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May 2012

Commemorative Pitcher Mystery

GL2004_1570 view oneIn the late 1700s and early 1800s, American consumers could choose from a variety of types and styles of earthenware produced in England and imported to the former colonies.  This summer the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library will feature a few earthenware commemorative pitchers in the lobby and hallway display areas. 

Many surviving historic commemorative pitchers are creamware, decorated with transfer prints and further ornamented with gilding or colored enamel paint, you can see an example here.  This blue one, which will be on display starting mid July, is a little different.  Once decorated with black paint and gilding, this pitcher is made of what is now called pearlware, an earthenware with a white, as opposed to cream or buff, color.  To achieve the blue band of color around the pitcher, makers decorated it with slip—clay with color and water added to it.  This method of adding color and pattern to ceramics took less time and did not cost the manufacturer as much to produce as transfer-printer wares.  This presentation pitcher would have been a not-quite-as expensive alternative to transfer-printed or hand-painted creamware.  In fact, as collector Jonathan Rickard has written, this kind of slip-decorated ceramics were “the cheapest imported decorated wares available in American during the federal period.”GL2004_1570 view two

Makers called this pottery dipped ware, referring to the way the color was applied, by dipping the pot into slip.  Rickard has noted that many dipped wares with a blue field, often accompanied with a black and white checkerboard band, survive. They were likely popular with consumers.  This example is further decorated with black paint and gilding.  Over time some of the paint and gilding on this jug, which did not adhere to the glazed surface of the vessel, has flaked off.  Rickard has suggested that some owners may have scrubbed off the incomplete decorations as soon as the paint and gilding started to show signs of wear.  As a result, dipped wares with any remaining gilding are uncommon survivals.

This example retains enough gilding and paint to show a legible inscription under the spout, “Plymouth 1792,” and discernible images of a cod fish, a ship flying the British flag and a square and compasses with the letter G.  These decorations turned the pitcher into a presentation object. This jug is part of the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, but its early history is unknown. 

The images on the pitcher offer some tantalizing, if inconclusive, clues.  The year 1792 is an important GL2004_1570 view threeone in the history of Massachusetts Freemasonry, when two competing grand lodges united to form one.  Plymouth was also a community involved in shipbulding and trade.  As well, the cod fish has played an essential role in the economic history of the commonwealth, so much so that a wooden one has hung in the state house since the early 1700s.  When the state legislature moved from the Old State House to Beacon Hill in 1798, members wrapped the cod in an American flag and carried it at the head of their ceremonial procession to the new building.  This important spot in the procession signaled the symbol’s importance to all who witnessed the parade.

In spite of the intriguing clues offered by the decorations on this object, the event commemorated with this pitcher is a mystery.  If you have any ideas, please be sure to leave a comment, we would be happy to hear from you!

Pitcher, 1790s.  England. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.1770. Photographs by David Bohl.


Jonathan Rickard, Mocha and Related Dipped Wares, 1700-1939 (Hanover, New Hampshire:  University Press of New England), 2006, quote from page 81, see also 34-42, 76-82.

S. Robert Teitelman, Patricia A. Halfpenny and Ronald W. Fuchs, Success to America:  Creamware for the American Market (Woodbridge, Suffolk:  Antiques Collectors’ Club, 2010), page 288.

Mass Moments, “The Sacred Cod Moves to New State House,” http://www.massmoments.org/moment.cfm?mid=1.

New Library Acquisitions - May 2012

Listed below are some recent acquisitions - many newly published books - on the subject of Freemasonry, fraternalism, and American history, now in the collection of the National Heritage Museum's Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives. You can find all of these titles (and more) by searching the library's online catalog.

This list is not comprehensive, but seeks to highlight some interesting, recent library acquisitions which were acquired and cataloged over the past nine months. They include a newly published history of B'nai B'rith, a couple of recently published books about historically African-American Greek-letter college fraternities, a book that looks at the role of fraternal groups during the American Civil War, a book about WWII anti-Mason Bernard Faÿ, as well as a book that collects foundational essays on the subject of American fraternal organizations. Other books include two recent books on the American Revolution and two books that look at mourning in America.

