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April 2011

Keep Within Compass, or, A Tempest on a Teapot

Teapot, man, smaller Teapot, woman, smaller






This transfer-printed teapot from the late 1700s is not only charming, it also communicates an important social message. Through slogans and illustrations, it reminds both husbands and wives to abide by a moral code of self-restraint and to “keep within compass.” The prints on each side of the teapot—one featuring a man; the other, a woman—depict the rewards of proper behavior versus the dangers of temptation. A large central image, contained within a compass’s legs (“within compass”), presents an idealized view of the perfect life in the late 1700s.  Around each of these main illustrations, four vignettes provide cautionary tales of the ruin that awaits those who eschew a virtuous life.

In the large vignette on one side, the well-dressed gentleman, bags of money at his feet, is surrounded by bountiful fields, a large mill, and men working on his farm. On the other side, the fashionable lady is similarly surrounded by her elegant home, a trunk of pretty things and her loyal dog. Both sides also feature the proverb, “Keep within compass and you shall be shure to avoid many troubles which others endure,” as well as the brief admonitions, “Fear God. Know thyself. Bridle thy will. Remember thy end.” The vignettes around these central images show dangers that an imprudent person could easily fall into, including ruined reputation, prison, and shipwreck—a metaphor for lost fortune. Biblical sayings—“The end of the upright man is peace” and “The virtuous woman is a crown to her husband,” respectively—appear below each image.

98_007T1 98_007T2 A large percentage of the Museum's collection relates to Freemasonry and other fraternal organizations, so we found the iconography on this teapot familiar. The compass is a central Masonic symbol, representing restraint, but this teapot’s manufacturers may have selected it because its meaning of self-control was familiar to society at the time. The images on this teapot appear to be inspired by, though not directly copied from, a pair of prints made in 1786 by London printmaker Carington Bowles (1724-1793), also in the Museum’s collection, reproduced here. These prints may in turn have been inspired by two series of prints by William Hogarth, “A Harlot’s Progress” (1732) and “A Rake’s Progress” (1735), which depict the downfall of a formerly innocent woman and man through drink and seduction.

In the late 1700s, when this teapot was made, tea-drinking was a socialactivity. According to 1700s French lawyer Méderic Louis Élie Moreau de St. Méry, in America “friends, acquaintances and even strangers are invited” to join the family for tea. How you set your table told your guests something about your financial standing, taste and place in the world. So this teapot not only reminded the family to be honorable people, it also conveyed a message about the family’s moral character to their guests—that they valued—and perhaps aspired to—the morals that the prints' designers highlighted. The Museum’s Public Programs Coordinator, Polly Kienle, selected this teapot to include in the exhibition, "Curators' Choice," which features the staff's favorite objects from the collection. Of this teapot, she said, “I wonder what kind of teatime discussions this pot triggered between the couple who owned it.”


David Drakard, Printed English Pottery: History and Humour in the Reign of George III, 1760-1820 (London: Jonathan Horne Publications), 1992.

Rodris Roth, “Tea Drinking in 18th-Century America: Its Etiquette and Equipage,” United States National Museum Bulletin 255 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution), 1961.

 S. Robert Teitelman, Patrica A. Halfpenny, and Robert W. Fuchs II, Success to America: Creamware for the American Market, featuring the S. Robert Teitelman collection at Winterthur (Suffolk, England: Antique Collectors’ Club), 2010.


“Keep Within Compass” Teapot, 1796–1801. Attributed to Ferrybridge Pottery, Yorkshire, England. Museum purchase, in part through the generosity of Helen G. Deffenbaugh, in memory of George S. Deffenbaugh, 2008.040a-b. Photograph by David Bohl.

 “Keep Within Compass” Prints, 1786. Carington Bowles (1724-1793), London, England. Museum purchase, 98.007a-b.

