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June 2016

George E. Lane's Traveling Desk

Portable Desk, 1854. Canton, China. Gift of Frank M. Gray, 77.38.33a-i
77.38.33 fully open
Portable Desk, detail showing writing slant, 1854. Canton, China. Gift of Frank M. Gray, 77.38.33a-i

When closed, this portable desk looks like a plain compact box or trunk. Open, this desk transforms into a mini office. Important papers, small books and writing materials could be stowed within it. This desk was designed for easy transport. Its edges were bound with brass to protect the desk from damage when it was moved and the maker installed small brass handles so it could be easily lifted. 

When fully unfolded, this desk features a velvet-covered writing surface, silk-covered folders for organizing papers and special compartments for pens, ink bottles and sand containers. As well, the craftsman who made the desk secreted three small drawers (see the image below, at left) within the largest compartment under the writing surface. A removable piece of trim (see the image below, at right) held in place by a hidden brass catch, covers the drawer-fronts. Opening the larger compartment required a key, so the small drawers could only be accessed by someone who knew where they were and had the key.

Who would have needed this tiny, transportable office?  Probably someone whose work required travel, making records and keeping track of information, such as a ship’s officer. This desk’s original owner left a clue to his identity, a penciled inscription under the writing surface reading: “Geo. E. Lane, Canton China, Mar 1854.”  Research suggests that George Edward Lane (1822-1891) may have purchased this portable desk in China. Born in Boston and raised in Gloucester, Massachusetts, Lane worked as a merchant, captain and agent and, at his death, was described as a “successful and enterprising navigator.” For a portion of his career he was employed by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company.  He commanded vessels that sailed from San Francisco to Yokohama, Japan, and Hong Kong.  Working and traveling in Asia, Lane would have had the opportunity to purchase a desk made in Canton. He also may have found this handsome traveling desk useful in his work.    

77.38.33 secret drawers
Portable Desk, detail showing hidden drawers, 1854. Canton, China. Gift of Frank M. Gray, 77.38.33a-i
77.38.33 detail showing wood hiding drawers
Portable Desk, detail showing hidden drawers covered, 1854. Canton, China. Gift of Frank M. Gray, 77.38.33a-i


Jacob Chapman and James Hill Fitts, Lane Genealogies, Vol. III, Exeter, N.H. : News-Letter Press, 1902, 362-363.

Say "Cheese"!

2001_015_10DS1In early 2011, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library curatorial staff began an ambitious project to digitize our historic photograph collection by scanning each photo and making the image and its basic descriptive information accessible via our website.  Flash forward five years, to today, and we have completed this project with more than 2,500 images accessible!  They are searchable by names, places and virtually any other term. 

In celebration, here is just one image from our collection – a photograph from 1913 showing members of Boston Commandery at the National Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Part of the Masonic Knights Templar fraternity, Boston Commandery dates its founding to 1802.  The group often enjoyed making “pilgrimages” to visit other Commanderies around New England.  While the exact details of this 1913 trip to Plymouth are unknown, Boston Commandery had taken part in this monument’s dedication on August 1, 1899. 

The monument’s central figure is a depiction of Faith, with one foot resting on a replica of Plymouth Rock.  Four smaller seated figures around the base represent morality, law, education and liberty – all values cherished by the Pilgrims.  For other images from Knights Templar excursions, search our online collection or read this previous post.

Now that we have completed digitizing our existing photograph collection, we are moving forward with other projects.  We have started digitizing our collection of Masonic and fraternal badges, ribbons and jewels.  Over 100 of these objects are already accessible online, with many more to follow.  We will also be starting to digitize our collection of prints and engravings in the coming months, including our notable Dr. William L. and Mary B. Guyton Collection of over 600 images of George Washington (1732-1799).  Check back often to see what’s new!

Boston Commandery at the National Monument to our Forefathers, 1913, E. Chickering, Plymouth, Massachusetts, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Purchase, 2001.015.10.


