Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania

Benjamin Franklin's Favorite Likeness

86_12TBenjamin Franklin’s (1706-1790) lifelong commitment to Freemasonry is well known.  After becoming a Freemason in Philadelphia in 1731, he was active in the fraternity for over fifty years.  He served as Grand Master of Pennsylvania in 1734 and Provincial Grand Master of Pennsylvania in 1749.  In addition to some of the more common prints depicting Franklin as a Freemason, we are also fortunate to have this terra cotta medallion in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection.


Created in 1777 by Jean-Baptiste Nini (1717-1786), it shows Franklin wearing a fur cap and dates to the time he spent in France as an American diplomat.  Franklin felt that this portrait was an accurate likeness of himself and by 1779 wrote to his daughter that it helped make his face “as well known as that of the moon.”


These medallions continue to be popular today – they are offered at auctions around the United States on a regular basis.  Nini, an Italian sculptor working in Paris, created the medallions using drawings by other artists.  Eventually, five versions of the Franklin medallion were made.  Nini used terra cotta cast from a wax mold, allowing him to make a large number from one mold.


Medallion, 1777, Jean-Baptiste Nini (1717-1786), France, Special Acquisitions Fund, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 86.12a.  Photograph by David Bohl.


Sources Consulted:


Charles Coleman Sellers, Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1962).


William B. Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin Volume 24 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984).


“Jean Baptiste Nini,” www.benfranklin300.org/frankliniana/people.php?id=34.


“Nini Medallion,” www.fi.edu/learn/sci-tech/nini-medallion/nini-medallion.php?cts=benfranklin.


The Conflagration of the Pennsylvania Masonic Hall in 1819

79_42_2T1 The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania secured its first building in 1802. Located on Filbert Street in Philadelphia, members dedicated it on St. John’s Day (December 27) in 1802. However, membership in Freemasonry grew at such a rate over the succeeding years that the building soon was too small.  By 1807, the search was on for new quarters. Later that year, the Grand Lodge purchased a vacant lot on Chestnut Street and began building according to a plan that architect William Strickland (1787-1854) submitted to their design competition. The new Masonic Hall was completed in 1809.

Unfortunately, the Grand Lodge would experience a relatively short tenure in this building. On March 9, 1819, a chimney fire spread rapidly, consuming the building. An engraving from the National Heritage Museum's collection, entitled The Conflagration of the Masonic Hall, Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, and created by John Lewis Krimmel (1786-1821) and John Hill (1770-1850), depicts the scene. The Grand Lodge history explains that “so great was the interest taken by the general public in this great calamity which overtook the Brethren,” that a painting was done “for the purpose of having an engraving made of the conflagration.”

According to the Franklin Gazette, the fire could be seen from New Castle, Delaware, thirty-two miles away. Washington Lodge No. 59 was meeting in the building at the time, but all the men in attendance were able to get out without any deaths or injuries. The print provides an accurate depiction of the fire companies.  It also shows the Secretary of Washington Lodge No. 59 carrying some of the Lodge’s property to safety – its Bible and the key to the hall.

The Conflagration of the Masonic Hall, Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 1819, John Hill, engraver, S. Kennedy and S.S. West, publishers, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, National Heritage Museum collection, Special Acquisitions Fund, 79.42.2. Photograph by David Bohl.