« March 2016 | Main | May 2016 »

April 2016

John Walton’s Personal Seal

Seal, ca. 1800. United States. Special Acquisitions Fund, 82.8.1.

In 1982 the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library purchased a personal seal, little knowing how it would connect to other artifacts associated with Massachusetts Freemasonry in the future.

This small oval seal is made of brass and is mounted on a wooden handle. The brass face—the business end of the seal—features a design composed of a pedestal or altar topped with columns and an arch. A skull and crossbones, a square and compasses, a trowel and other Masonic tools are on and above the altar. Swags of flowers flank the pedestal. The initials “JW” decorate its center. When pressed into warm wax, the design cut out of the seal’s face would have left a raised impression of the design, symbols and initials in the wax. When placed on a folded letter, an undisturbed wax seal let the recipient know that no one had read the letter since it left the sender’s hands.

The history that came with the object says it once belonged to John Walton (1770-1862) of Pepperell, Massachusetts. A doctor by profession, Walton also belonged to Saint Paul Lodge in Groton, Massachusetts. He joined the lodge in 1797, served as secretary in 1802 and as master of the lodge from 1806 to 1808. Notably, he also made an impressive gift to the lodge in 1802 of a large earthenware pitcher decorated with Masonic images. He also gave two silver punch ladles—presumably for serving the contents of the pitcher—around the same time.  Both the pitcher and the ladles now form part of the collection of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts that is on extended loan to the Museum.               

Bearing Walton’s initials, the seal was likely used to mark and seal private or business correspondence. With his impressive gift of the pitcher and the ladles to Saint Paul Lodge, Walton helped support his lodge and added elegance to its proceedings. The inscription he ordered on the face of the pitcher, “From John Walton to St. Paul’s Lodge,” suggests he was proud of his membership in the lodge.This personal seal, decorated with Masonic symbols and Walton’s initials, shows that Walton’s pride in his association with Freemasonry extended into his personal life. 


Aimee E. Newell, Hilary Anderson Stelling and Catherine Compton Swanson, Curiosities of the Craft:  Treasures from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection (Boston and Lexington, Massachusetts:  Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, 2013), 170-171, 178-179.  

The Impressive Odd Fellow

Unidentified I.O.O.F. Member, 1883-1908, Osborn Company, Binghamton, NY, Museum Purchase, 2016.010.

Can you ever have too many badges, ribbons, or medals? Not according to this particularly proud and active Odd Fellow. We recently acquired this fantastic cabinet card featuring a sepia-toned portrait of an unidentified I.O.O.F. member wearing more than twenty badges, medals, and ribbons. The card was printed between 1883 and 1908 by the Osborn Company in Binghamton, New York.

Cabinet cards, introduced in the 1860s, were similar to carte-de-visites (for more on CDVs read this post). They served as   a popular alternative to cased photographs like daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes. Cabinet card photos measured approximately four inches by six inches and were mounted onto card stock. The cards usually featured a photographer’s decorative stamp, name, and location. The Osborn Company was a family-run photography business owned by Emerson Osbourne from about 1883 to 1908 in Binghamton.

This particular photo caught our eye because many fraternal portrait cabinet cards feature a member wearing regalia with only one or two medals or ribbons. The ribbons commemorate various Odd Fellows events and field days in New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.  There is a ribbon that reads “Calumet 62” and another that reads “Canton Scranton No. 4.” There are records of an active Calumet Lodge No. 62 in Binghamton, New York, from the mid-1860s to the late 1940s. There are also local Pennsylvania newspapers from the late 1880s that reference an I.O.O.F. Canton Scranton No. 4 group.

These findings lead us to believe that this proud unidentified Odd Fellow was most likely a member of these two lodges and perhaps others. Can you help us identify this photograph? Do you have information about  I.O.O.F. lodges in New York or Pennsylvania? Let us know with a comment below or email Ymelda Rivera Laxton, Assistant Curator, ylaxton[@]srmml.org.


The Scranton Republican, Scranton, Pennsylvania, March 13, 1896.

William Summer Lawyer, Binghamton: it's settlement, growth and development, and the factors in its history, 1800-1900, Binghamton, N.Y. : Century Memorial Publishing Co., 1900.

Aprons, Robes, and Thrones: Fraternal Regalia Catalogs in the Library & Archives Collection

This eye-catching cover depicts Hiram Abiff, the protagonist of Freemasonry’s first three degrees. A legendary character, Abiff is King Solomon’s chief architect. The character of Abiff is depicted heroically on this cover, standing next to a drafting board with his arm raised and his hands holding the most recognizable Masonic symbols—the square and compasses. Imaginative images such as this, as well as the costumes for sale in the catalog, could help members and candidates enter into the theatrical drama of Masonic initiation.

"Aprons, Robes, and Thrones: Fraternal Regalia Catalogs in the Library & Archives Collection" is currently on view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives reading room at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. The two catalog covers shown here are among the objects on display.

