From the late 1700s through the present day, many American Masonic lodges have followed the tradition of acknowledging the contributions of a lodge master by presenting him with a personalized jewel to mark the conclusion of his term. Over time and place these jewels, called Past Master’s jewels, have been made of different metals and have come in many sizes and shapes, depending on the jurisdiction, local taste and the issuing lodge’s budget. Historically, the lodge commissioned an engraver to inscribe Past Master’s jewels with the recipient’s name, lodge and the dates of his term.
Past Master jewels presented in America in the early 1800s often featured the Masonic symbols of a sun within compasses with a quadrant connecting the legs of the compasses. These jewels, usually made of silver, were often cut from a flat sheet of metal. We have previously we posted about an example crafted in this manner in 1812 that was owned by a Boston Mason. Other Past Master jewels were cast or included cast parts, sometimes the central symbol of the sun. Researchers have observed that this style of Past Master jewel design was likely inspired by jewels used by Scottish Freemasons in the 1700s.
In the 1820s some Boston lodges occasionally issued a different—and distinctive—style of Past Master jewel. This design (illustrated at left and below) featured the symbols of a compasses and a quadrant at the center and was made as a plaque. Leafy curves in relief decorate the edges of the plaque. The plaque was cast, then its surface was textured with different tools. An engraver noted the recipient’s name and other information on cartouche at the center of the jewel. The contrast between the polished, shiny surface at the center and the darker, mostly matte background and borders of the plaque add to this style of jewel’s visual appeal. St. Andrew’s Lodge presented Henry Fowle (1766-1837)—an active Mason in Boston in the early 1800s—this Past Master's jewel in 1825 (above at left). Fowle served as Master of the lodge in 1793, from 1810 to 1817 and again from 1818 to 1820. His brethren honored him with this jewel in 1825. Two years before members of St. Andrews presented a Past Master jewel of the same style as Fowle’s to Henry Purkitt (1755-1846), who held the role of Master from 1804-1805. This jewel is now in the collection of the Bostonian Society.
Brethren at Columbian Lodge in Boston honored George Girdler Smith (1795-1878) with a similar Past Master’s jewel in 1828 (at right). Later, after he had served several more terms, the lodge had the back of the 1828 jewel engraved with a message (below) thanking Smith for “the faithful and distinguished services he has rendered the Lodge as Master, during the Years 1828, and 1841 to 1844…..” The brothers of Union Lodge in Dorchester, Massachusetts, gave Past Master Isaac W. Follansbee (d. 1882) a jewel like Fowle’s and Smith’s, more than a decade later, in 1858. It is now part of the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. Although many examples of these distinct-to-Boston style jewels survive, there is a lot more to learn about them, such as who made them and what originally inspired their shape and decoration. If you know of more examples of this kind of Past Master jewel or have other observations about them, please let us know in the comments section below.
John Hamilton, Material Culture of the American Freemason (Lexington, Massachusetts: Museum of Our National Heritage), 1994, 124-125, 137-138.
Aimee E. Newell, Hilary Anderson Stelling and Catherine Compton Swanson, Curiosities of the Craft: Treasures from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection (Boston and Lexington, Massachusetts: Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library), 2013, 47, 244-5, 151, 195.