Over two hundred years ago, in 1816, Freemason David Vinton (1774-1833) compiled The Masonick Minstrel: A Selection of Masonick, Sentimental, and Humorous Duets, Glees, Canons, Rounds and Canzonets. Along with collecting existing songs and music, Vinton included some of his own original lyrics, set to well-known tunes, for his readers. Most of the work’s contents—music, songs, a history of Freemasonry, and a list of lodges in the United States—were drawn from a variety of previously published sources.
The frontispiece of Vinton’s work was directly inspired by that of a similar work, Smollet Holden’s A Selection of Masonic Songs. This book was published in Ireland, almost a decade and half before Vinton’s. A Selection of Masonic Songs featured a frontispiece based on a Dublin jeweler’s advertisement for Masonic wares. An 1814 circular soliciting subscribers for Vinton’s planned publication noted that among its embellishments was “an elegant emblematick frontispiece.” It and the title page were, according to the advertisement, going to be “engraved by the first artists in Philadelphia.”
In addition to the detailed frontispiece, Vinton’s book included other decorative engravings portraying Masonic symbols and themes. One is a depiction (above) of a skull over crossed bones flanked by representations of day (the sun on a light background) and night (the moon and stars on a dark background) and Masonic symbols contained within a diamond-shaped surround, along with Latin phrases related to Freemasonry, and cherubs at top and bottom.
Another image (below, at left), also oval-shaped, features, at its center, a Freemason, holding a rule, and wearing an apron and a jewel. He stands within an arch which is, in turn, surrounded by a structure with columns and a pediment. The pediment is ornamented by a Masonic coat of arms. An oval border contains this structure, the figure, and a selection of symbols used in Freemasonry.
Where did Vinton, an enthusiastic compiler and borrower, find models for these images? It is likely that he took these images from illustrations in a publication, as he did in the case of his book’s frontispiece. Another intriguing possibility is that he encountered these images on a ceramic object decorated with Masonic-themed transfers. A small pitcher (5 ½” high) in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, provides an example (below at left and right). This object, manufactured in England, is ornamented with three Masonic-themed transfers printed in black on a red body. Vinton’s images are reversed and differ from the images on the pitcher in some small details. Overall the images in Vinton's book and those on the pitcher are enough alike to appear to have a shared inspiration.
This pitcher is one of the many stylish ceramic objects decorated with Masonic imagery created by English potteries in the late 1700s and the early 1800s. These kinds of ceramic objects proved popular with American Freemasons as special gifts to individuals or as presentations to lodges. Though the source Vinton used for these illustrations is not known, the similarity between them and the images on this pitcher underscores the connections between Masonic visual and material cultures in the Anglo-American world in the early 1800s.
J. Bunny, “Bro. S. Holden’s Masonic Song Book,” The Lodge of Research, No. 2429 Leicester, Transactions for the Year 1947-48, 49-75.
John D. Hamilton, Material Culture of the American Freemasons (Lexington, MA: Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 1994), 207.
Kent Logan Walgren, Freemasonry, Anti-Masonry and Illuminism in the United States, 1734-1850, a Bibliography, vol. 1 (Worcester, MA: America Antiquarian Society, 2003), 284, 295-296.
Pitcher, ca. 1800. England. Special Acquisitions Fund, 97.025.4. Photographs by Michael Cardinali.
Details from "The Masonick Minstrel…," Compiled by David Vinton, 1816. Published by Herman Mann & Co., Dedham, Massachusetts. Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.1687. Photographs by David Bohl.