Among the many treasures in the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts on extended loan to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is this jewel manufactured by London silversmith Thomas Harper (ca. 1744-1832). Harper, a prolific and skilled smith, produced a variety of Masonic jewels in the late 1790s and first decades of the 1800s, including officers’ jewels, mark jewels and presentation jewels. An active Freemason and an officer for the Antient Grand Lodge, he played a role in bringing together the Antients and the Moderns to form the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813. Today collectors prize his work. In honor of Harper’s many accomplishments as a craftsman and as a Mason, in 1996 a group of British brethren founded a Lodge of Research named in his honor.
How this jewel became part of the collection of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts is not known. Hallmarks date it to 1811. Its design—an oval in which much of the silver has been cut away (a technique called piercing) to form the shapes of several Masonic symbols—is one Harper produced many times. An engraver outlined, detailed and embellished each of the emblems—a square, compasses, a level, plumb rule and a maul—on the jewel. Cut glass stones set in silver ornament the hinge of the compasses, as well as form the bobs on plumb rule and level. Pierced jewels, with only thin pieces of metal connecting different elements are fragile. This one is missing a trowel that used to span the space between the right hand leg of the compasses and the rim. You can view jewels similar to this one as well as others Harper made in the collections database of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, at the United Grand Lodge of England.
Intriguingly, long before Harper made this jewel or founded his London business as a Masonic jeweler, he lived in the American colonies. In the 1700s he made his home in Charleston, South Carolina, the biggest and most prosperous city in the South at the time. There he advertised as a jeweler, goldsmith and seller of imported jewelry and silversmith’s tools. Researchers have noted that he was involved in Freemasonry in Charleston; he served as Junior Warden for Lodge No. 190 in 1774. The likely-London born Harper (the place and date of Harper’s birth are not clear) chose not to join the colonists in their fight against the British government and, as a consequence, left South Carolina for the Dutch West Indies with his family (which eventually grew to include over ten children) in 1778. The richest and most interesting information about Harper’s career in Carolina comes from the 1780s petition he made for lost property to the British government. Among the losses he claimed were a small house and 465 acres outside of Charleston, an enslaved man who worked in his business, uncollected debts and four years of unrealized work as a silversmith. Harper valued his losses at over four thousand pounds. In spite of having a taken a sizeable financial hit early in his career, Harper rallied. He established himself as a silversmith in London in the 1790s and worked in that trade until his death in 1832.
Jewel, 1811, Thomas Harper (ca. 1744-1832), London, England. Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.3158.
E. Milby Burton, South Carolina Silversmiths 1690-1860, Rutland, Vermont: The Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1968.
Canada, Loyalist Claims, 1766-1835, ancestry.com.
Timothy Kent, “Thomas Harper (1736-1832), Masonic Jeweller and the Jewels of His Period,” Ars Quatuor Coronatorum (2004), 103-115.
Timothy Kent, “Thomas Harper, Masonic Jeweller and the Jewels of His Period,” Silver Studies (2005), 13-17.