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June 2022

New to the Collection: Fob Owned by Members of the Chillson Family

Chillson fob 1867 credit Robert Scholnick view oneThe Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library recently added an intriguing piece of silver jewelry to its collection--a watch fob owned by three members of the Chillson family. Dates and initials engraved on this fob help tell its story.

Throughout the mid-1800s, an increasing number of American men wore watches, often keeping their timepieces safe and accessible in a vest pocket. A watch chain, usually threaded through a buttonhole, served to secure the watch to a vest, in case it slipped out of the user’s hand when he was checking the time. Some watch-wearers selected tokens and ornaments, called fobs, to add sparkle and pizazz to their watch chains. This fob is made of three square plates joined by wide rings. Rings attach an ornament in the shape of a keystone to the bottom-most plate. The square plates, made from cut down silver dollars, bear engraving detailing its different owners over time.

The first owner recorded in engraving on the fob is “L. D. Chillson” who gave the fob “to his Brother W. S. C., 1867.” Lorenzo Dow Chillson (1830-1921) was the giver; the recipient of this gift was the eldest of Lorenzo’s fifteen siblings, Waters Sherman Chillson (1808-1887). Waters, in turn, gave the fob “to his Son W. F. C.,” William Francis Chillson (1851-1922), in 1884. The keystone-shaped ornament connected to the plates is engraved with Masonic symbols. One side shows a Masonic emblem, a square and compasses with the letter G. The other is decorated with a mnemonic associated with the Mark degree of Freemasonry. Within this circle of letters, an engraver outlined a personal symbol chosen by William.  The symbol on this fob is a ticket punch with the initials W. F. C. engraved on it. These are William Francis Chillson's initials and the ticket punch relates to his profession--census records show that William worked as train conductor in 1880.

Chillson fob 1867 credit Robert Scholnick view twoHis uncle, Lorenzo Dow Chillson, worked in Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona, and California as a miner, surveyor, and entrepreneur. He is listed as a Master Mason at Washoe Lodge No. 157, in Washoe, Nevada, in 1863 and was a charter member of San Buenaventura Lodge No. 214 in Buenaventura, California in 1870. In the 1890s, he was involved in Freemasonry in Arizona. What prompted him to give this fob, or the silver dollars it was made from, to his eldest brother in 1864 is not known, nor is it known if a particular occasion led Waters Chillson to give the fob to his son almost twenty years later. Further research may offer insight into this object and its different owners in the Chillson family. In the meantime, it serves as a tangible reminder of the enduring connections between family members.

 

Photo credit:

Fob and Detail of Fob, 1864-1884. United States. Museum Purchase, 2022. Photo, Robert Scholnick, Essex River Antiques.

References:

Deanne DeGrandpre, “The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo Dow Chillson,” The Journal of Ventura County History, vol. 60, no. 1, 2017-2018.

Proceedings of the M. W. Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of California (San Francisco, Frank Eastman), 1863-1866, 1871-1878.


The Challenges of Research and Making the Connection

Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library staff get satisfaction from the rewards of research, the joy of discovering or rediscovering something that brings context to a document--and consequently to lives of others. In fact, in many cases, we gain a greater understanding of our own lives, as well as the lives of others, through our research. However, when we fail to establish the context or history of a document, that same process can be extremely frustrating.

A2022_005_001DSPhilomathian Lodge lady's invitation ticket, 1859 December 29.
 

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library recently acquired the object pictured here. It reads: "Citizens' Grand Dress Ball, to be given to Philomathian Lodge, Thursday Evening, Dec. 29, 1859. Lady's Invitation." We are not certain who issued the invitation (which may also have served as an entrance ticket to the ball), but we believe that it may be have been Philomathian Lodge of New York City, the first Grand United Order of Odd Fellows lodge in America and an African American branch of the Odd Fellows.

As Professor Hermina G.B. Anghelescu explains in her article “A Bit of History in the Library Attic,” the information contained in ephemeral items, such as tickets, “is often not enough” to establish the context or history behind an item, and researchers may “need to draw from other sources” to establish a link. In short, this small invitation was designed to be used for an event. It was not necessarily designed for future observers, but to be used in the moment. Because of that, some information, such as the creator or place of creation, was often not included because it was unnecessary for the purpose of the object and to the woman who likely carried this with her to a Thursday evening ball in 1859.

Do you have any information regarding the history of this lady’s invitation or of Philomathian Lodge? Please free to contact us or to comment about this topic in the comments section below.

 


Captions

Philomathian Lodge lady's invitation ticket, 1859 December 29. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, FR 430.017.


References

Anghelesc, Hermina G. B. “A Bit of History in the Library Attic : Challenges of. Ephemera Research.” Collection Management 25/4 (2001), pp. 61-75.