Posts by Alyssa Shirley Morein

The Green Dragon Tavern Sign’s Winding Legacy

GL2004_7293aDP1DB

Green Dragon Tavern Sign, 1875-1940. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.7293a. Photograph by David Bohl.

 

As we look forward to Patriots’ Day here at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, our minds turn to objects in our collection related to the American Revolution. Among these is the dramatic sculpture pictured here. This sculpture is a reproduction of a tavern sign that once hung over Boston’s fabled (and no longer surviving) Green Dragon Tavern and connects viewers to the remembrance of important events relating to our nation’s origins.

This sculptural dragon’s story is as winding as its tail. The original Green Dragon Tavern, in operation as early as 1712 and located on Union Street in Boston’s North End, attracted customers with a metal (possibly copper) sign in the shape of a dragon over its door. The Lodge of St. Andrew met at the tavern and purchased the building in 1764. The tavern continued to operate in the basement while the Lodge used the upper floors for its meetings. This structure burned down in 1832, and the original dragon sign was lost.

The Lodge rebuilt the building after the fire. For its centennial in 1856, a new sign in the shape of a dragon was commissioned. It was modeled after its predecessor as closely as could be determined but was made of sandstone instead of metal. This 1855 dragon sign was also lost sometime after it was created.

The sign shown here, sculpted in bronze, has more mysterious origins. It was discovered in 1947 by clothing store proprietor Samuel Lebow, who had purchased the Lodge of St. Andrew’s building to use as his shop. Lebow, himself a Freemason, gave the dragon to the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts the same year he found it.

The original Green Dragon Tavern—referred to as the “Headquarters of the Revolution” by Daniel Webster and a “nest of sedition” by Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson—was the location at which the Sons of Liberty met to plan out the Boston Tea Party. An 1898 artist’s rendering of that storied night, with the tavern and its sign in the shape of a dragon in the background, can be seen below. Lodge of St. Andrew members Paul Revere (1734-1818), John Hancock (1736/7-1793), and Joseph Warren (1741-1775) were also members of the Sons of Liberty and deeply involved in the group’s activities.

GL2004_0763DI1cropped

Green Dragon Tavern, Boston, Massachusetts, 1898. Lee Woodward Zeigler (1868-1952); The Masonic History Company, New York, NY. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.0763.

 

Today, this dragon sign, part of the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, is cared for by the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. If you would like to see it in person, it is currently on view in our exhibition, “The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History.”

 

References:

Newell, Aimee E., et al. Curiosities of the Craft: Treasures from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection. Boston: Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and Lexington, Massachusetts: Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 2013, pp. 54-55.

Gimber, Karl and Mary Jo. “Hook a Tavern Sign.” Early American Life, Feb. 2012, pp. 72-73.

The Lodge of Saint Andrew, and the Massachusetts Grand Lodge. Boston: Lodge of St. Andrew, 1870, pp. 184-185.


Celebrating Prince Hall Freemasonry

In the spotlight this month at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library are two souvenirs from a 1950 Boston gathering that commemorated a 175th anniversary in Prince Hall Freemasonry. The mementos shown here—a colorful felt pennant and a miniature brass trowel, both currently on view in our exhibition, The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History—are but small reminders of an important development in American Masonic history.

GL2004_3395DP1FGPennant for Prince Hall Pilgrimage to Boston, 1950. United States, Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.3395. Photograph by Frank E. Graham.

In 1775, Prince Hall, a leader in Boston’s African American community, sought to join one of the city’s Masonic lodges but was denied membership on account of his race. Seeking an alternative path to becoming Freemasons, Hall and 14 other African American men joined a Masonic lodge, Lodge No. 441, attached to a British regiment stationed in Boston. Hall and his brethren petitioned the Grand Lodge of England for a charter for a new lodge of their own; in 1784, the Grand Lodge granted the requested charter for African Lodge No. 459 in Boston. Using this charter, Prince Hall later established lodges in Philadelphia and Providence, building the foundation for African American Freemasonry in the United States.

GL2004_4204DI1croppedSouvenir Trowel, 1950. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.4204.

Nearly two centuries later, on August 13, 1950, African American Masonic groups from across the U.S. came together in Boston for a week of festivities to celebrate the anniversary of Prince Hall and his brethren’s initiation. According to a notice in the Boston Globe, the program was slated to include a parade of a stunning “15,000 Master Masons representing 41 Grand Lodges, 95,000 Master Masons, Grand Chapters of O.E.S. [Order of the Eastern Star], Holy Royal Arch Masons, Knights Templars, Shriners, Daughters of Isis and Consistories.” Participants made a pilgrimage to the grave of Prince Hall at Copp’s Hill Burying Ground and attended memorial services at Tremont Temple. Also among the convention’s highlights was the presentation of $15,000 to the American Cancer Society and $20,000 to Howard University-affiliated Freedman Hospital from the Shrine Tuberculosis and Cancer Research Foundations.