For Every Fighter a Woman Worker: American Women during World War I

A2003_030_8CT1 When the U.S.A. entered World War One in April 1917, it lost no time in producing many more propaganda posters than any other single nation.  These encompassed recruitment to the various armed services, raising of war finance via the hugely successful liberty bond issues, and advertising for the support of women workers in munitions plants and building aircraft in large hangars.  Women had to work for paid employment for the sake of their families. 

Not only did women have to keep "the home fires burning," but they also took on voluntary and paid employment that was diverse in scope and showed that women were highly capable in diverse fields.  There is little doubt that this expanded view of the role of women in society changed the outlook of what women could do and their place in the workforce. Although women were still paid less than men, women's equality was starting to arise as women received two-thirds of the typical pay for men.

In this poster, graphic designer Adolph Triedler (1886-1981), encourages women to do war work. The poster was sponsored by the United War Work Campaign  which brought together seven organizations--the YMCA, the YWCA, the American Library Association, the War Camp Community Service, the Knights of Columbus, the Jewish Welfare Board, and the Salvation Army--into one large funding drive charged with raising over $170 million for the war in 1918.Ww1_munitions_workers[1] 

Treidler also encourages Americans to care for the women workers through the YWCA.  The Young Women Christian Association was also concerned with the needs of the war.  There was a great increase in the duties of employment agencies of the YWCA because of the war.  Training women to take the place of the men was necessary.  Further advancement in the development of women’s work was strengthened by the withdrawal of millions of men from the American industry.

By late 1918, so many men had gone to war that women had to take over their jobs. Labor unions fought hard against hiring women in factories. Women were paid less than men.  As well,  women worked in conditions that were sometimes dangerous and unhealthy.  In munitions plants, acid fumes from high explosives damaged workers’ lungs and  turned their skin bright yellow.  Thousands of women worked long hours filling shells with explosives. Accidental explosions were always a risk.  Little effort was made to ease the women's change from working in the home to the workplace.  Few employers provided childcare for working mothers or even set aside rest rooms for female workers.   

Despite the dangers and inconveniences, one historian of women, Gail Braybon, claims that for many women the war was "a genuinely liberating experience," that made them feel useful as citizens, and also gave them the freedom and the wages only men had enjoyed so far.     


"For Every Fighter a Woman Worker", 1918.  Adolph Treidler, New York. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, A2003/030/8.

"Munitions Workers", ca. 1918. National Archives Photo, courtesy of the Indiana War Memorial.










Patriots' Day Lasts All Week at the Museum!

Doolittle Battle 87-49-2a Patriots' Day is a long-standing Massachusetts holiday celebrated each year on the third Monday of April. The day is set aside to commemorate the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first military engagements of the American Revolution. If you live in the area, however, "Patriots' Day" stretches into "Patriots' Day Week." Public schools enjoy a week-long spring vacation and families take day-trips to the many local events related to the holiday.

If you have a bit of free time during this special week, the National Heritage Museum offers programs and exhibitions that will help you celebrate.

Farmer-solider Join us on Saturday, April 16, at 2:00 PM for a gallery talk featuring "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution," our keystone exhibition that explores life in this small farming community where ordinary people made extraordinary choices that shaped history. Museum staff will give you the inside scoop on Lexington before British soldiers marched into town on April 19, 1775. The gallery talk is free.  

Meeting Billy On Patriots’ Day itself, Monday, April 18, the Museum will be open to the public from 10 AM to 4:30 PM. After attending the reenactment of the Battle of Lexington at the crack of dawn and breakfasting on pancakes prepared by one of the town's civic organizations, come to the Museum. From 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM, visiting families are invited to drop in to celebrate Patriots’ Day with arts and crafts activities exploring life in 1775. The admissions charge for the craft activities is $5/family (members); $7/family (non-members). While you are here, take the opportunity to explore “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution.” Families with young children who visit the exhibition can look forward to meeting and reading about Billy the Patriot Mouse.

