In the late 1700s and early 1800s, many Masonic lodges met in shared spaces. They might have, like many city lodges, shared a lodge room with Masonic groups, or met in a rented room or tavern. To keep lodge property safe and organized, some lodges owned lockable chests. Two chests ornamented with Masonic symbols are currently on view in “’Every Variety of Paintings for Lodges:’ Decorated Furniture, Paintings and Ritual Objects from the Collection” at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.
Lodge histories and records hint at how members used chests and trunks in the early decades of the 1800s. For example, in 1806 the Closet Steward at St. Andrew’s Royal Arch Chapter in Boston noted in his report that the chapter owned a trunk that held officers’ jewels as well as “a silver Chisel & Mallet” and other small objects used during ritual. In 1813 Morning Star Lodge of Worcester, first chartered in 1793, noted “Two chests for furniture” on an extensive inventory of property. In 1821 Thomas Royal Arch Chapter in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, paid furniture maker John G. Davis $3.50 for a “chest” along with $4.75 for “Painting, ornamenting the desks, alter, etc.” Record keepers at Union Lodge in Dorchester, which met in a rented space, noted a chest in their early property inventories. By 1818, as the amount of property owned by the lodge grew, their stock of chests expanded to three.
Chests likely varied in size and finish from lodge to lodge. A craftsman decorated the pine chest illustrated at the right, with red paint and stenciled Masonic designs. Stenciled ornaments enjoyed a vogue as decoration on walls, furniture and textiles in the first few decades of the 1800s. The craftsman who stenciled this chest marked it as the property of a Royal Arch chapter with multiple arches on the front and sides.
A Royal Arch chapter likely owned the painted chest pictured at the top of the page and used it to secure their valuables. In the 1700s and 1800s, many families also kept portable valuables in locked containers to guard against loss and theft.This chest may have first been utilized in a home and then later adapted—and decorated—to reflect its use by a Masonic group.
If you are interested in seeing more of the intriguing decorative arts Freemasons commissioned for their lodges, be sure to visit “’Every Variety of Paintings for Lodges:’ Decorated Furniture, Paintings and Ritual Objects from the Collection.”
Alfred F. Chapman, St. Andrew’s Royal Arch Chapter of Boston, Massachusetts (Boston, Massachusetts: W. F. Brown & Company,1883).
Frederick A. Currier, Centennial Memorial of Thomas Royal Arch Chapter Fitchburg, Massachusetts, 1821-1921 (Fitchburg: The Chapter, 1923).
John D. Hamilton, Material Culture of the American Freemasons (Lexington, Massachusetts: Museum of Our National Heritage, 1994).
Edward S. Nason, A Centennial History of Morning Star Lodge (Worcester, Massachusetts: The Lodge, 1894).
Union Lodge Records, Minutes 1796-1826. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Gift of Union Lodge, A2008/16.