Fashion

Bicorne Hats and Beavers

Hat with Box, 1830-1840Hat with Box, 1830-1840. Boston, Massachusetts. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.0138a-c.

Continuing along the lines of last week’s post, here we’ll look at another meticulously crafted hat at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library: a folding bicorne-style hat, pictured to the left. Stylistically related to the tricorne hat and an antecedent to the formal top hat popular in the 1900s, the bicorne could be conveniently folded and tucked between the arm and body when removed. For this reason it was also known as a chapeau-bras or “under the arm” hat.

This extraordinary example, with its own hand-made case, is from the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, cared for at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. Thought to date to the 1830s, this hat was owned by William Pierce, Jr. A member of the Boston Commandery, No. 2, Pierce may have worn this headgear as part of his regalia. If so, it would be one of the earliest known items of Knights Templar regalia in New England. In the image below, you can see one example of the full regalia of this Masonic order as it would have appeared slightly later, in the 1850s-1860s (although the hat pictured in this image was not a folding type). While Knights Templar regalia has changed over time, the bicorne hat, or chapeau, often adorned with an ostrich feather, remains a distinctive element of it.

Isiah Frazier in Knights Templar Uniform, 1855-1860.Isiah Frazier in Knights Templar Uniform, 1855-1860. Isaac Rehn. Possibly Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Museum Purchase, 97.017.

Like many fine hats manufactured in the early 1800s, the one shown above was made from beaver pelt instead of the more affordable (and less water-repellent) wool felt. Beaver hats, as all styles of hat from this pelt were known, were labor intensive to create. To felt (or mat down) the fur of the pelt, hatmakers first had to remove its longer, coarser hairs. Then they brushed it with a solution of mercuric nitrate and washed, dried, and shaped it. The phrase “mad as a hatter,” incidentally, arose from a very real phenomenon, as the fumes created during this process gave workers terrible symptoms of mercury poisoning such as tremors, confused speech, and vision disturbances. Luckily for both beavers and hatters, by the mid-1800s silk plush and other materials began to supplant beaver pelt in hat fashions.

To keep in touch while the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is closed due to the stay-at-home advisory in Massachusetts, please join us on Facebook, and check out our online exhibitions and our digital collections. And, as always, we welcome your comments below.

 

Reference:

Tabbert, Mark A., 32º. "Sifting through the Past: Gems from the Massachusetts Grand Lodge Collection." The Northern Light, Scottish Rite Freemasonry, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, USA. Nov. 2005. 9. Accessed April 2, 2020 at https://scottishrite.nyc3.digitaloceanspaces.com/downloads/The-Northern-Light/2005/TNL-November2005.pdf?mtime=20191205111233

 


Top-Quality Toppers

Worshipful Master's Top Hat, ca. 1900
Worshipful Master's Top Hat, ca. 1900. Collins & Fairbanks, retailer. Boston, Massachusetts. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 98.011. Photograph by David Bohl.

Top hats, now mostly regarded as relics of a bygone era, nonetheless reigned as the be-all, end-all in formal headgear from the late 1700s through the early 1900s—an impressively long time in the fickle realm of fashion. While thanks in part to their iconic shape these hats may appear simple, their construction was anything but, demanding the highly practiced handiwork of experienced tradespeople.

Take, for example, the hat pictured here, from the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. This particular topper was likely produced in Europe around 1900, and offered to American consumers by Boston retailer Collins & Fairbanks. The manufacturing process for such a hat started with the creation of an inner form made from cambric, a cheesecloth-like textile, which was bathed in shellac and then dried on racks in a heated room. Stiff but still moldable, the resulting material was shaped on a hat block and covered with silk plush, a material so expensive that only the most skilled artisan in the shop was allowed to cut it. Next the brim was cut, and curled just so, using a specialized tool and a few well-practiced flicks of the wrist. There was no room for error in this process: the final product had to have perfectly straight lines and, most magically of all, no visible seams. You can see step-by-step photos in this 1899 issue of the English Harmsworth Monthly Pictorial Magazine.

In the Masonic lodge, the Master wears a top hat to signify the authority of his office and to command respect. The height of a top hat’s crown, the curl of the brim, and the material used to form the hat have all changed repeatedly over the years to reflect prevailing fashion, but the meaning of this symbol in Freemasonry has stayed the same, as illustrated by the photograph below.

