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February 2015

Decorated Chests in "Every Variety of Painting for Lodges"

Painted Chest 96_009DP1DB smaller size
Chest, 1800-1820. New England. Museum Purchase, 96.009. Photograph by David Bohl.

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.

Stenciled Chest 75_28DP1DB smaller size
Chest, ca. 1820. New England. Special Acquisitions Fund, 75.28. Photograph by David Bohl.

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.

Admiral George Dewey Inspires the Autograph Collection of a Young Mason

Dewey_002 Dewey_003

In December of 1898, twelve-year-old George E. Elwell, Jr., received this letter from Admiral George Dewey. Elwell, who had been inspired by the Admiral’s victory at the Battle of Manila Bay, had written to the Admiral earlier in the year asking for a souvenir from the war, a common practice of the day. This letter from our collection here at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library  is Admiral Dewey’s response to the young boy’s request, and it served as the inspiration for Mr. Elwell’s life-long hobby. Soon afterward,  and over the course of more than half a century, Mr. Elwell began to assemble an impressive collection of over 100 letters or documents, each containing the signature of a well-known figure from American and European history.

In 1958, the “Elwell Autograph Collection” was donated to the Caldwell Consistory (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania) which in turn was donated to the newly established Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library in April of 1974. Among the Elwell Collection’s many highlights is an appointment letter signed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain (1489), a document signed by Queen Elizabeth I (1559), an Oath of Office signed by the Council of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (1650), the passport of a ship’s captain signed by Louis XIV of France (1701), three documents signed by George Washington (1783, 1789, and 1792), a payroll order signed by Major General Alexander Hamilton (1781), a letter signed by Queen Victoria (1843), a thank-you note signed by Winston Churchill (1945), and a letter signed by United States Senator John F. Kennedy (1959).

Scan_2015-01-12_19-39-43 George Edward Elwell, Jr., 33°, was born in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, on April 19, 1886. A graduate of Trinity College, Mr. Elwell received the Scottish Rite degrees in the Valley of Bloomsburg in 1909. During the course of Elwell’s life and career, he actively served his community and the fraternity of Freemasonry until his death in May of 1969.


Correspondence File from George E. Elwell, Jr. and Caldwell Consistory, Folder USM 009 [no date], Archive Control Files, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library.


Letter from Admiral George Dewey to Twelve-Year-Old George E. Elwell, Jr., December 9, 1898. Gift of Caldwell Consistory, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, USM 009.

Who Wore the Crown? Collecting Order of the Amaranth Materials

2013_049_22aDP1DBTo properly manage the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s collection, the curatorial staff periodically reviews the strengths and weaknesses of the collection so that, as we evaluate new gifts and purchases, we can fill gaps and avoid duplications.  One of the gaps that we are seeking to fill is material (2-d, 3-d, records and papers) associated with fraternal groups for women and children.  So, when a donor generously offered several gifts of Order of the Amaranth material over the past few years, we jumped at the opportunity (see these other posts about the organization).

The Order of the Amaranth, like Order of the Eastern Star, with which it was initially affiliated, is open to the female relatives of Master Masons, and to Master Masons themselves.  In the United States in 1873, Robert Macoy (1816-1895), who was active in Order of the Eastern Star, formed the “Rite of Adoption,” which included an Order of the Amaranth degree.  From 1873 to 1921, all members of Amaranth Courts (analogous to Eastern Star Chapters), had to join Order of the Eastern Star first.  In 1921, the two groups split, becoming the separate organizations that they remain today. 2013_049_26aDP1DB

Among the large group of Amaranth items now in our collection, ranging from props that were used in rituals to records for several courts, and souvenirs from Amaranth events to regalia, are the two crowns shown here.  Both were worn by Elsie Haynes (1915-2006) when she was active in Amaranth activities in Connecticut.  Haynes probably wore the crown in the top photo when she was Royal Matron of Charity Court No. 17, which met in Windsor, Connecticut, and later in Suffield, Connecticut.  Haynes used the crown in the lower photo when she served as Supreme Royal Matron, head of the national organization, in 1977 and 1978.

We are very pleased to have Order of the Amaranth represented in our collection.  If you have an Amaranth memory to share or a question to ask, please leave us a comment!

Order of the Amaranth Crowns, 1960-1970 (top), ca. 1977 (bottom), Unidentified makers, United States, gift of Barbara F. Lott, 2013.049.22a and .26a.  Photographs by David Bohl.