« December 2016 | Main | February 2017 »

January 2017

Now on View: “Signed and Sealed: Masonic Certificates”

Master Mason Certificate, 1832. Issued to Sidney Hayden (1813-1890), Rural Amity Lodge, No. 70, Athens, Pennsylvania. Engraved by Charles Cushing Wright (1796-1854), Homer, New York. Museum Purchase, A78/018/001.

Masonic lodges in the American colonies began issuing credentials to new initiates in the mid-1700s.  These documents, when presented at another Masonic lodge, helped prove the holder was a Freemason in good standing—a brother entitled to a warm welcome, hospitality and, in some cases, charity.  A selection of historic Masonic certificates from the collection dating from the 1700s and 1800s is now on view in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library’s corridor exhibition area.   

The signatures of lodge officers and of the certificate’s owner helped make these documents official, as did an impression of the issuing lodge’s seal (see example of a lodge seal below).  Certificates from the handful of lodges that met in the mid-1700s, if issued at all, were handwritten on long-lasting parchment.  In the late 1700s and early 1800s, lodges commissioned artists to design printed certificates.  Many artists modeled their certificates on English examples; others designed entirely new creations. In the early 1800s engraved certificates featured, along with the text, images that related to Freemasonry’s teachings, what the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts described, in 1801, as “device[s] emblematical of, and suited to, the Genius and Design of Freemasonry.” 

Some engravers created certificates specifically for individual lodges; others crafted flexible or “open” certificates with spaces that allowed different lodge names and locations to be filled in along with the Master Mason’s name and the date he received the degree, like this one (at left) engraved by Charles Cushing Wright (1796-1854) at the beginning of his career. 

John Kern certificate Van Gorden Williams Library
Royal Arch Mason Certificate, 1823. Issued to John F. Kern, Jr. (1800-1874), Laurens County, South Carolina. Engraved by Charles Cushing Wright (1796-1846) and Daniel H. Smith, Charleston, South Carolina. Museum Purchase, A85/030.

Wright, a peripatetic craftsman, also had a hand in designing this Royal Arch certificate in the 1820s (at right).  He and his partner based this design on certificate issued by the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of England in 1792. Regardless of when and where the certificates displayed in “Signed and Sealed:  Masonic Certificates” originated, each tells a story of how the issuing organization wished to be perceived and bears the name of a Freemason who was proud of his membership.

Interested in Masonic certificates?  You can explore the Museum’s holdings not only in the exhibition but also using the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website which provides access to images of an exciting selection of documents in the collection.     

Lodge Seal, ca. 1799. New Hampshire. Gift of William E. and Arthur D. Taylor in memory of William E. Taylor, Sr., 91.044.

Digital Collections Highlight: The 1817 Presidential Inauguration and the Scottish Rite

James Madison letter to David Daggett 1817The Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website contains a rich collection of digitized documents from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. As we approach Inauguration Day on January 20, it seems worth taking a look at a 200-year-old document in our collection (pictured here), which is related to both Scottish Rite Freemasonry and Inauguration Day. 

In this letter, dated January 1, 1817, President James Madison requests the presence of Connecticut Senator David Daggett (1764-1851) at a special session of the Senate held on March 4, 1817. At this session, Vice President elect Daniel D. Tompkins was sworn into office, just prior to the official inauguration ceremony of President-elect James Monroe. (Inauguration Day used to be in March, until the passage to the 20th Amendment in 1937, which moved it to January.) Tompkins was governor of New York from 1807 until 1817 and then served as Vice President under Monroe from 1817 to 1825. Tompkins’ name may also be familiar to you because of his Scottish Rite connection. He served as the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s first Sovereign Grand Commander from 1813 until 1825.

The Madison letter is among items digitized from the Library & Archives’ G. Edward Elwell, Jr., Autograph Collection which consists of documents collected by G. Edward Elwell, Jr., 33°, (1886-1969) a member of Caldwell Consistory (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania) and a professional printer. The items in the Elwell Collection, which was generously donated to the Museum & Library by the Caldwell Consistory, span nearly 500 years of history (1489-1960), and each contains the signature of a well-known figure from American or European history.

The North Shore Lace Industry

Masonic Apron, 1780-1800, Unidentified Maker, Probably Massachusetts, Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts Collection, GL2004.0143. Photograph by David Bohl.

I love learning about regional styles of craft and the cultural reasons that associate a particular style or design with a specific area. This is why when I saw a striking apron from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts on long-term loan to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, I was excited.

As recounted in Curiosities of the Craft the name “William O’Brien” is written on the underside of the apron’s flap. William O’Brien (1753-1784) was a member of the O’Brien family of Machias, Maine. William's brother, the famous Captain Jeremiah

O'Brien (1744-1818), is credited with capturing a British ship during the first naval battle of the American Revolution. The most common story associated with this apron was that it was worn during the procession held in memory of George Washington in 1800. However, this story conflicts with existing dates since William O’Brien died in Spain in 1784 and he would have been unable to participate in the processions. It is possible that the apron may have belonged to William but was worn by one of his brothers for the procession. William was a member of the Philanthropic Lodge in Marblehead, Massachusetts, while Jeremiah belonged to the St. Andrews Lodge of Boston.

The apron is made of white leather with “Memento Mori” (Remember Death) written in black ink across the front. While it is easy to be drawn in by this intriguing message, the black lace trimming on the apron also helps to illuminate the object’s history. The lace’s pattern is nearly identical to a pattern made in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Ipswich was the home of a lace industry from approximately the 1750s to 1840. A sample from

Whipple House detailWhipple House detail from The Laces of Ipswich by Marta Cotterell Raffel. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

the Whipple House in Ipswich, an Ipswich historic property named for its first owner, entrepreneur Captain John Whipple (1596-1669), shows striking similarities to the Grand Lodge apron. Both use thicker thread (called gimp) to outline parts of the design. The “spider” motif pattern under the gimp outline near the scalloped edge of the apron lace is very similar to the Whipple House sample. In Laces of Ipswich, Marta Cotterell Raffel explains that lace makers developed the Whipple House pattern in the region. In fact, the Whipple House sample was sent to the Library of Congress as part of a survey of early regional American industries. The marked similarity between the lace on the apron and the Whipple House lace sample supports the story that this apron originated in New England.

No matter who wore the apron, the time and places William and his brothers were active in a time and place when Ipswich lace would have been available. Due to trade embargoes and boycotts of British goods, Ipswich lace may have been a patriotic and also a practical decision. Though delicate and purely ornamental, this black lace helps tell a story of early industry on the North Shore and of the men who fought to win American Independence.

 Kayla Bishop is a volunteer in the Museum's collections department. For the past 5 months, Kayla has assisted in all aspects of collections management. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University.



Marta Cotterell Raffel, The Laces of Ipswich (Lebanon, New Hampshire, 2003); 86-87, 142-143.

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), 234.