LexingtonAlarmLetter An exciting piece of American history will make its annual appearance at the Museum during the holiday week. You won't want to miss seeing the Lexington Alarm Letter, on view from Saturday, April 16 through Saturday, April 23. This document was written on the morning of April 19, 1775, and was used to alert the colonies that war with England had begun. Previous posts to our blog include: a transcription of the letter's text; details on the important role it played in the 24 hours after the Battle; and a reconstruction of the route the letter took to New York City.

If you are interested in learning more about Patriots' Day and the Battle of Lexington, take a look at related posts to our blog. In exploring the following links, you'll learn some incredible facts about the beginnings of the American Revolution in Lexington and see some fascinating objects from our collection:

Finally, if you are an educator or a student of the Revolutionary era, check out the following posts:

We look forward to seeing you at the Museum. If you have questions about our April programming or about our exhibitions, please call the Museum at 781-861-6559. Please refer to our website for opening hours and directions.

Photo credits:

The Battle of Lexington,” 1775. Amos Doolittle (1754-1832), New Haven, Connecticut. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut

Farmer, 2007. Joe Farnham, National Heritage Museum

Meeting Billy, 2007. Sheli Peterson, National Heritage Museum

Lexington Alarm Letter, 1775. Daniel Tyler, Brooklyn, Connecticut. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, A95/011/1

A Tale of Two Trivets

75_24S1 While living in Philadelphia in the mid-1990s, my future husband and I were browsing through an antiques store and saw a cast-iron trivet that we liked. Neither of us had ever owned an iron trivet, or had a particular use for one, but this one had at least three qualities to recommend it. First, since we were both studying history and historic preservation, we liked old things. Second, since we were new to the state of Pennsylvania, its Pennsylvania German folk art style charmed us. And third, as starving graduate students, it was pretty much the only thing in the store that was cheap enough for us to buy. Manufactured in the mid-1900s, it was a commonly reproduced design and it didn’t have a high value.

Over the years, I continued to buy iron trivets at the occasional yard sale or antiques store, and also purchased a reference book that described their history and the companies that made them. I even bought a few on eBay. I ended up with a couple of dozen trivets that wouldn’t impress a serious collector, but they still charm me quite a bit. I love the folk art patterns, the stars and whirls and geometric designs, the flowers and birds, the solid heft of the cast iron. Some of the trivets are painted with bright colors, and evoke the vibrancy of Pennsylvania German art forms such as hex signs and fraktur.Cathy's trivets  (The photo below shows my collection.)

When I began volunteering at the National Heritage Museum, I was happy to discover that the museum’s collection includes some wonderful trivets. Many trivets made in the 1800s and 1900s were not only decorative, but also featured commemorative designs that honored famous people (such as George Washington and Jenny Lind) or organizations such as the Freemasons and Odd Fellows. Several of the Museum’s trivets feature a combination of Masonic symbols with traditional shapes and forms. The example above, manufactured by the John Wright Company of Wrightsville, Pennsylvania, includes the Masonic square, compasses, and “G,” perhaps the most common Masonic symbol, representing reason and faith. On this trivet, the symbols appear within a horseshoe shape, a common trivet motif that signifies good luck. Manufacturers of cast-iron trivets would often reuse popular shapes and patterns – such as the horseshoe – while changing a small part of the design to meet a new need, such as to create a commemorative piece for a particular group or audience. These mid-1900s trivets were often more popular as decoration rather than as functional pieces and were made with short legs to facilitate being hung on a wall. My grandparents had several trivets that I remember hanging in their summer cottage.

Another cast-iron trivet in the Museum’s collection (seen at right) also features a square, compasses, and “G,” along with an archway and a five-pointed star. This one most likely dates to the late 1800s, based on the length and shape of its legs, its cast mark, and its weight. Older88_5DI1 trivets often had longer legs (more than one inch), depending on their intended use, and although often ornamental, were made primarily to hold hot objects such as pots and clothes irons. Some, like this example, were shaped specifically for a clothes iron: wide at one end and tapering to a point at the other.