Samuel Newman's Society of the Cincinnati Certificate

A1997_025_DS 400_webAmong the many treasures in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's collection is this Society of the Cincinnati certificate, issued to Samuel Newman. It is dated May 5, 1784 and is signed by both George Washington (1732-1799) in his capacity as President of the Society of the Cincinnati and by Henry Knox (1750-1806) in his capacity as Secretary.

At first glance, the document seems to tell a straightforward story - one where the Society of the Cincinnati issued this certificate to Samuel Newman on May 5, 1784. But, as further research reveals, this seems not to be the case. Intriguingly, the date of Newman's certificate coincides with the first general meeting of the Society of the Cincinnati, which had been founded by officers of the Continental Army a year earlier, on May 13, 1783. Major General Henry Knox is credited with the idea of founding the Society, which was originally open to "commissioned officers in the Continental and French service who had served to the end of the [American Revolutionary] war and those who had resigned with honor after a minimum of three years' service as a commissioned officer."

Although dated May 5, 1784, it is unclear when this certificate was actually issued or when it was signed by Washington and Knox. Ellen McCallister Clark's article "The Diploma of the Society of the Cincinnati," provides well-researched information about the creation of early Society of the Cincinnati certificates. Pierre Charles L'Enfant (1754-1825) was responsible for designing the certificate. L'Enfant's design, which did not include the printed text, was approved on May 17, 1784, at the Society's first general meeting in Philadelphia. However, it was not until November 1784 that the first certificates, with L'Enfant's design and including the printed text, were printed. Close readers will note something strange here. It does not seem possible that Newman's certificate could have been signed or dated on the actual date shown on the certificate, since the first certificates were printed six months later.

Clark's article clears up much of this confusion by noting the process by which these certificates were issued. She notes that both Washington and Knox signed many blank certificates and then had them distributed to the state secretaries who would fill out the rest of the document. Clark also observes that the date on the document does not always correspond with the membership date of the individual it was issued to. She writes, "the dating of the diplomas also varied from state to state...the Pennsylvania and New York diplomas are marked uniformly with the date Washington signed, regardless of when they were actually issued to the members. Several surviving diplomas issued to members of the Rhode Island Society, on the other hand, bear the date 1 January 1784—predating L'Enfant's arrival from France with the copperplate [etched with his design]." The Samuel Newman certificate, dated May 5, 1784, also falls into this category of those certificates carrying a date earlier than the actual printing of the certificate.

Samuel Newman (d. November 4, 1791) served two years and seven months as a lieutenant in Crafts' Artillery Regiment, beginning in May 1776. He later served in the navy under Captain S. Nicholson until 1783. On March 4, 1791, he was appointed lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Infantry Regiment upon its founding. On November 4, 1791, Newman, serving under General Arthur St. Clair was killed at the Battle of Wabash, one of the worst defeats suffered by the U.S. Army. Newman's journal, kept in the months before his death in 1791 is in the collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society. A transcription of the journal was published in 1918 and is available online.

So just when did Newman become of a member of the Society of the Cincinnati? The minutes of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati indicate that he first applied for membership in 1786. Because he had not served a full three years as an officer, the Society deliberated over his membership application. Two years later, he was admitted as a member in July 1788, with the minutes noting that "his service in the State Regiments may be considered & allowed to supply the place of one year in the Continental service, which by the institution [i.e. Society of the Cincinnati] is required to qualify him to become a member...."

It may be unsurprising to learn that Newman, like many members of the Society of the Cincinnati, was also a Mason. He was raised a Master Mason in Massachusetts Lodge on January 4, 1781. In this way, Newman was like many of his fellow Cincinnati members. As Minor Myers, Jr. writes in Liberty without Anarchy: A History of the Society of the Cincinnati, "In many instances the Cincinnati were the Masons. In Connecticut, 40 percent of the Cincinnati were Freemasons, in Pennsylvania 36 percent. In many instances individuals joined the Masons after joining the society."


Society of the Cincinnati membership certificate for Samuel Newman, ca. 1788, Probably Boston, Massachusetts, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Collection, Lexington, Massachusetts, Gift of Mrs. Gordon W. McKey, A1997/025.