Members of Union Lodge No. 5, 1964.
Members of Union Lodge No. 5, Dec. 16, 1964. Hamilton Photo Co. Stamford, Connecticut. Gift of George Talisse, 2015.062.6.

The hat featured here is one of many objects that will be displayed in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s upcoming exhibition “What’s in a Portrait?” This exhibition of paintings, prints, and photographs from the collection explores portraits and some of the signs, symbols, and objects in them that tell the viewer the subject belonged to a Masonic or fraternal group.

To keep in touch while the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is closed due to the stay-at-home advisory in Massachusetts, please join us on Facebook, and check out our virtual exhibitions and our online collections. And, as always, we welcome your observations and ideas in the comments section below.

References:

Gavin Macdonald,“How A Silk Hat Is Made.” The Harmsworth Monthly Pictorial Magazine, 1899, Vol. 2. 235-238. Retrieved from this Google Books page.


Play Ball! A Masonic Baseball Jersey

2015_055DP1DBWith calls of “play ball” starting the 2016 baseball season this coming Sunday, it seemed right to focus our blog post this week on a Masonic baseball jersey that we recently added to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection. The short-sleeved shirt is off-white with dark pinstripes and bears the team name across the chest, “Ionic.”  What made this an exciting find for us is the blue patch on one sleeve with a square and compasses symbol and a G in the center.  This jersey seems to have been worn by a member of a team in a Masonic baseball league during the late 1910s or early 1920s.

“A Masonic baseball league?” you might ask, “how many of those could there have been?” Turns out, there were several, so we don’t know where this shirt was originally worn.  Initially, we thought that the jersey might have been used by the Ionic team that played in Detroit during the 1910s and 1920s.  Newspaper accounts from 1917 through 1921 trace the league’s games and frequently reference the Ionic team, who were the 1918 champions.  But we haven’t been able to conclusively link this shirt to the Detroit league yet.  There was also a league active in western New York during the 1930s, although we do not have a complete list of team names.  And, Duluth, Minnesota, Freemasons organized an “indoor baseball league” in 1914, which was active into the 1920s.  Newspaper articles confirm that this league had an Ionic Lodge team, but a March 1922 article about their playoff contest refers to them as “the Red and Gray squad,” suggesting their team colors do not match this jersey. Baseball Ticket

Other items in our collection also tell us that “Masonic” baseball games took place in New Jersey. This ticket (at right), from our Archives, admitted the bearer to a game on June 24, 1911, between Irvington’s Franklin Lodge No. 10 and Newark’s Oriental Lodge No. 51.  And, a photo in our collection (below) from October 1935 documents an “All-Star Masonic Game” that was played in Trenton between National League and American League players.  The teams were made up of professional baseball players who were also Freemasons.  It seems to have been a fundraising event put on by Trenton’s Tall Cedars of Lebanon Forest No. 4.

Our Ionic shirt has a label stitched inside telling us that it was made by Thomas E. Wilson and Company in Chicago. However, a few years before this shirt was made, in 1909 and 1910, consecutive Grand Masters of Illinois ruled that a group of baseball clubs with all-Masonic players “cannot use the name “Masonic Baseball League” or any other name in which Mason or Masonic appears” in the jurisdiction.  While creating the league and playing the games was not banned, it was felt that “it would not do for lodges to vote funds for the entertainment and amusement of a few members, who desire to engage in something foreign to Masonry.” 90_42T1

Histories of Thomas E. Wilson and Company (known today as Wilson Sporting Goods Company) help us to date this jersey between 1916 and 1925, when it was using the particular label in this shirt, and the Thomas E. Wilson and Company name. Thomas E. Wilson (1868-1958), who was born in Canada and came to Chicago in 1877, joined that city’s Mizpah Lodge No. 768 in 1894.  Do you have any documents or objects associated with a Masonic baseball league?  Do you know where this jersey might have been used?  Leave us a comment below!

Masonic Ionic Baseball Jersey, 1916-1925, Thomas E. Wilson and Company, Chicago, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library purchase, 2015.055. Photograph by David Bohl.

Ticket, 1911, unidentified maker, New Jersey, gift of Grant Romer, A87/010/1.

All-Star Masonic Baseball Game. 1935, Moyer, Trenton, New Jersey, gift of Donald Randall, 90.42.

 


New to the Collection: A Masonic Apron by William Laughton

2014_070_7DP1DB
Master Mason Apron, 1819-1824, William Laughton (poss. 1794-1870), Hartford, Connecticut, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Purchase, 2014.070.7. Photograph by David Bohl.

