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January 2021

Masonic Marks: Lost and Found

97_031_4DS1 cropped
Royal Arch Mason, 1886-1897. John B. Scholl (1857-1924), Chicago, Illinois. Museum Purchase, 97.031.4.

From the middle of the 1800s and through the early 1900s, many well-dressed Freemasons wore fobs that bore the mark that they had selected as part of receiving the Mark Degree. Others sported fobs engraved with not only their mark, but also the names of the different Masonic bodies they belonged to, along with the dates they had joined. The Royal Arch Mason here (at left), wears a keystone-shaped mark as a fob attached to his watch chain, along with a rich red velvet collar and apron, embroidered in gold.

Small, valuable, and connected to a watch chain with only a ring or hook, the fob style of Masonic marks wore by the subject of this portrait, and similar fobs, did get lost or were stolen. Countless advertisements and snippets from newspapers, hint at how frequently these items went astray--and at how much their owners wished for their return.

In 1856, Jason R. Hanna, staying at the Lima House in Lima, Ohio, advertised that his "MASONIC MARK made of gold in the shape of a Key Stone, with a locket enclosure, was lost or STOLEN." For its return he offered a $5 reward "and NO QUESTIONS ASKED." A few years later, newspapers reported on the return of a Masonic mark, "in the shape of a Maltese cross, of solid gold," that had belonged to Col. T. S. Martin, a Union solider that had died at Manassas, to his widow in Philadelphia. Thaddeus Miller, a Mississippi soldier, had retrieved the mark and, after many months, it was delivered to Mrs. Martin.

The same year, in 1868, an advertisement in The Evening Telegraph of Philadelphia sought the owner of "a silver watch and a gold Masonic mark, bearing the inscription, 'Girard Mark Lodge, No. 214'" that had been stolen by an escaped convict called George Black.  Another Philadelphia paper told the story of an unlucky man named John Matsinger who, in 1894, lost his watch, chain, and gold Masonic mark after being drugged at Arthur Chamber's saloon. A policeman intercepted the thief while he was trying to pawn Matsinger's property, and it was restored to its owner.

Another observant police officer received a reward of "a bank note of substantial value and an imported cigar" when he returned a lost Masonic mark decorated with diamonds to its owner, W. L. Marsh of Pittsburgh. Marsh, upon having his mark restored to him explained that "he valued it highly" as the fob had been given to him by his employees.  He rated it "without price...for its associations."

An even more remarkable story of a mark returned to its owner was that of the mark that belonged to Rev. Dr. H. Franklin Schlegel. Around 1911, Rev. Schlegel visited his family's farm at Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, and "inspected the big flock of Plymouth Rocks" in the chicken coops. During this visit he wore, "Suspended from his watch chain...his Masonic mark, representing the Blue Lodge, the Chapter, Commandery, Consistory or 32nd degree...." As he examined the chickens "the charm, fell to the ground" only to be eaten by one of the hens, though the bird that ate it could not be identified. Three years later, Dr. Schlegel's gold and diamond mark was discovered during excavation at the farm "in the old hen yard." After a small repair to the damaged enamel, the delighted Dr. Schlegel resumed wearing his fob.

If you have an interesting story about a lost or found Masonic mark or jewel, tell us about it in the comments below.

 

References:

"Lost or Stolen!," The Times-Democrat (Lima, OH), 5/3/1856, 3.

"A Masonic mark...," The Galveston Daily News (Galveston, TX), 12/9/1868, 1.

"An Owner Wanted," The Evening Telegraph (Philadelphia, PA), 7/18/1868, 8.

"Knocked Out," The Times (Philadelphia, PA), 8/4/1894, 6.

"Policeman Found Fine Masonic Mark," The Morning Post (Camden, NJ), 5/8/1906, 8.

"Dr. Schlegel Recovers Long-Lost Masonic Mark," Mount Carmel Item (Mount Carmel, PA), 7/25/1914, 1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Square and Compasses in Wax

74_1_53DP1DB A square and compasses with a G at the center is one of the most identifiable symbols in Freemasonry. The square and compasses represent reason and faith. The letter G in the center stands for God, geometry, or both. This symbol was and is still used on all types of objects, from furniture and ceramics to textiles and jewelry. Artisans and craftsmen portrayed the symbol from a number of different materials,  including the modeled wax paper flowers illustrated here.

This example in the Museum collection is a wax flower composition crafted in 1890 by Chrissie Taisey Whitehill (1855-1937) of Vermont. Whitehill was married to John F. Whitehill (1844-1912), a member of Pulaski Lodge No. 58 in Wells River, Vermont. She mounted her wax flower creation on black velvet and likely made it to memorialize an–as yet–unidentified member of the fraternity. 

In the Victorian era, wax flowers enjoyed immense popularity as decorative elements included in ornamental household wares, personal accessories, and memorial or mourning pieces. Most often crafted by women, wax flower modelling was "a gendered and class-linked accomplishment, promoted as a welcome activity for women of social standing or pretension to social standing."

 Making wax paper flowers was an intricate process in which makers first disassembled a real flower, tracing each component on paper. They then used those pieces as templates to create paper petals which were carefully cut out, shaped to achieve a realistic look, and glued or wired onto stems. The flowers were often finished by applying wax on each petal. By the 1850s, manufacturers also produced wax flower kits and models with ready-made flower parts that could be shaped and assembled. Do you have a family heirloom made with wax flowers? Let us know in the comments below.

Caption:

Square and Compasses, 1890. Chrissie Taisey Whitehill, South Ryegate, Vermont. Gift of the Supreme Council, 33º, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A., 74.1.53. Photograph by David Bohl.

References:

Elegant Arts for Ladies: Comprising Bead Work, Bead and Bugle Work, Calisthenic Exercises... (London: Ward, Lock and Co., 1856), 184-197.

Ann B. Shteir, "'Fac-Similes of Nature": Victorian Wax Flower Modelling," Victorian Literature and Culture, vol. 35, no. 2, 2007: 649-661.