Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine

The Unusual Cabinet Card

88_42_65DS1Cabinet cards, introduced in the 1860s, were similar to carte-de-visites (small paper photograph prints mounted on card stock). They served as a popular alternative to cased photographs like daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes. Cabinet card photos measured approximately four inches by six inches and were mounted onto card stock. The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library owns hundreds of cabinet cards featuring portraits of Masonic and fraternal members. Portraits were the most common type of photograph featured on cabinet cards, which is why it is always interesting to find a non-portraiture card like these two staff favorites in the collection.

The photograph on the left, purchased by the Museum & Library in 1988, depicts a caricature of a Masonic Shriner wearing a fez and riding a camel. The image is a combination of an illustration and a photograph. The Shriner’s head is a photograph atop an illustrated figure and camel. We found little information about the photography studio “F.S. Fowler” in Herkimer, New York, but were able to identify a Shriner (Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine) group in upstate New York near Herkimer. Mason Frazier W. Hurlbut helped to establish the Ziyara Shriners in Utica, New York, in 1877.  The group covered nearly 50,000 square miles of territory from Rochester to Albany and boasted a large membership through the 1970s. For more information about the Shriners visit these past blog pos88_42_101DS1ts

The photograph at right, also purchased by the Museum & Library in 1988, shows a posed scene with  props. At the lower right hand corner of the photograph it reads “photographed from life.”  In the photograph a man dressed up as Father Time, holds the hair of a young woman kneeling at a broken column. The scene includes many Masonic props and symbols: the hourglass, square and compasses, the broken column itself, a sprig of acacia, and the all-seeing eye. The photograph may also be described as a depiction of "Time and the Virgin." This same depiction is in The True Masonic Chart and Hieroglyphic Monitor by Masonic author and lecturer Jeremy L. Cross (1783-1860). Some sources credit Cross with creating the "Time and the Virgin" symbol.

Edward C. Dana’s (1852-1897) photography studio created the card in Brooklyn, New York, in 1896. Dana, a native of Massachusetts, received training from Boston photographer James W. Turner before opening his own studio in 1875. We have found no evidence that Dana himself was a Mason but have questions about how or why the photograph was commissioned,  or if the photograph was part of a collection of “theatrical” portraits produced by the Dana Studio. To see these cabinet cards and others in our collection visit our Flickr page!

Have you seen cabinet cards similar to these? Let us know in the comments section below. 

Captions:

Masonic Shriner on Camel, 1870-1920, F.S. Fowler, Herkimer, New York, Special Acquisitions Fund, 88.42.65.

Masonic Broken Column or Time and the Virgin Symbol, ca.1896, Edward C. Dana, Brooklyn, New York, Special Acquisitions Fund, 88.42.101.

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Masonic Revelries and the Roaring Twenties

A recent acquisition to the Scottish Rite Masonic Library & Museum reminds us of the Fraternity’s adoption of Orientalism, its passion for revelry, and captures the lively spirit of the 1920s.

Mecca_Temple_Band_1922

After the opening of trade with Japan in the late 19th century, America’s consumer desire for all things “Oriental” grew exponentially, and of all the groups associated with American Freemasonry, the Shriners, noted for their use of the red fez, embraced the symbols and spirit of Orientalism to the fullest. This broadside addressed to New York State Assemblyman Alexander G. Hall, a member of both the Mecca Temple Shrine and the York Commandery, No. 55, invited Hall and his wife to the Colorful Oriental Durbar sponsored by the Mecca Temple Band of New York. The Durbar or reception was held at the 71st Regiment Armory on 34th Street and Park Avenue and highlighted by the music of the Mecca Temple Band, conducted by Arthur H. Hoffman.

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Captions

Colorful Oriental Durbar Broadside and Envelope, 1922. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Museum Purchase, MA 430.

The Mecca Temple Band of New York City, undated. The Masonic Postcard Collection. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Museum Purchase, MM 025.


Another Mystery to Be Solved...

2009_022DP1 In 2009, the National Heritage Museum was given a fez for its collection. Normally, we consider the prospective gift of a fez very carefully, because we are fortunate to have an extensive collection of these regalia items and we try not to collect objects that duplicate our existing holdings. However, this fez was unusual. As you can see in the photo to the left, it is green and embroidered with a camel and the words “Caliphs of Bagdad.”

As I cataloged it in our computerized database, I did some research trying to determine what group might have used it originally. Unfortunately, I could not find any information about when or where it came from and the donor could only tell me that it was passed down in his wife’s family. So, in November 2009, I turned to the readers of The Northern Light, the quarterly magazine of the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A., and asked for their help with identifying it.