As regular readers of our blog will know, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library has one of the best collections of Masonic aprons in the world.  We are always looking to add new examples with designs or makers that we are not familiar with.  This apron, a recent purchase at auction, has both a design AND a maker that were new to us. 

This Master Mason apron shows a typical all-seeing eye symbol on the flap, signifying watchfulness.  The body features an arrangement of Masonic symbols with celestial and terrestrial columns on a mosaic pavement at the top of three stairs.  Between the columns are a sun, moon, shooting star, seven stars, clasped hands, three candlestands and an altar with an open Bible.  Rough and smooth ashlars appear to the sides and at bottom center is a coffin.

Applied on the back is a printed label for the apron’s maker – “Hartford / W. Laughton / Painter.”  Unfortunately, little is known about William Laughton (possibly 1794-1870), despite the inclusion of his label on this apron.  The best source of information about his activities is a series of newspaper advertisements in the Hartford papers between 1819 and 1824.  In August 1819, he begged “leave to inform his friends and the public, that he has taken a room a few doors east of the Court House…where he will do all kinds of ornamental painting, in the neatest manner, and at the shortest notice.”  By September 1819, he was advertising as a “delineator, ornamental, and sign painter,” and that he would “execute Masonic paintings and Signs of every description.”

In June 1820, he used his ad to “[tender] his sincere thanks to his friends and the public, for the encouragement they have given him in his profession for a year past.”  In this same advertisement he specifically noted that he would do “Masonic paintings, such as carpets, aprons, etc., etc.”  And, at the end, he noted “W.L. has on hand a few Masonic Aprons, which he offers very low.”  In addition to his newspaper advertisements, Laughton marketed himself by entering a painting in the local cattle show in October 1822.  According to a published account of the fair, “Mr. Laughton…offered for inspection, a fruit piece painted by himself.  This was considered by judges, to indicate a talent in the art which deserves particular encouragement.”  In 1823, his advertisements focused specifically on Masonic aprons, such as the one in the Connecticut Mirror on June 30, 1823, which was headed “Masonic Aprons,” and included an illustration of an apron.  “William Laughton,” the advertisement read, “has now on hand, a handsome assortment of Masonic Aprons, plain and gilt, very cheap by the dozen or single.”

After 1824, Laughton disappears from the newspapers.  He may have headed out of town to work as an itinerant painter.  In an 1898 biography of Esek Hopkins (1718-1802) (Commander in Chief of the Continental Navy, 1775-1778), a portrait of Hopkins is mentioned.  It was “taken from North Providence to Brookline, and in 1825, as it had become somewhat defaced, was turned over to a man by the name of Laughton, a carriage and sign painter, of Brookline, to be repaired.”  We do not know for sure if this “Laughton” and the William Laughton who made this apron are one and the same, but it is possible.  The 1838 Hartford City Directory lists Laughton back in the city as a “fancy painter.”  Few other details remain to tell us about the latter part of his life.  A “William W. Laughton” is listed in the records of the Grand Lodge of Connecticut.  He joined Bridgeport’s St. John’s Lodge No. 3 in 1862, but there is no birth date given, so this is an inconclusive match, especially since it seems strange that Laughton would have joined so late in life after making and selling aprons in the 1810s and 1820s.

Perhaps further information about William Laughton will come to light over time.  If you know of other aprons by Laughton, please let us know in a comment below!

To learn more about our apron collection, see our new book, The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, available June 2015 at www.scottishritenmj.org/shop.

References:

Connecticut Mirror, The Times, Connecticut Courant, 1819-1824.

Edward Field, Esek Hopkins, Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Navy during the American Revolution 1775 to 1778 (Providence: The Preston & Rounds Co., 1898).

Susan P. Schoelwer, ed., Lions & Eagles & Bulls: Early American Tavern & Inn Signs (Hartford: The Connecticut Historical Society, 2000).

I am indebted to Robert Fitzgerald, Grand Secretary, Grand Lodge of Connecticut, for sharing the Laughton Masonic membership information with me.


Who Wore the Crown? Collecting Order of the Amaranth Materials

2013_049_22aDP1DBTo properly manage the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s collection, the curatorial staff periodically reviews the strengths and weaknesses of the collection so that, as we evaluate new gifts and purchases, we can fill gaps and avoid duplications.  One of the gaps that we are seeking to fill is material (2-d, 3-d, records and papers) associated with fraternal groups for women and children.  So, when a donor generously offered several gifts of Order of the Amaranth material over the past few years, we jumped at the opportunity (see these other posts about the organization).