The fact that foundries regularly produced and marketed Masonic trivets suggests the popularity and influence of Freemasonry in American culture over many decades. Trivets can also be found bearing the symbols of other fraternal and social organizations including the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Grand Army of the Republic, and the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

I still have my own two dozen iron trivets in a box in the garage. I stopped collecting years ago because I didn’t have a place to display them.  I also began to realize the folly of collecting something that weighs as much as … um … a box full of cast iron. But I still find them to be a fascinating bit of Americana.


Rob Roy Kelly and James Elwood, A Collector’s Guide to Trivets & Stands. Lima, OH: Golden Era Publications, 1990.


Top: Masonic Trivet, ca. 1950, John Wright Company, Wrightsville, Pennsylvania, National Heritage Museum collection, Special Acquisitions Fund, 75.24. 

Middle: Cathy Breitkreutz's collection of trivets.  Photograph by Cathy Breitkreutz.

Bottom: Masonic Trivet, 1880-1900, American, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Harriet G. Ward, 88.5.

New Acquisitions: Not Your Grandfather's Freemasonry; or, Books on Freemasonry, Esotericism, the Mystical, the Occult, and "Fringe" Freemasonry

Listed below are some recently acquired books that all address Freemasonry from some angle. The books range from those that contextualize Freemasonry within the Western esoteric tradition to the co-option of Freemasonry by individuals such as Aleister Crowley and Helena Blavatsky, in ways that are decidedly outside the mainstream of Freemasonry. (Both the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as well as the Theosophical Society were influenced by Freemasonry.) And while most of the Freemasonry mentioned in the books below was never recognized by mainstream Masonic groups, these books give researchers the opportunity to study the subject of Freemasonry considered broadly, in all of its permutations. Many of the titles below are part of the SUNY Series in Western Esoteric Traditions.

Victorian_Occultism Butler, Alison. Victorian Occultism and the Making of Modern Magic: Invoking Tradition (Palgrave Historical Studies in Witchcraft and Magic). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Call number: 10.11.B985 2011

Faivre, Antoine. Access to Western Esotericism (SUNY Series in Western Esoteric Traditions). Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.
Call number: 11 .F313 1994

Faivre, Antoine. Theosophy, Imagination, Tradition: Studies in Western Esotericism (SUNY Series in Western Esoteric Traditions). Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000.
Call number: 11 .F313 2000

Godwin, Joscelyn, et al. The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor: Initiatic and Historical Documents of an Order of Practical Occultism. York Beach, ME: Red Wheel/Weiser, 1995
Call number: BF1429 .H47 1995

Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. Helena Blavatsky (Western Esoteric Masters). Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2004.
Call number: BP561 .A1 2004

Howe, Ellic. Fringe Masonry in England: 1870-1885. Rev. 2nd ed. Edmonds, WA: Holmes Publishing Group, 1999. [Originally published in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum 85, 1972.]
Call number: 14.9 .H69 1999

Johnson, K. Paul. The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge (SUNY Series in Western Esoteric Traditions). Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.
Call number: BP585 .B6 J63 1994

Perdurabo Kaczynski, Richard. Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley. Revised and expanded edition. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2010.
Call number: BF1598.C7 K33 2010

Kaczynski, Richard. The Weiser Concise Guide to Aleister Crowley. San Francisco, CA: Weiser Books, 2009.
Call number: BF1598 .C7 K32 2009

McIntosh, Christopher. Eliphas Levi and the French Occult Revival (SUNY Series in Western Esoteric Traditions). Albany: State University of New York Press, 2011.
Call number: 16.7 .C757 2011

Steiner, Rudolf. The Temple Legend: Freemasonry and Related Occult Movements. 2nd ed. East Sussex: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1997.
Call number: BP595 S894 T4613 1997

Steiner, Rudolf. "Freemasonry" and Ritual Work: The Misraim Service. Great Barrington, MA: Steinerbooks, 2007. Call number: 14.9 .S894 Z87 2007