I received a number of responses, including several that offered plausible leads. A reader from Springfield, Massachusetts, told me that the Association of Shrine Oriental Bands of North America has a subsidiary group of Past Presidents called the Caliphs, but admitted that he never saw a fez for that specific group. A man from New Jersey asked how I knew that this fez was Masonic. And, as I was quick to tell him, I do not know if this fez is Masonic.  It may well have been used by a non-Masonic fraternal group.

Indeed, several readers suggested that it might come from other groups. One mentioned the Phi Delta Kappa fraternity explaining that the group often tried to come up with new ideas to promote interest over the years and that this fez might be one of those ideas. A Pennsylvania reader called in to tell me about the Princes of Bagdad, a group associated with the Knights of Malta, but research into their logo did not turn up any similarities. And, a reader from Iowa suggested that perhaps the fez was associated with the fraternal group, the Order of Camels, which was founded in Milwaukee in 1920. If anyone knows of regalia from that group, I would love to hear about it or see a photograph.

Perhaps the most exciting response to my query was the arrival in the mail of a second green “Caliphs of Bagdad” fez! A reader from Pennsylvania had received the fez from a friend thirty years previously and generously decided to donate it to the Museum (while we try not to collect multiple copies of the same item, we often make an exception with textile items because it is helpful to have a second piece that can rotate into an exhibition and protect them both from overexposure to the lighting in the gallery). Unfortunately, like the donor of the first fez, this donor did not know where his friend had originally found the fez.

From my perspective, two of the leads I received were the most plausible. The first came from two different Northern Light readers, one from Michigan and one from Ohio, who called in and told me that they knew of green fezzes being awarded as honorary gifts in their respective communities. One man said that it was the Knights of Columbus that did this, while the other cited an example of a Shrine Temple doing the same. The second came from a reader in New Jersey who tracked down a newspaper account of the 1937 Shrine convention in Detroit, Michigan. That article, from the June 23, 1937, issue of The Detroit News reads “The Chicago unit, the largest delegation, was next with a pink and white striped group of caliphs drawing a golden sphinx and a live camel and a band of 110 musicians wearing white and green and flying yellow pennants…” A green and yellow fez seems like it might have been just the right headwear for this group.

What do you think? Have you ever seen a fez like this? Do you know when and where it was originally worn? Please let us know by leaving a comment below.

Fez, early 1900s, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Stanley A. McCollough, 2009.022. Photograph by David Bohl.

 


A Nod to Freemasonry

SC83_19_5DP1 Bobblehead dolls – do you love them or hate them?  Do you have any in your office or your house?  Recently, the National Heritage Museum received two Masonic bobblehead dolls – both depicting Shriners (members of the Masonic group Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine) – joining two others already in the collection.

Our Collections Committee – which reviews all objects offered to the Museum by gift or purchase – was charmed by these toys.  Bobbleheads, also known as “nodders” or “bobbers,” seem to date back to at least 1842.  In his short story, The Overcoat, published that year, Nikolai Gogol described a character as having a neck “like the neck of plaster cats which wag their heads.”  In the 1920s, a New York Knicks basketball player bobblehead was produced and enjoyed some popularity, but it quickly waned.  In the 1960s, sports figure bobbleheads came into vogue once again and since that time, innumerable popular figures have been immortalized with their heads on springs.

Three of the Museum’s Shriner bobbleheads date from the 1960s, including the one shown at left.  These dolls have plaster heads on springs.  The figure wears a black suit with a white shirt and a typical maroon fez with a black tassel and a yellow and green Shrine symbol.  Unfortunately, we do not know exactly when or where this bobblehead originated.  It may have been a souvenir from a specific Shrine event, or perhaps just a whimsical toy that the original owner purchased.  Bobbleheads seem to be a perfect fit for Shriners – the group is known as “the playground of Freemasonry.”

We also have a Shriner bobblehead from about 2003, which a museum staffer purchased at our Heritage Shop and recently donated to the collection.  This newer doll has a plastic head and body, but shows remarkable similarities to our earlier ones.  Compare the photo of the plastic one at right to the plaster-headed bobblehead above.2008_043DP2

Do you have any other Masonic or fraternal bobbleheads?  If so, we’d love to hear about them in a comment below!

Top: Masonic Shrine bobblehead doll, 1960-1970, National Heritage Museum, gift of Mr. James A. Wieland, SC83.19.5.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Bottom: Masonic Shrine bobblehead doll, 2003, collection of the National Heritage Museum, gift of Jennifer G. Aszling, 2008.043.  Photograph by David Bohl.