Between 1865 and 1900, more than 235 fraternal organizations were established, comprised of nearly six million members. Participation in these groups played a large part in American life, with one in every five American men belonging to one or more fraternal societies from 1870-1910. Most of these groups communicated their ideas and symbols through ritual. Regalia, including fraternal aprons and costumes worn to portray kings, knights, and other figures were integral to some fraternal orders’ elaborate degree rituals.

The Order of the Eastern Star is a Masonic women’s auxiliary group. “Eastern Star” refers to the biblical passage found in the Book of Matthew in which the Three Kings travel to Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn Jesus: “We have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” The cover of this catalog depicts this scene.

American fraternalism boomed when theater was an increasingly popular form of entertainment. Nineteenth-century Americans enjoyed live theatrical performances that ranged from biblical re-enactments to vaudeville revues. Fraternal initiation degrees mirror this part of culture. Participants in fraternal ritual degrees wore costumes and used props and theatrical lighting to create a rich, dramatic experience that was different from everyday life.

Following the end of the American Civil War, regalia companies marketed and sold their factory-made regalia and supplies to fraternal lodges throughout the United States. Companies produced catalogs that advertised everything necessary to furnish a lodge, including regalia, furniture, minute books, and jewels. Costumes for characters portrayed in fraternal degrees could be purchased in an array of styles and prices. To make their products as attractive as possible, manufacturers produced catalogs illustrated by drawings, engravings, and photographs.

The Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives collection holds over 300 Masonic and fraternal regalia catalogs, dating from the late 1860s to the present. Today, researchers and curators use regalia catalogs to visualize fraternal lodges and help identify historical regalia in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. For everyone, regalia catalogs are a visually sumptuous step back in time.




Masonic Supplies Catalog No. 228, ca. 1920, Henderson-Ames Co., Kalamazoo, Michigan. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Collection, Lexington, Massachusetts, Museum Purchase, A2000/56/1.

Catalog No. 620, Eastern Star Catalogue, ca. 1938, Ihling Bros. Everard Co., Kalamazoo, Michigan. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Collection, A2016/003.

A Freemason's Heart

2013_026_1DP1DBIn late 2013, when Supreme Council staff packed up to move down to their new offices inside the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library building, a number of treasures were found in storage spaces and were added to the Museum’s collection.  One of the oldest items discovered was this engraving titled “Freemasons Heart.”  Dating to about 1820, the engraving depicts a large heart under compasses and an all-seeing eye and flanked by allegorical figures of Liberty and Justice.  The heart is divided into sections, each labeled with a virtue central to Masonic teachings, such as fidelity, mercy and charity.  At the center of the heart is a space marked “Christianity” with a G and square and compasses emblem on a Bible.  A verse below the Bible reads “The Bible rules our faith without factions, the square and compass rules our lives and actions.”

When we add a new object to our collection, we catalog it into our database system so we can track it for use in our exhibitions, programs and publications.  We try to do as much research as we can, although that can be an ongoing process, as it will be for this print.  We have learned some history about it, but we still have a number of questions that require further study.  Unfortunately, we do not know much about who originally owned this particular example.  A handwritten inscription on the back of the frame reads “Cap. Joseph Burnett, Stowe, Vermont.”  Possibly, this is the Joseph Burnett born in 1816 who died in 1875, but additional research is needed to conclusively identify him.  It does make sense that the engraving would have been owned in Vermont because the engraver and publisher produced this print in that state.

Engraver Moody Morse Peabody (1789-1866) and publisher Ebenezer Hutchinson worked together in the Quechee area of Vermont, near the New Hampshire border.  As early as 1819, the two men produced a map of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  Additional research is ongoing about the lives of these two men.  Scholars George R. Dalphin and Marcus A. McCorison were able to track Peabody, who was born in Peterborough, New Hampshire, to Vermont and then to Whitehall, New York, in 1826.  Later he moved to Utica, New York, where he was listed in city directories from 1828 to 1840 as an engraver and copperplate printer.  He died in Ontario, Canada, in 1866.  Less information is currently known about Hutchinson; there are a couple of men with this name in the same general area around the time he was active, so it is difficult to know which one he was.

It seems likely that Hutchinson and Peabody were Freemasons.  The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts collection, on extended loan to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, includes an engraved Royal Arch apron that is signed “Printed and Sold by E. Hutchinson Hartford Queechy Village VT.”  Masonic scholar Kent Walgren found an 1820 advertisement in the Vermont Republican newspaper for Peabody who was selling Masonic aprons and diplomas through Hutchinson.  Walgren also suggests that the inclusion of the motto “Supporters of Government” at the top of the print may allude to the Illuminati scare of the late 1790s.  In an attempt to win back public approval and explain that American Freemasons were not part of the alleged Illuminati plot, the printmakers noted that they backed government.  If you know of other Masonic prints by Ebenezer Hutchinson or Moody Morse Peabody, please let us know by writing a comment below!

Freemasons Heart, ca. 1820, Moody Morse Peabody, engraver, Ebenezer Hutchinson, publisher, Hartford, Vermont.  Gift of the Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A., 2013.026.1.  Photograph by David Bohl.