Red_Triangle_coverT. H. Breen. American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People. New York: Hill and Wang, 2010.
Call number: E209  .B76 2010

Robert L.D. Cooper. The Red Triangle: A History of Anti-Masonry. Hersham, Surrey: Lewis Masonic, 2011.
Call number: 19.63 .C778 2011

Hannah Mather Crocker. Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston. Edited by Eileen Hunt Botting and Sarah L. Houser. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2011.
Call number: F73.3 .C76 2011

John Ernest. A Nation Within a Nation: Organizing African-American Communities Before the Civil War.  Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Inc., 2011.
Call number: E185.5 .E76 2011

Secret_Society_History_coverMatthew W. Hughey, et al. Black Greek-Letter Organizations 2.0: New Directions in the Study of African American Fraternities and Sororities. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011.
Call number: LJ34 .B57 2011

Gregory S. Parks, et al. Black Greek-letter Organizations in the Twenty-First Century: Our Fight Has Just Begun. Lexington, Ky. : University Press of Kentucky, 2008.
Call number: LJ34 .B58 2008

Maya Jasanoff. Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
Call number: E277 .J37 2011

Gerald E. Kahler. The Long Farewell: Americans Mourn the Death of George Washington. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008.
Call number: E312.3 .K34 2008

Secret_Societies_coverMark A. Lause. A Secret Society History of the Civil War. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, 2011.
Call number: E458.8 .L38 2011

June O. Leavitt. The Mystical Life of Franz Kafka: Theosophy, Cabala, and the Modern Spiritual Revival. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Call number: 16.8 .K11 2012

Christopher McIntosh. The Rose Cross and the Age of Reason: Eighteenth-Century Rosicrucianism in Central Europe and its Relationship to the Enlightenment. New York: SUNY Press, 2011.
Call number: 10.12 .M152 2011

Alan Swedlund. Shadows in the Valley: A Cultural History of Illness, Death, and Loss in New England, 1840-1916. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2010.
Call number: RA418.3 .N427 S94 2010

William D. Moore and Mark A. Tabbert, eds. Secret Societies in America: Foundational Studies of Fraternalism. New Orleans, LA: Cornerstone Book Publishers, 2011.
Call number: 10 .S42 2011

Extraordinary_Catalog_coverThomas R. Pegram. One Hundred Percent American: The Rebirth and Decline of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2011.
Call number: HS2330 .K63 P46 2011

Julia Suits. The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions: The Curious World of the DeMoulin Brothers and Their Fraternal Lodge Prank Machines. New York: Penguin Group, 2011.
Call number: HS1507 .S85 2011

Cornelia Wilhelm. The Independent Orders of B'nai B'rith and True Sisters: Pioneers of a New Jewish Identity, 1843-1914. Detroit : Wayne State University Press, 2011.
Call number: HS2228 .B44 W678 2011

Barbara Will. Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2011.
Call number: 19.63 .W689 2011

What were wheatless Wednesdays during World War I?

A99_81_19T_Web versionThis poster is typical of food conservation posters produced during World War I, many of which especially emphasized saving wheat and meat. Herbert Hoover (1876-1964) Administrator of the U.S. Food Administration (USFA), promoted wheatless days and meatless days for the American people. 

In April of 1917, the USFA began taking measures conceived to conserve food for the war effort. In particular, Americans were asked to "eat less wheat, meat, sugar, and fats" as shown in this World War I poster in the Museum's collection. These foods were to be saved for the United States Army and its allies. While there was no food rationing in the United States, as there was in Great Britain, Americans were still asked to change their food-buying and eating habits.

Americans were encouraged to eat more corn, oats, rye and fish. The USFA set up a nation-wide system that reached each state and county chairman to manage compliance at the local level. The system relied on the patriotic goodwill of the American people, but the USFA also set up some strict guidelines.