The Order of the Amaranth, like Order of the Eastern Star, with which it was initially affiliated, is open to the female relatives of Master Masons, and to Master Masons themselves.  In the United States in 1873, Robert Macoy (1816-1895), who was active in Order of the Eastern Star, formed the “Rite of Adoption,” which included an Order of the Amaranth degree.  From 1873 to 1921, all members of Amaranth Courts (analogous to Eastern Star Chapters), had to join Order of the Eastern Star first.  In 1921, the two groups split, becoming the separate organizations that they remain today. 2013_049_26aDP1DB

Among the large group of Amaranth items now in our collection, ranging from props that were used in rituals to records for several courts, and souvenirs from Amaranth events to regalia, are the two crowns shown here.  Both were worn by Elsie Haynes (1915-2006) when she was active in Amaranth activities in Connecticut.  Haynes probably wore the crown in the top photo when she was Royal Matron of Charity Court No. 17, which met in Windsor, Connecticut, and later in Suffield, Connecticut.  Haynes used the crown in the lower photo when she served as Supreme Royal Matron, head of the national organization, in 1977 and 1978.

We are very pleased to have Order of the Amaranth represented in our collection.  If you have an Amaranth memory to share or a question to ask, please leave us a comment!

Order of the Amaranth Crowns, 1960-1970 (top), ca. 1977 (bottom), Unidentified makers, United States, gift of Barbara F. Lott, 2013.049.22a and .26a.  Photographs by David Bohl.

 

 


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.

 


Funny Fashions

90_6_3DP1DB.tif For decades, popular television programs and movies have often poked fun at fraternal groups by featuring characters that belong to made-up fraternities with goofy names and even funnier hats and costumes. In the real world, members and non-members alike have often perceived Masonic costume as weird, silly, or outlandish.

Most fraternal groups—both real and imagined—took their cues for rituals, symbols, and special clothing from Freemasonry. Masonic regalia—the symbolic clothing that members wear, including aprons, fez, and character costumes—does have an element of wackiness. Yet, we often think the same thing about the clothing we see in fashion magazines. Fashion itself is as wacky, if not more so, than the regalia that Masonic groups wear, and this has been true since the 1700s. When we start to look closely, by comparing Masonic costumes with everyday clothing from the same time periods, we can see that regalia manufacturers often took their cue from popular fashions.

This idea is one of the main themes behind the National Heritage Museum’s current exhibition, Inspired by Regalia: American Masonic Regalia, which runs through March 10, 2012. And, to help make this point, the jumpsuit shown here is prominently placed at the beginning of the exhibition to illustrate how yesterday's fashions can prompt a reaction when viewed out of context. It was made in the early 1960s by clothing manufacturer Bobbie Brooks when this style and the color palette were popular. Today, it makes many of our visitors giggle!

Jumpsuit, 1960-1965, Bobbie Brooks, Cleveland, Ohio, Collection of the National Heritage Museum, gift of Helen Chase Kimball-Brooke, E. Lee Byron and Mary Eliza Kimball, 90.6.3. Photograph by David Bohl.


Lounging in Masonic Style

2005_042a-bDP1DB.tif This bathrobe, or dressing gown, from the late 20th century, is one of my favorite objects in the National Heritage Museum collection. So, when I was working on the checklist for our new exhibition, Inspired by Fashion: American Masonic Regalia, I knew I had to include it!

With nearly one million members by 1900, American Freemasonry offered – and has continued to offer – a tempting market for many vendors. Masons not only purchase regalia and costumes for their meetings, rituals and events, they also buy clothing and other accessories that identify them as members. This bathrobe’s fabric is decorated with perhaps the best-known Masonic symbol – the square and compasses, which signifies reason and faith.

Have you ever seen another bathrobe like this one? If you are a Mason, do you have favorite non-lodge clothing with Masonic symbols? Let us know in a comment below.

Masonic bathrobe, 1960-1980, probably American, Collection of the National Heritage Museum, Museum Purchase, 2005.042a-b. Photograph by David Bohl.


Exhibition Curator to Trace the Fashionable Roots of Masonic Regalia, 10/29

Join the Museum's Director of Collections Aimee Newell, Ph.D, for a tour of the exhibition, “Inspired by Fashion: American Masonic Regalia,” on Saturday, October 29 at 2 p.m. Newell, curator of the exhibition, will trace the fashion antecedants behind traditional Masonic costumes and regalia.

