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Portraits of Two Members of Shackamaxon Lodge No. 343, Independent Order of Odd Fellows

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Portrait, 1851-1857. Thomas H. Newcomer (ca. 1827-1896), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Special Acquisitions Fund, 96.027.2. Photograph by David Bohl.

Sometime between 1851 and 1857, two members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Shackamaxon Lodge No. 343 had their portraits taken by daguerreotypist Thomas H. Newcomer (ca. 1827-1896) of Philadelphia. Though the subjects of these portraits in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library are unidentified, the images offer clues about the circumstances under which their portraits were taken.

An impression in the velvet-covered inner covers of the cases of these photographs reads “T. H. Newcomer 316 N. Second St. Philada.” This mark helped identify the artist who took these photographs. According to directory listings, Newcomer pursued his business at 316 N. Second St. from about 1851 to about 1857. In 1852 a newspaper advertisement extolled Newcomer’s virtues to readers, encouraging them to: “Remember the merits of Newcomer’s pictures…Newcomer, who takes such fine portraits. Newcomer, who has a fine reputation as an artist. Newcomer, whose prices are cheap. Newcomer, who is very celebrated.”

The subjects of the photographs are posed in the same manner at the same studio. Each is seated on a chair facing the camera in front of a plain background, resting one elbow on a small table covered with a light-colored textile woven with a dark floral pattern. Both wear similar regalia, a dark collar trimmed with bullion and decorated with light-colored stylized leaves, flowers, and vines, along with a light-colored apron trimmed with ribbon and bullion. At the center of each apron is painted a five-pointed star, a banner bearing the lodge’s name, and a lodge number, “No. 343,” in reverse. Through the combination of the lodge number and the legible letters of the name visible in the portraits, the lodge associated with these aprons appears to be Independent Order of Odd Fellows Shackamaxon Lodge No. 343. Warranted in 1849, this lodge met in Philadelphia.

Regulations outlined in I. O. O. F.: Digest of the Laws of the Independent Order of Odd-Fellows, published in Philadelphia in 1848 (reproduced in “A Secret Society Exposed: Daguerreotypes of American Odd Fellows,” cited below), detailed how, with their regalia, Odd Fellows conveyed to one another information about the degrees they had achieved and the offices they held in the organization. For example, a Noble Grand (the presiding officer of an Odd Fellows’ lodge) was identified by a “Scarlet collar, trim’d with white or silver.” The same

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Portrait, 1851-1857. Thomas H. Newcomer (ca. 1827-1896), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Special Acquisitions Fund, 96.027.1. Photograph by David Bohl.

regulations noted that a Past Grand (a past presiding officer) could wear a “Scarlet collar…and aprons, either White trimmed with Scarlet or Scarlet trimmed with White.” These regulations also noted the symbols associated with the identifying badges, called jewels, worn by each officer. The jewel of a Past Grand took the shape of a star with five points.  

Although the subjects of Newcomer’s two portraits are not identified and do not wear jewels of office, it is very likely that they were past presiding officers of their lodge. In the portraits, they wear collars in the colors recommended for the office. The aprons in which they chose to be portrayed are also in the colors outlined for Past Grands and the star featured at the center of each of these aprons was a symbol associated with the office. It is very possible these photographs were taken to memorialize the status of these members of Shackamaxon Lodge No. 343 as former leaders of the group. The direct gazes of both men and their carefully held poses hint at the pride that they may have felt as leaders among their brethren.




“Markets,” Sunday Dispatch (Philadelphia, PA), 1/25/1852, page 2.

Michael P. Musick, “A Secret Society Exposed: Daguerreotypes of American Odd Fellows,” The Daguerreian Annual 2009/2010, 2011, 173-210.


Thank you to:

Robert Brown, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library research volunteer

Justin Bailey, Grand Secretary, Pennsylvania Grand Lodge of Odd Fellows


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