For example, restrictions on the use of wheat in baking were imposed by the government, which set the size of loaves of bread made by bakeries. And only bread baked with substitute ingredients as required by law could be called "victory bread."  As a result, corn, barley, rice, oat, rye, potato and other flours were widely used for making bread. Recipes for bread and other baked goods recommended no more than 50% white wheat flour. Most families observed what were called "Wheatless Wednesdays." In most states and counties, "Hoover cards and  pamphlets" were supplied to housewives for use in the kitchen. New menus were sent out that were geared toward using less wheat.

According to the USFA's Charles R. Van Hise, in his 1918 book,  Conservation and Regulation in the United States During the World War, wheat was very important to conserve.  In 1918, wheat was in short supply in Europe and Great Britain. Van Hise advocated voluntary conservation of wheat by American citizens. In his book, he also outlines procedures for price fixing of wheat crops in the United States to ensure that farmers were motivated to grow wheat. In 1918, a bushel of wheat was sold for a fixed price of $2.20 in Chicago. 

Other restrictions included the conservation of meat. During the war, most Americans ate more fish and poultry rather than meat - meaning beef and pork. "Meatless Mondays" were a routine for most families. They also used vegetable oils instead of lard.

In the Museum's exhibition "Fight, Save, Buy, Wake Up!  World War I Posters" there are many posters with this same theme of food conservation.  This poster and others on view offer a window into life during World War I.



L. N Britton.  Eat More Corn, Oats and Rye, 1917, printed by Heywood, Strasser & Voight Litho Co., New York, Gift of Diana Korzenik and Andrew S. Dibner, A99/81/19, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library.

The Prudence Book: A List of All Masons (For Detecting Masonic Impostors)

Prudence_Book_cover_web1Four years ago, our very first blog post was on the topic of Masonic impostors. Each May since then, we've follow up with another post on the same topic. Our earlier posts looked at Masonic impostors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but today we're going further back in time and looking at the subject of Masonic impostors in 1859.

The Prudence Book of Freemasonry for 1859 was compiled and published by Rob Morris (1818-1888), a well-known Masonic author and book publisher based in Louisville, Kentucky. Morris was a high-profile Mason who wrote extensively and served in many high Masonic offices. Indeed, he was Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Kentucky when The Prudence Book was published.

Although rather mundanely titled and brief (64 page), Morris's booklet was ambitious. It sought to become a tool that could be used to identify non-Masons intent on imposing upon the good will and charity of Masonic lodges by posing as Masons in need of financial assistance. Morris gives many examples of Masonic impostors on the back inside cover (below, right) of The Prudence Book, including this colorful description: "Mr. A.G. Jones has committed depredations upon the fraternity in Decatur county, Ga. and other places. He is badly pock-marked, and quite loquacious. Beware of him."

At first glance, The Prudence Book seems like an odd title, but it alludes to a line from Freemasonry's "Ancient Charges," quoted by Morris on the cover of the booklet (pictured above, left):

"You are cautiously to examine a strange brother in such a manner as PRUDENCE shall direct you, that you may not be imposed upon by an ignorant, false pretender, whom you are to reject with contempt and derision, and beware of giving him any hints of knowledge."

Prudence_Book_inside_back_cover_web1This issue of Morris's Prudence Book was the first of what he planned to be six separate 64-page booklets, which collectively would do one simple thing: list every Mason in the United States (and British provinces).

Morris's hope was that the Secretary of every lodge in the United States would purchase these booklets so that they would have a current - or current as possible - list of every Mason in the U.S., listed alphabetically by last name within each state. According to an advertisement in the December 15, 1859 issue of The Voice of Masonry and Tidings from the Craft - the Masonic newspaper for which Morris was editor-in-chief - five issues of The Prudence Book had been published. (The ad also indicates that there would be eight issues, rather than the six Morris had originally predicted. Our library only owns the first issue.)

