« February 2015 | Main | April 2015 »

March 2015

The Magic Lantern

Magic Lantern, ca. 1900. Gift of the Harrisburg Consistory, S.P.R.S. 32°, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 93.041.1. Photograph by David Bohl.

Magic lanterns, in their most basic form, were invented in the 1600s and are considered a precursor to the modern slide projector and even the motion picture. These lanterns were a mainstay in Masonic lodges throughout the world in the 1800s and early 1900s as they were a useful tool in teaching members about Freemasonry and initiatory rites. The lantern used an artificial light source, which evolved from candles and kerosene lamps to limelight and electricity, and a combination of lenses to enlarge small transparent images or miniature models and project them onto a wall or screen. Lanterns could vary from a simple wooden box with brass parts to ornately designed boxes with multiple lenses. In America, magic lanterns were often referred to as stereopticons so as not to be confused with entertainment that may be provided with more basic toy lanterns. “Stereopticons” were usually biunial or double lens lanterns. The terms “Sciopticon” and “Optical Lantern” were sometimes used in a similar manner.

Several scientists and mathematicians developed projection devices in the 1600s including Thomas Walgenstein (1622-1701) and Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695). Although Huygens is attributed with inventing the magic lantern, it was Walgenstein, a Dutch mathematician, who coined the term "Magic Lantern" and began conducting lantern demonstrations throughout Europe. In the late 1700s Etienne-Gaspard Robertson(1763-1837), a Belgian physicist and stage magician started to “conjure” ghosts for audiences. These shows lay the foundation for the popular late 18th century phantasmagoria lantern shows that featured skeletons, devils, and ghosts. Aside from these entertainment spectacles, the lanterns were used also for science, education and religious instruction by wealthy academics and Jesuit priests. As the lantern became more popular and readily available, traveling lanternists could be found hosting public performances in taverns and public meeting houses.

Toy Lantern and Lantern Slide (Little Red Riding Hood), ca. 1900, Gift of Dorothy A. and Albert H. Richardson, Jr., 84.18.42a and 43. Photographs by David Bohl.
The lantern was gradually used more often for advertising, propaganda and entertainment purposes as it became more popular in the 1700s and 1800s. The lantern’s diverse range and use made it ubiquitous in churches, fraternal organizations and public institutions in the Victorian era.  Lanterns became more lightweight, began using standardized slide sizes and soon smaller toy lanterns were mass produced, continuing to increase their presence in schools, homes, and public lectures. The advent of cinema and the invention of smaller transparencies and the Kodachrome three-color process led to a decline in the popularity of magic lanterns.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library owns a collection of magic lanterns and glass lantern slides, many of which were donated by  Masonic and  fraternal groups like the Knights Templar, Knights of Pythias and Odd Fellows. The slides vary from those specific to Freemasonry to those depicting events in world history, literary and biblical stories, folktales, and photographs. Catalogs published in the late 1800s by The M.C. Lilley Company, one of many fraternal regalia manufacturers, included product advertisements for magic lanterns and slides for lodges. According to the 1896 M.C. Lilley catalog no. 195, a Lodge or Valley could purchase a lantern for anywhere from thirty to seventy dollars and lantern slides for two dollars each.

Masonic Magic Lantern Slide (Master Mason’s Carpet), Gift of Armen Amerigian, 90.19.8a.
Masonic Knights Templar Magic Lantern Slide, "Emblem of KT", 1906, Harry G. Healy, New York, New York, Gift of Jacques Noel Jacobsen, Jr.,













Stop by the museum to see a magic lantern on exhibit (Spring 2015). The lantern on display was donated by the family of Knights of Malta former Supreme Commander Gerard Dallas Jencks. Also check out our website and online catalog in the coming months as we scan and share more images of our extensive magic lantern slide collection.

Update: Please visit the online exhibition, "Illuminating Brotherhood: Magic Lanterns and Slides from the Collection" for more information and photographs about magic lantern history.


Borton, Deborah and Terry Borton, Before the Movies: American Magic-Lantern Entertainment and the Nation’s First Great Screen Artist, Joseph Boggs Beale (New Barnet, Herts, United Kingdom: John Libbey publishing, 2015)

Freeman, Carla Conrad. "Visual Media in Education: An Informal History." Visual Resources. Volume 6 (1990): 327-340.

Masonic Lodge Supplies, Catalogue 1893. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library. Found in Collection, A2002/96/1, Box 4, Masonic Lodge Supplies.



New Book on Masonic Aprons!

The Badge of a Freemason cover

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is pleased to announce that its new book, The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, will be available in June 2015.  We are now (March 2015) offering pre-order discount pricing for Museum & Library members and for Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction members.  The discount will be available until May 31, 2015.  See below for order instructions.

