority of transfer print-decorated pitchers, this one bears a maker’s mark, WEDGWOOD, impressed on the bottom.  This mark identifies the famous Staffordshire pottery company founded by Josiah Wedgwood as the pitcher’s maker.  Unfortunately, none of the transfer-print designs on the pitcher are signed.  A few of the transfer prints, such as a stanza that begins “The World is in Pain/our Secrets to Gain,” and an image thought to have been derived from different Masonic membership certificates (see illustration), are fairly common on antique creamware pitchers decorated with Masonic themes.  Many other designs on the jug relate to English Royal Arch Freemasonry.  They are less common in the Museum or the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts collections, but do appear other collections.  For example, a 1925 history of the Grand Lodge of Ireland includes an illustration of a 1797 pitcher of the same size and maker with a very similar decoration as the Walton gift. 

How St. Paul’s Lodge used this enormous vessel is an open question.  A rough calculation estimates 75_46_11bDI3 Union Lodge pitcher that, if filled, the jug would hold about four-and-a-half gallons of liquid and weigh nearly 40 pounds.  The secretary of the Union Lodge of Dorchester, Massachusetts, left a clue as to how his lodge used their pitchers.  He described a pair of smaller (11" high) transfer-print-decorated pitchers (see illustration) given to the lodge in 1811 as “punch pitchers.” In 1802 St. Paul’s Lodge comprised 42 members.  If they filled this pitcher with punch (and could lift it!), every member could certainly have a serving. Regardless of its use, this monumental presentation piece ensured the donor was long remembered. 

Part of the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts housed here at the Museum, John Walton's gift to St. Paul's Lodge is currently on view in Curators' Choice. If you know about other monumental pitchers associated with Masonic organizations, we'd love to hear about them! Please get in touch or leave a comment.

Pitcher, 1797-1810.  Wedgwood, Staffordshire, England. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.10165.  Photographs by David Bohl.

Pitcher, 1811. England. Gift of Union Lodge, Ancient Free & Accepted Masons, Dorchester, Massachusetts, 75.46.11a-b.


John Heron Lepper and Philip Crossle, History of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Ireland, Vol. 1, Dublin:  Lodge of Research, 1925.

John D. Hamilton, Material Culture of the American Freemasons. Lexington, Massachusetts:  Museum of Our National Heritage, 1994.

S. Robert Teitelman, Patricia A. Halfpenny and Ronald W. Fuchs II, Success to America:  Creamware for the American Market. Woodbridge, Suffolk:  Antiques Collectors’ Club, 2010.

Keeping collections safe from flood, fire, and mold

Water mains break, electrical wires can malfunction, and climate control systems can fail--all of which can threaten the safety of a cultural institution's collections. How do organizations manage a disaster or emergency of this kind? As well as these type of emergencies, other major disasters can threaten  collections: flooding, fire, earthquake, or vandalism. Many museums in the United States have experienced disasters of various types. From their experiences, the museum community learns how to cope.

In the summer of 2008, Iowa's Cedar Rapids Museum of Art was hit by severe flooding.  It tookFlood at Cedar Rapids Art Museum  the museum a full year to get back to normal operations. The collections storage and preparation areas in the basement were damaged. All staff took time away from their normal duties to help with reconstructing of storage spaces--one painting at a time.

After the earthquake of 1989 in San Francisco, California museums became models for disaster response and recovery. The Oakland Museum of California even prepared an exhibition about the topic.

Other museums, such as the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum, document disasters that they've coped with. In this case, in Canada, the museum suffered severe damage to its roof from a wind storm in 2003.

Vadalism at Cairo Museum One recent example of a disaster at a museum was the damage done to some of the ancient treasures at the Egyptian National Museum in Cairo during the 2011 political protests of the Egyptian people against the regime of Hosni Mubarak. The museum is home to some of the world's most precious antiquities, an estimated 120,000 artifacts, including the treasures of King Tutankhamen. The damage done to Egyptian artifacts is major and curators must now assess the extent of the damage and begin conservation or restoration of the pieces.

As part of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library's Preservation initiatives, we are creating an Emergency Preparedness Plan. During 2011 we will be using and online tool called dPlan which was written, designed, and is maintained by Northeast Document Conservation Center.  NEDCC is a premier center for disseminating information about preservation and conservation.

The Northeast Document Conservation Center and the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners share dPlan, a free online program to help institutions write comprehensive disaster plans. The program provides templates for museums of all sizes to develop a customized plan with checklists; salvage priorities; preventive maintenance schedules; contact information for personnel, insurance, and IT help; and a list of emergency supplies and services are included.


Flooding entrance to Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, http://www.crma.org/Content/About/Flood-Recovery-Update.aspx

Antiquities Damaged at Egyptian National Museum,http://hyperallergic.com/17815/egyptian-museum-damage/

An Example of Tiffany's Favrile Glass

77_70_10S1 Although this bowl may not be as recognizable as the famed stained-glass Tiffany lamps or windows, it does bear Louis Comfort Tiffany’s (1848-1933) name on the bottom. The soft colors and elegant style of the bowl made it a natural for inclusion in the “beauty and craftsmanship” section of the National Heritage Museum’s current exhibition, Curators’ Choice: Favorites from the Collection.

The ruffle-edge rim gives the piece a natural feel, which was one of the hallmarks of Tiffany’s work with glass vessels. In the early 1890s, Tiffany developed a method of blending different colors together in a molten state. He initially used this technique when crafting his stained-glass windows, extending it to three-dimensional objects in 1893. Initially, Tiffany christened this glass “fabrile,” from an Old English word meaning “hand-wrought.” By 1894, he changed it slightly to “Favrile” and the name stuck. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is fortunate to have 27 Favrile pieces from Tiffany’s personal collection.

Do you have a favorite Tiffany piece? Let us know in a comment below.

Favrile Bowl, 1909, Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), Corona, New York, National Heritage Museum, gift of Dorothy A. Richardson, 77.70.10.