Morris's preface to The Prudence Book succinctly lays out his vision of the need for such a resource and how it would benefit the fraternity:

"But few remarks of a prefatory character are needed. The general call for a publication of this sort has become urgent, clamorous, irresistible. The Masonic periodicals all confirm it. Proceedings of Grand Lodges everywhere confirm it. My correspondence is filled with evidence of it.
Hereafter, when a visitor calls upon you, it will be a matter of course to look for his name in the PRUDENCE BOOK. If not there, a satisfactory explanation of the omission will be expected of him.

Hereafter, when an applicant for relief makes known his wants, you have something in the PRUDENCE BOOK which will strengthen or invalidate his claims; and if you are imposed upon in spite of this aid, you have the means at command to discover the fact, and avoid a second loss. Heretofore, you have had neither.

And, by means of the PRUDENCE BOOK, you can trace out distant acquaintances, refresh your mind with the grand array of our noble Institution, far and near, watch its progress and career; and, when preparing to sojourn to other countries, carry with you, in a single volume, a Roll of the workmen nearly as large as that of King Solomon."

Although, in this first issue, Morris states that he intends to continue to update The Prudence Book every year, the whole enterprise still raises the question that dogged later Masonic organizations who tried to stay ahead of traveling Masonic impostors: can the information about who is and who isn't a Mason travel faster than the Masonic impostors themselves?

Rob Morris. The Prudence Book of Freemasonry for 1859: Being a Catalogue from the Latest Official Data, of the Grand Lodges, Subordinate Lodges, and Individual Masons, Members of the Lodges in the United States and British Provinces, with the Seal of Each Grand Lodge: The Whole Affording a Means of Recognition and a Test to Try Impostors. Louisville, KY: Rob Morris, 1859.
Call number: RARE 01.M877 1859

A New Discovery About an Old Photo

89_34DS2One of the most exciting parts of my curatorial work is discovering new information about objects in the National Heritage Museum’s collection. Recently, I took a closer look at this photo, which the Museum purchased back in 1989. When it was acquired, the image was cataloged as one depicting a group of African American members of the Order of the Eastern Star, the Masonic auxiliary group for female relatives of Freemasons. It has been identified this way in our database ever since.

But, as part of our current photo digitization project (see our post about it), we were able to take a closer look at the photo.  The initials on one subject’s collar – “I.U.O.M.” – along with the memory of another James Van Der Zee (1886-1983) photograph that was recently up for auction, made me realize that this group is not Masonic at all. They are undoubtedly members of another fraternal organization, the Independent United Order of Mechanics.

This group is not as well-known as the Odd Fellows, the Elks, the Moose or the Knights of Pythias. In fact, before we purchased an apron (at right) and collar associated with the group in 2007, I had never heard of it and it isn’t listed in my standard reference books. But, now that I am aware of IUOM, it helped me correctly identify this image.2007_029_2DI1

As I explained in a previous post, the Independent United Order of Mechanics formed in England in 1757 as a Friendly Society, a type of mutual benefit society that also served ceremonial and friendship purposes. The IUOM became established in the United States in 1910 and membership is open to men and women, boys and girls, of “high moral and ethical standards, who believe in “A Supreme Being” who rules and governs the Universe.” In this photograph, several of the group’s values are painted on the wall in back: Brotherly Love, Relief, Truth, Secrecy, Fidelity, and Benevolence.

Both this photograph and the one sold at auction were taken by well-known New York photographer James Van Der Zee. Sought out by the famous and not-so-famous alike, Van Der Zee maintained a studio in Harlem starting in the 1920s. In addition to individual portraits, he worked to record middle-class black life in Harlem, including photos like this one of fraternal groups and activities.

Do you recognize the location where this photo was taken? Do you have other photos or regalia associated with the IUOM? If so, leave us a comment below!

Independent United Order of Mechanics Group, 1928, James Van Der Zee (1886-1983), New York City. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Special Acquisitions Fund, 89.34.

Independent United Order of Mechanics Apron, ca. 1920, probably American. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Purchase, 2007.029.2.