Unusually Shaped Masonic Emblem Cards
April 07, 2015
Among the Masonic emblem cards currently on view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives reading room at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, those of H.G. Belcke (1841-1892) and H.P. Monroe (1850-1937) stand out because of their unusual shapes.
Henry G. Belcke's cross-shaped card was created specifically for the 1880 Triennial Conclave, held in Chicago. Belcke was a member of Peoria Commandery No. 3 and the words "Chicago Pilgrimage" on his card refer to the trip that his Commandery made from their hometown of Peoria to the Conclave's location in Chicago. The use of the word "pilgrimage" is intentional and alludes to Christian religious pilgrimages, although Commanderies traveling to Triennial Conclaves were not taking a religious trip, but rather a fraternal and social one. The shape of Belcke's card also clearly underscores the Christian character of Masonic Knights Templar. While mainstream American Freemasonry requires members only to profess that they believe in a Supreme Being, with no further definition or religious affiliation, Knights Templar candidates must "profess a belief in the Christian Religion."
Hazzard Purdy Monroe was a pharmacist as well as a member of Dunkirk Commandery No. 40, from Dunkirk, NY. His triangular-shaped card features a skull and crossbones at the top. The card echoes the familiar Masonic Knights Templar apron which, although no longer worn, would have been emblematic of Knights Templar in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The skull and crossbones symbol, found in Knights Templarism and in many other contexts is often known by the Latin phrase "memento mori," or "remember death." In its traditional use, the skull and cross bones is a reminder of mortality and that life on earth is finite.
"Masonic Emblem Cards: Victorian Tradition in a Fraternal World" is currently on view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives reading room at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.