Abner Reed

A Watch Paper Engraved by Abner Reed of East Windsor, Connecticut

2000_053D from slide
Watch Paper, ca. 1809-1820. Engraved by Abner Reed (1771-1866), East Windsor, Connecticut. Museum Purchase, 2000.053.

Adept at creating interesting images, engravers provided their clients with these images in multiples—engraved prints were an efficient way to communicate in the early 1800s.  Engravers cut and etched images onto copper plates. These plates could be used to print several hundred impressions before they started to wear out, allowing engravers to furnish their clients with everything from product labels to bill heads to trade cards.  All of these items helped their clients undertake business and advertise their work.

This small, round piece of paper decorated with engraving is a watch paper.  Little disks like this one served a few purposes.  Fit into the inside back cover of a watch case, the paper helped shield delicate works from dust or protected an inner case from rubbing against an outer case.  It also advertised a clockmaker or jeweler’s work.  As well, some clockmakers and watch owners used the backs of the papers as a handy spot to record the dates of watch repairs, cleanings and adjustments. 

On this watch paper, Eli Porter (1789-1864) listed his occupation and his address, Williamstown, in western Massachusetts, within a shield.  Masonic symbols—two columns topped with globes, a black and white mosaic floor, three steps and an all-seeing eye—surround the shield. In choosing to use these symbols to help advertise his work, Porter declared his status as a Mason. Though his name is not recorded in membership records at the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, there was a Masonic lodge in Williamstown during the early part of Eli Porter’s career. Friendship Lodge operated in Williamstown from 1785 through 1828.

Born in East Hartford, Connecticut, Eli moved to Williamstown around 1806 to study clockmaking with his uncle, Daniel Porter (1775-1809). Like Eli, Daniel was native to East Hartford. Daniel learned his craft from clockmaker and silversmith Daniel Burnap ( 1759-1838) who lived nearby in East Windsor.  Daniel also met his wife, Polly Badger (1776-1859), in the same town.  Through his family members’ connection to East Windsor, Eli Porter may have known of or met Abner Reed, who engraved this watch paper.  Reed signed it: “A. Reed Sc. E. W.”  The “Sc.” indicates Reed engraved the paper;  “E. W.” is an abbreviation of East Windsor.  Not known to be a Freemason, Reed nevertheless did work for the Masonic community.  He engraved at least one certificate for a Connecticut lodge, as well as a Masonic apron.  With this charming watch paper, Reed further showed his familiarity with Masonic symbols. 


David A. Sperling, “Eli Porter, Clockmaker of Williamstown, MA: His Town, His Life, His Clock,” NAWCC Watch & Clock Bulletin, November/December 2017, 547-555.

Don't Miss "Inspired By Fashion" - Closing March 24!

78_47T1Don’t miss your chance to see “Inspired by Fashion: American Masonic Regalia” at the National Heritage Museum! The exhibition closes March 24, 2012 (visit our website for hours and directions). Here are a few objects from the exhibition to whet your interest.

Freemason J. Hull sat for this portrait in the early 1800s wearing his Masonic apron, sash and medal. Hull’s apron resembles the one designed by Abner Reed of Connecticut, which you can see below (and check out our previous post about Reed). It is difficult to make out the details on Hull’s medal, but it may be a mark medal. In the Mark Master degree, members chose an individual symbol to represent themselves. The mark medal shown here was made for H. Gardiner around 1800. He chose a crossed keys symbol for his mark, which also represents the treasurer’s office in the lodge.80_14DI1

During the early 1700s, Freemasonry offered a way for upper-class men to socialize and share views. Soon after, the fraternity experienced a tremendous upsurge in popularity among many classes of men, in part because its values of parity and brotherhood resonated with supporters of American independence. Lodge clothing also mirrored these Masonic principles of equality and brotherhood.

89_17S1From the 1700s on, Masons had a public presence, wearing their regalia and participating in parades on special occasions. In this way, men associated themselves with Freemasonry, while also creating an identity for the lodge itself. In part, members communicated this message by moving within contemporary fashion conventions. Specific items of clothing made from special materials conveyed the fraternity’s values as well as identifying the wearers of men striving for character and class.

If you are interested in learning more about the intersection of men's fashion and Masonic regalia, we hope you will come see "Inspired by Fashion"!

Mr. and Mrs. J. Hull, ca. 1800, Unidentified Artist, American. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Special Acquisitions Fund, 78.47a. Photograph by David Bohl.

Masonic Apron, ca. 1800, Abner Reed (1771-1866), East Windsor, Connecticut. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Museum Purchase, 80.14.

Mark Medal, ca. 1800, probably New York. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Special Acquisitions Fund, 89.17.


An Update on a Connection Between Masonic Aprons

2009_080T1 Back in December 2010, I wrote a blog post about an exciting new addition to our apron collection – one that came with a note linking it to President Grover Cleveland.  In the post I explained why it seems unlikely that Cleveland ever actually wore the apron and I compared the Cleveland apron with one in our collection that was printed with a design by Lewis Roberson and Oliver T. Eddy of Vermont, probably between 1814 and 1822. I am including the images of those two aprons here again, so you can see the similarities between the two designs.83_46_1DI1

Around the same time that the Cleveland apron post went live, I received an inquiry from the library at the Grand Lodge of Conneticut. They asked me about an apron with a design that is signed by Abner Reed of East Windsor, Connecticut. In the course of answering the inquiry, I realized that the Cleveland apron shows virtually the exact Reed design! We are fortunate to have a signed example of Abner Reed’s apron in the National Heritage Museum collection, which you can see below.

80_14DI1 Reed was born in 1771 and began working as an engraver in the 1790s, despite having served an apprenticeship with a local saddler. He pursued a successful engraving business through the 1820s and then worked more sporadically through the 1840s. In 1851, he moved to Toledo, Ohio, to live with his daughter and remained there until his death in 1866.

The signature on the apron reads “Eng’d by A. Reed for Br. S. Dewey.” Sherman Dewey was a charter member of Eastern Star Lodge No. 44 in Willimantic, Connecticut. There is no record that Reed was a Freemason in Connecticut. In addition to the Cleveland apron, two other aprons in the Museum’s collection show a strong similarity to Reed’s design but are not marked with the printed signature. One of the three is a painted version of the printed design. All three, including the Cleveland apron, probably date later than 1800 when Reed created the signed apron.


Barbara Franco, Bespangled, Painted & Embroidered: Decorated Masonic Aprons in America, 1790-1850, Lexington, MA: Museum of Our National Heritage, 1980.

Donald C. O’Brien, “Abner Reed: A Connecticut Engraver,” The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin 44 (January 1979): 1-16.

Top: Masonic apron, 1825-1850, American, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of the Grand Lodge of AF & AM of Illinois, 2009.080. Photograph by David Bohl.

Middle: Masonic apron, 1814-1822, Lewis Roberson and Oliver T. Eddy, Wethersfield, Vermont, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Paul D. Fisher, 83.46.1. 

Bottom: Masonic apron, circa 1800, Abner Reed (1771-1866), East Windsor, Connecticut, National Heritage Museum collection, Museum Purchase, 80.14.