Rural Conversations of the Merry Midshipman (A Royal Arch Cipher)
Rare J. J. J. Gourgas Manuscript Book Conserved

New to the Collection: A Masonic Punch Bowl

2012_019DP2DBThis colorful punch bowl, which the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library recently acquired at auction, includes Masonic symbols in its decoration. It seems likely that it was used in a lodge, or by a Freemason at home, during the early 1800s. “It was the custom in those days,” one member of Saint Paul Lodge in Groton, Massachusetts, reminisced, “to drink to the health of every candidate who was initiated, crafted or raised.” The pursuit of sociable fellowship has guided Freemasonry since its beginnings in the 1600s and 1700s. The Museum has two more punch bowls from the early 1800s in its collection (which differ in shape and decoration), suggesting that they were popular sellers at the time. 2012_019DP5DB

This bowl commemorates the “Cast Iron Bridge over the River Wear,” which opened on August 9, 1796. A scene printed on the outside of the bowl shows the bridge (see above - the scene is repeated inside the bottom of the bowl). Two pitchers in the Museum’s collection (see one example below) also depict the bridge. The pitcher shown here includes Masonic symbols, while the other is decorated with Odd Fellows emblems. The Wearmouth Bridge was located in Sunderland, where this bowl (and the pitchers) were made, providing easily accessible subject matter. Before the bridge was built, the only way to cross the River Wear was by ferry. The 1796 bridge was repaired and reinforced several times until 1927, when construction on a new bridge began around it. In 1929, when the new bridge was completed, the old bridge was demolished. The 1929 bridge is still on the site today.

80_49_2S1The bowl also bears several inscriptions. Lines reading “The Flag That’s Braved a Thousand Years / The Battle and the Breeze,” refer to the English flag and come from a poem written by Thomas Campbell (1777-1844) in 1800. The poem, “Ye Mariners of England,” was set to music and appeared in a number of song books during the 1800s. Campbell was inspired to write the poem by an older song called “Ye Gentlemen of England,” which praises the achievements of the English Navy.

Another verse on the bowl reads “When tempest’s mingle sea and sky, And wind’s like lion’s, rage and rend, Ship’s o’er the mountain water’s fly, Or down unfathom’d depth’s descend, Though skill avail not, strength decay, Deliver us good Lord we pray.” These lines come from a hymn written by James Montgomery (1771-1854). Montgomery wrote more than 400 hymns, while also editing the Sheffield Iris newspaper for thirty-one years. Montgomery’s spiritual hymn offers an interesting counterpoint to another verse on the bowl: “Women make men love, Love makes them sad, Sadness makes them drink, And drinking sets them mad.” 2012_019DP6DB

Masonic Punch Bowl, 1800-1825, Sunderland, England, Museum Purchase, 2012.019. Photograph by David Bohl.

Details of punch bowl, photographs by David Bohl.

Masonic Pitcher, 1800-1825, Sunderland, England, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James DeMond in memory of Gertrude and John D. Lombard, 80.49.2. 

Sources consulted:

“Wearmouth Bridge (1796), site of,”

“Broadside Ballad Entitled ‘Ye Mariners of England,’”

“James Montgomery,”


Aimee Newell

Hello Graeme: Thanks so much for reading our blog and commenting. These pieces are definitely fascinating - and ripe for more research! I think you are quite right that the upside-down square and compasses may have been created by someone who was not familiar with the symbol. Your comments remind us that these were commercial objects made in quantity for sale - just because they were handmade doesn't mean they weren't done in a hurry! Thanks again for these thoughtful comments. Aimee Newell, Director of Collections

Graeme Marsden

The inside art of the upper bowl is interesting in that the square and compasses is upside down, at least according to convention. This cannot be so that it's the 'right way up' for someone quaffing from the bowl, because the surrounding art is not reversed. Dare we surmise that the art was created by a worker who was unfamiliar with the Craft? I'd say this is likely, because there are similar errors and discrepancies in other Liverpoolware/Sunderlandware. They were highly commercialized commodities of their day.

The jug is interesting, too, in its lackadaisical craftsmanship.You can clearly see how the black transfer prints were added, in part lying over the magenta background.It can't have been easy to apply these wet prints, but the way it has been done suggests the hurried output of a piece-worker.
But it definitely has charm!

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