2008-039-27Popular television programs and movies have been known to poke fun at fraternal groups by featuring characters that belong to made-up fraternities with goofy names and even funnier hats and costumes. Do you remember Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble who were members of the “Royal Order of Water Buffaloes” on The Flintstones cartoon? Even among Freemasons, Masonic costume has been perceived as weird, funny or outlandish.

And, indeed, Masonic regalia can have an element of wackiness. But, we may think the same thing about the clothing we see in historic prints, paintings, and photographs from the 1700s and 1800s. Even people of the era reacted to what they perceived as the extremes of fashion by publishing cartoons and satires. Then, as now, fashion itself was as wacky, if not more so, than the regalia worn by Masonic groups.

Furthermore, when we start to look more closely, comparing Masonic costumes and photographs with clothing and images from the same time periods, we can see that regalia manufacturers often took their cues from fashion houses. Come and see garments and images from the Museum’s collection that demonstrate the four different design sources for Masonic garments – contemporary fashion, the military, Orientalism, and theater. Learn how there have always been connections between everyday style and Masonic fashion!

To participate in the gallery tour, meet Aimee Newell in the “Inspired by Fashion” gallery at 2 p.m. For more information, please call the Museum reception desk at 781 861-6559 or visit our website.

Image credit:

George S. Anderson, Grand Commander, Masonic Knights Templar of Georgia, 1860-1869. Smith and Motes, Atlanta, Georgia. National Heritage Museum, gift in memory of Jacques Noel Jacobsen, 2008.039.27.


Inspired by Fashion: American Masonic Regalia

Devil Costume If you ever watched Happy Days on TV, you probably remember the funny hat that Mr. Cunningham would put on to go to his Leopard Lodge meetings. For decades, popular television programs and movies have poked fun at fraternal groups by having characters belong to made-up organizations with goofy names and wild hats and costumes. Members and non-members alike have often perceived Masonic costume as weird, funny or outlandish. And, garments like the red knitted devil costume seen here seem pretty strange. One of the most unusual costumes in the National Heritage Museum collection, the devil suit was used by Scottish Rite Masons in Rochester, New York, to perform the 19th Degree. The degree explores the perennial conflict between good and evil. The Spirit of Evil character required a “Satanic costume of red,” like this one.

But, when we look at prints, paintings and photographs from the 1700s and 1800s, we also think that some of the clothing in those images is pretty weird and funny too. And, when we compare the clothing to Masonic regalia, we can see that perhaps it was not as outlandish as it now seems to us. Often, regalia manufacturers took their cues from contemporary fashion houses.

The National Heritage Museum’s new exhibition, “Inspired by Fashion: American Masonic Regalia,” uses clothing and images from the Museum’s collection to trace the inspiration behind Masonic regalia and costume. Each section explores a different source – contemporary fashion, the military, Orientalism, and theater – in order to show the connections between everyday style and fraternal fashion.

Scottish Rite Freemasons, the same group that founded and continues to support the Museum, are known for their elaborate theatrical degree ceremonies, which became popular during the early 1900s. They may have been partially inspired by the craze for historical pageantry that began around 1900. People across the country had begun putting on elaborate plays about their town’s history. Like the Scottish Rite degree ceremonies, these productions offered a shared sense of values, built a collective story of the community, and helped to create an identity for participants and audience alike.Degree Night

The painting shown to the right, Degree Night at the Robing Room, captures a backstage scene at a Scottish Rite degree ceremony. The artist, Frank A. Stockwell (1890-1970), was both a commercial artist and a Scottish Rite Mason with firsthand knowledge of the group’s rituals. After his death, his brothers remembered him for “his dramatic roles in many of the degrees.”

“Inspired by Fashion: American Masonic Regalia” is on view through March 10, 2012 at the National Heritage Museum, 33 Marrett Road, Lexington, Massachusetts. The Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, please visit our website.

Scottish Rite 19th Degree Devil Costume, 1940-1960, American, National Heritage Museum collection, Gift of Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite Valley of Rochester, New York, 2004.017.1. Photograph by David Bohl.

Degree Night at the Robing Room, 1935-1939, Frank A. Stockwell (1890-1970), Buffalo, New York, Loaned by Buffalo Consistory, Valley of Buffalo, New York, A.A.S.R., EL2006.001.2. Photograph by David Bohl.