New to the Collection: Ancient Order of Foresters Frog Mug
April 29, 2010
Freemasonry is often acknowledged as the first fraternal organization to come to American shores. But, it is far from the only group that crossed the Atlantic. This mug, marked “Ancient Order of Foresters,” also represents a group that started in England and came to America.
The mug, which the National Heritage Museum recently acquired, was made in England in the 1830s or 1840s. Known as a “frog mug,” the vessel has a ceramic frog inside that would surprise the drinker as he drained his beverage. This charming joke was put on by a number of pottery manufacturers during the 1800s.
The Ancient Order of Foresters dates back to 1790 in England, when it was known as the Royal Ancient Order of Foresters. According to the group, their object was “to unite the virtuous and good in all sects and denominations of man in the sacred bonds of brotherhood so that while wandering through the Forest of this World they may render mutual aid and assistance to each other.” Initially, members had to prove themselves in combat before gaining admittance, but in 1843 the group dropped this requirement. Scholar Victoria Solt Dennis has suggested that this may have served as a “primitive health check" since "a candidate who could acquit himself creditably in a mock fight was probably reasonably fit to work and support himself.”
In 1834, the group had a schism and changed its name to the Ancient Order of Foresters. It also changed its ritual and introduced new signs and passwords. Although the Order came to the United States in 1832, it did not take strong hold until the 1860s. Today, the group remains active in England as the Foresters Friendly Society.
Despite the prominent inclusion of the Foresters name on the mug, it bears a verse from a decidedly Masonic song:
Ensigns of state that feed our pride,
Distinctions troublesome and vain,
By Masons true are laid aside,
Arts free-born sons such toys disdain.
Ennobled by the name they bear,
Distinguished by the badge they wear.
This verse is part of “The Fellow-Craft’s Song,” which appeared in Anderson’s Constitutions, a governing document for Freemasonry, when it was published in 1723. Did the potter make both Masonic and Forester mugs and just make a mistake about which verse belonged on this piece? Or did the Foresters appropriate the song? We may never know, but it does seem strange that such a clearly Masonic verse would appear on a mug for a non-Masonic fraternal group.
Victoria Solt Dennis, Discovering Friendly and Fraternal Societies: Their Badges and Regalia (Buckinghamshire: Shire Publications Ltd., 2005), 114-123.
Albert C. Stevens, The Cyclopedia of Fraternities (New York: E.B. Treat and Company, 1907), 221-229.
Ancient Order of Foresters Frog Mug, 1834-1850, England, collection of the National Heritage Museum, Museum purchase, 2009.012. Photographs by David Bohl.