Soon after the Museum & Library was founded in 1975, the collection began to grow.  Masonic aprons were among the first donations.  Today, with more than 400 aprons, the Museum & Library has one of the largest collections in the world.  Examples date from the late eighteenth century to the present and come from the United States, England, China and other countries.

Called “the badge of a Freemason” in Masonic ritual, the fraternity’s apron was adapted from the protective aprons worn by working stonemasons during the 1600s and 1700s.  Still worn by members today, the apron remains one of the iconic symbols of Freemasonry.  Written by the Museum & Library’s Director of Collections Aimee E. Newell, Ph.D., this catalogue presents more than 100 aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection with full-color photographs and new research.  The aprons are organized chronologically to help demonstrate their evolution in shape, style and materials from the eighteenth century through the twentieth century.

This lavishly illustrated volume offers stories to be enjoyed by Freemasons around the world, as well as new ways to understand these aprons for scholars, researchers and museum curators.  The Badge of a Freemason is the first in-depth study of American Masonic aprons published in recent decades and is a fascinating resource for collectors, enthusiasts and museums. Scottish Rite Apron Pages 194-95 2-12-15 Resized

Special Discount for Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction members and Museum & Library members - $33 (plus $9.95 shipping and handling and 6.25% sales tax of $2.06 for Massachusetts addresses).  Membership must be current – to become a Museum & Library member, click here.

Mail this form by May 31, 2015, along with your check payable to:

Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Attn. Aimee E. Newell, 33 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA  02421

The book will be available June 2015 for $39.95 (plus shipping and tax, if applicable).  Order online at www.ScottishRiteNMJ.org/shop.


New to the Collection: Mark Medals from Dutchess County, New York

Mark Medal made for William Ely, 1797-1800. Dutchess County, New York. Museum Purchase, 2015.014.5.  Photo by David Bohl.

As always, we are excited about some of our recent acquisitions! Just a few weeks ago, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library was able to add two beautifully engraved mark medals to our growing collection.  These two medals are each interesting on their own. They also prompted intriguing questions when viewed side by side.

In previous posts we have discussed other mark medals in the collection. These engraved badges feature a specially selected symbol—often related to Freemasonry or the owner’s profession—sometimes along with the owner’s name and his lodge’s name and location. These two shield-shaped mark medals are embellished with intricate pierced tops.  These carefully made decorative elements were designed to allow the owner to wear his badge around his neck, suspended from a ribbon. 

Each of these medals bears an owner’s name and Masonic lodge. William Ely (dates unknown) belonged to Solomon’s Mark Lodge in Poughkeepsie, New York and commissioned the medal with top pierced to look like a ribbon tied in a bow (see at left). Ely chose a complicated symbol, or mark, for himself:  a young woman holding a vine in her left hand and a set of scales in her right. She stands next to a table or counter, decorated with a square and compasses. A mortar and pestle and a bottle sit on it, possibly suggesting apothecary work. The other medal belonged to John Dutcher (dates unknown), a member of Hiram Lodge No. 27 in Amenia, New York.  His mark, surrounded by the mnemonic associated with the mark degree and a circle enclosing 15 different Masonic symbols, was a top hat and what looks to be a gavel (see image below at right)—symbols often associated with the office of lodge master.

Mark Medal made for John Dutcher, early 1800s. Dutchess County, New York. Museum Purchase, 2015.014.6. Photo by David Bohl.

Ely’s lodge, Solomon’s Lodge of Poughkeepsie, first chartered in 1771, had several numbers over the years it met—1, 56 (the number on this medal and used by the lodge from 1797-1800), 5 and 6.  Members are thought to have established a mark lodge, called Solomon’s Mark Lodge, during the late 1700s.  Hiram Lodge No. 27—first founded in 1793 as Payne Lodge, called Hiram Lodge after 1797—received a dispensation for a mark lodge in 1810. The Grand Chapter approved the charter for Hiram Mark Lodge No. 65 in 1811.

Mark Medal made for William Ely, 1797-1800. Dutchess County, New York. Museum Purchase, 2015.014.5. Photo by David Bohl.

The Ely and the Dutcher medals are both shield-shaped with different pierced elements.  A close look at the sides of the two medals that bear Ely’s and Dutcher’s names show like symbols—an open Bible with a corner of a page folded back—engraved in a similar style (see images at left and below). The image is embellished with the same flourishes at the top and bottom of the open volume. This and other similarities shared by the medals suggests a question: did the same craftsman design and engrave these medals? Hopefully, with further research, we will learn more about these medals' owners and makers. If you have any ideas or insights, be sure to leave a comment below!



Mark Medal made for John Dutcher, early 1800s. Dutchess County, New York. Museum Purchase, 2015.014.6.


Catalog notes, Minute Book, Solomon’s Lodge No. 1, Poughkeepsie, New York (1771-1852), Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library of the Grand Lodge of New York. 

Compiled by Gary L. Heinmiller, Craft Freemasonry in Dutchess County, New York, (Onondaga & Oswego Masonic Districts Historical Societies, March 2010).

Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of the State of New York, Volume 1. 1798-1853. (Buffalo, New York:  Grand Chapter, 1871).

Please Pass the Butter! A New Acquisition

2014_021a-dDP1DBAs we always like to tell people, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library actively collects not just Masonic objects and documents, but items associated with all types of American fraternal groups.  Recently we purchased this butter dish, which is engraved on one side, “Pilgrim Lodge No. 75 I.O.O.F.”  Like many Masonic lodges and groups, other fraternities, such as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows lodge that owned this butter dish, often combined social activities, like a meal, with their meetings.  This butter dish may have been part of a set of serving dishes that the lodge purchased for use at group meals.  The dish was manufactured by the Wilcox Silverplate Company of Meriden, Connecticut, which was established in 1865 and merged with several other companies to become the International Silverplate Company in 1898.

Pilgrim Lodge No. 75 was founded in Abington, Massachusetts, in 1845.  After meeting for almost 15 years, during which time the lodge paid out about $600 for benefits and buried one member, the lodge surrendered its charter in 1859.  In 1871, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, I.O.O.F., reinstated Pilgrim Lodge No. 75.  At its first meeting, three members of the old lodge joined five members from Mattakeeset Lodge No. 110 and ten new initiates to begin a new era of its existence.  In 1873, the lodge purchased the town’s old high school building and fitted it up as a hall.  This may be when they purchased this butter dish, although it is impossible to know without more information.  Over the next ten years, members from Pilgrim Lodge went on to start Odd Fellows lodges in Rockland, Bridgewater and South Abington. 95_061_25DI1

A quick search of our collections database for “Pilgrim Lodge No. 75” also turned up a World War I ID tag, or “dog tag.”  Unfortunately, we do not know who the tag originally belonged to, but it is stamped with the Odd Fellows three-link chain and the words “Pilgrim Lodge No. 75 IOOF.”  World War I marked the first time that Americans fought after identification tags were made mandatory in the Army Regulations of 1913.  However, the serial number system was not adopted until 1918, so many World War I-era tags, like this one, do not include a number.

Independent Order of Odd Fellows Pilgrim Lodge No. 75 Butter Dish, 1871-1900, Wilcox Silverplate Company, Meriden, CT, Museum Purchase, 2014.021a-d.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Independent Order of Odd Fellows World War I Dog Tag, 1917-1919, unidentified maker, United States, gift of Jacques Noel Jacobsen Jr., 95.061.25.


D. Hamilton Hurd, comp., History of Plymouth County, Massachusetts, Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis & Co., 1884.

Masonic Emblem Cards: Victorian Tradition in a Fraternal World

Bulman, Austin"Masonic Emblem Cards: Victorian Tradition in a Fraternal World" is currently on view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives reading room at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. Drawing from hundreds of such cards in the Library & Archives collection, the three cases in the reading room feature examples of these small but interesting objects.

The custom and etiquette surrounding the use of calling cards in the United States was well established by the mid-1800s. Often simply printed with the owner’s name, these cards formed part of an elaborate ritual of visiting friends’ and acquaintances’ homes. The timing of visits, who might leave a card for whom, and even folded card corners allowed people to send and receive socially coded messages.

Calvent, Charles BAlthough similar in form, the Masonic calling cards currently on view functioned somewhat differently. Masons and printers referred to cards as emblem and exchange cards; names that reflected both the cards’ decoration and their use. Most of the cards on view here were explicitly made for and used at Triennial Conclaves, conventions of thousands of Masonic Knights Templar took place every three years. These gatherings often involved cross-country railroad journeys--called pilgrimages--of large groups of Masons and their families.

Although mostly created for York Rite events, the cards often list all of a man’s Masonic affiliations, including Blue Lodge, Scottish Rite, and Shrine. Women and children participated in social events surrounding the Conclave and sometimes had their own cards. On view in the reading room are examples of not only Mason’s cards, but those of wives, sons, and daughters.

Hoppock, JosephUnlike traditional calling cards, which were usually left by a visitor to a home, these emblem cards were likely exchanged in person between Masons. Recipients valued them as souvenirs. The cards on view are a window on to past social practices and a reminder that the urge to connect and collect is not new. Today many Masons carry “Masonic business cards” which detail Masonic affiliations. They exchange them with other Masons, at meetings and social events, continuing the tradition established over a century ago.

Have a Masonic business card? Visiting the Museum? Want to donate it to the Library & Archives? Drop one off in the container on the reference desk.


Austin Bulman Card, 1880-1900. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Collection of Knights Templar Calling Cards, MA009, Museum Purchase.

Charles B. Calvert Card, 1880-1900. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Masonic Calling Cards, MA056, Museum Purchase.

Joseph Hoppock Card, 1888-1905. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Masonic Calling Cards, MA056, Museum Purchase.