Bugbee, James M., ed. Memorials of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati (Boston: Printed for the Society, 1890)

Clark, Ellen McCallister, "The Diploma of the Society of the Cincinnati," Cincinnati Fourteen: Newsletter of the Society of the Cincinnati, Fall 2000 (37:1), 8-14. http://www.societyofthecincinnati.org/pdf/reading_lists/scholarship_lists_Cincinnati_Diplomas.pdf.

Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati. Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati: Minutes of all Meetings of the Society up to and Including the Meeting of October 1, 1825. (Boston: Privately printed, 1964)

Myers, Minor, Jr. Liberty without Anarchy: A History of the Society of the Cincinnati (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983)

"Look Before You Leap!": Highlights from the Stereocard Collection on Flickr

Stereocards, also known as stereoview cards or stereographic views, are comprised of two identical photograph prints mounted on card stock. They are viewed through a stereoscope in order to produce a three-dimensional image. The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library owns over 200 stereocards and has added many of them to our new stereocard album on Flickr. [Please visit our Flickr page to see a selection of detailed stereocard images from our collection,including these two cards from a series titled “Look before you Leap!”  Lodge 9581.]

88_42_89aDS1 88_42_89bDS1These stereocards, produced by the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company, feature a comic depiction of a Masonic initiation. Photographer Alfred Silvester (1831-1886) created the original photographic series in 1860.

The Look before you Leap! series included three stereocards: The Initiate!, The Ordeal!, and The Obligation! This particular series has several editions, including some tinted with color. There is an advertisement for this specific stereoscope series in an 1859 edition of Athenaeum: Journal of Literature, Science, and the Fine Arts. The short ad is titled “Masonic Mysteries” and touts “these extraordinary slides should be in the possession of every one who desires to gain an insight into the secret rights of Freemasonry…”  

George S. Nottage (1823-1885), a former Mayor of London, founded The London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company, with his cousin, Howard John Kennard (1829-1896) in 1854. The company was active through 1922 and functioned as a photography studio and supply company before specializing in the mass production of stereoscopic photographs. To find out more about other stereocards in our collection see our previous blog posts here. Or visit our online collection at http://www.srmml.org/collections/online-collections/.


The Initiate!, 1860, Alfred Silvester, photographer; London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company; publisher, London, England, Special Acquisitions Fund, 88.42.89b.

The Ordeal!, 1860, Alfred Silvester, photographer; London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company; publisher, London, England, Special Acquisitions Fund, 88.42.89a.

Lecture: “Embroidery and Economic Opportunity in Early Federal Period America”

Pamela A. Parmal
Pamela A. Parmal, Chair and David and Roberta Logie Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

June 11, 2016

2 PM

Lecture by Pamela A. Parmal, Chair and David and Roberta Logie Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

As part of our 2016 Linn Lecture Series “Enterprise and Craft in the Young Nation” the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library will welcome Pamela A. Parmal for a lecture on June 11, 2016. Parmal is a leading authority on historical needlework. Parmal has curated many exhibitions and published numerous books and papers on quilts, embroidery and fashion.

In her lecture on June 11, Parmal will discuss how women’s embroidery work fueled commerce and offered an opportunity for women to earn income to support themselves and their families in early America.

During this time young women from well-to-do families were often taught different kinds of needle arts, including embroidery. Mastery of these skills was seen as a reflection of a family’s gentility. Many of the embroidered pieces these young women created were treasured and passed down for generations.

Women entrepreneurs who possessed skills in embroidery arts opened schools to teach fashionable stiches and techniques. Many of the women who ran these schools also had shops that imported and sold embroidery supplies to their pupils and the public. These schools helped to generate trade by creating a demand for the imported silk and cotton thread needed to craft the detailed designs in vogue at the time.

Schoolgirl embroidery techniques can be seen in our newest exhibition, "The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Collection." Aprons such as the one below show evidence of embroidery techniques that were taught in the early 1800s at female academies. 

Embroidered apron 87_36DP1DB
Masonic Apron, ca. 1800. Probably New York. Museum Purchase, 87.36. Photograph by David Bohl.

This lecture is made possible by the generous support of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation and is part of the lecture series, “Enterprise and Craft in the Young Nation.”