Today, Prince Hall Masons continue to support their communities at thousands of lodges across the nation and world. We invite you to learn more about the history of American Freemasonry at our online exhibitions and collections pages, as well as the museum’s Flickr page.

 


A Glowing Lineage: Brilliant Cut Glass

2019_044a-bDI6editedCreamer and Sugar Bowl, 1876-1917, USA. Gift of Vikki Sturdivant, 2019.044a-b.

The sugar bowl and creamer pictured here are among the more recent gifts to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's collection. The owner of this charming cut glass set displayed it in his home for many years. At the center of either side of each piece is a symbol used in Freemasonry, a six-pointed star, surrounded by rays.

An intriguing discovery during the cataloging process suggested that this set may possess a notable lineage, likely hailing from the era of glass manufacturing referred to by collectors as the American Brilliant Period. Glass formulas of this era, which lasted from about 1876 to 1917, typically included manganese as a clarifying agent. This element causes them to luminesce a light green shade under black light. We couldn't resist trying this test, and were rewarded with the mesmerizing results you see below. Combined with what we know about who owned them, we believe it is likely that these table wares were a product of this fascinating time.

In the late 1800s several factors converged to change the glass industry: large deposits of high-grade silica were discovered in the US, and around the same time, electric-powered machinery and assembly-line methods were ramping up production in American factories and allowing manufacturers to turn out increasingly sophisticated goods. Along with all this, surging prosperity led to a growing consumer demand for fancy table wares. Cutting shops multiplied, and American companies' designs soon garnered awards and fame at the 1889 Paris Exposition and 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. 

2019_044a-bDI5Glowing green under a black light.

The cut glass pieces of this period are characterized by intricate patterns and the ability to catch and reflect light particularly well. They were made of a type of glass with a high proportion of lead oxide. This ingredient effectively softened the glass, enabling it to be cut without shattering. Their manufacturing process started with the creation of thick “blanks” in the shape of the desired form. After being marked with a design, they underwent several stages of cutting and polishing on wheels of metal, wood, and stone. You can read more about the process, and see examples from this period—which ended abruptly when lead was needed for military purposes in World War I—at this website. Curious parties can delve into further examples of American cut glass here

The manufacturer of our creamer and sugar bowl is not known. Many glass makers did not mark their products, or used paper labels which wore off over time. Cut glass from the late 1800s and early 1900s was comparatively durable and was popular in its day. These two qualities have contributed to the survival of cut glass objects in family collections. If you have any cut glass objects decorated with Masonic symbols, we’d love to hear about them in the comments below. 

References:

John C. Roesel. "American Brilliant Cut Glass, 1876-1917." American Cut Glass Association website, accessed May 29, 2021, at https://cutglass.org/AboutCutGlass.htm

"Black Light Testing." The House of Brilliant Glass website, accessed May 29, 2021, at https://www.brilliantglass.com/black-light-testing/


Magic Lanterns and Snow Balls

2008_023_129DS1"The Snow Ball--1. 'Joe made a ball as big as an orange.'" 1895-1925. A. D. Handy Stereopticons and Supplies, Boston, MA. Gift of Anne R. Berntsen, 2008.023.129.

The holidays are here! At this time of year we seek shelter from the cold, staying indoors with loved ones, comfort foods, and, of course, entertainment. In 2020, that last item often comes in the form of glowing images on a screen—but did you know that over a hundred years ago, things weren’t so different as you might imagine? 

In the late 1800s, a device known as the magic lantern was used in American households as well as at schools, churches, and other venues. Also called stereopticons, magic lanterns earned their more common moniker by dazzling audiences with glowing projected images. These machines were invented in the late 1600s. The technology developed and the device became easier to use over the next two centuries. Here at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, we have a number of these early slide projectors—many Masonic lodges used magic lanterns to deliver lectures. You may see examples and read more about their fascinating and varied history at our online exhibition Illuminating Brotherhood: Magic Lanterns and Slides from the Collection.

2008_023_130DS1"The Snow Ball--2. 'And the farther it went the bigger it grew.'" 1895-1925. A. D. Handy Stereopticons and Supplies, Boston, MA. Gift of Anne R. Berntsen, 2008.023.130.

Many types of slides and programs were developed to use with magic lanterns. By the late 1800s their production—largely focused in the northeastern U.S.—was booming, with slides being made for every imaginable purpose, from advertising and entertainment to educational presentations offered in schools, public lecture halls, churches, and fraternal organizations. Some slides featured photographs while others bore hand-colored images. Many told humorous stories with successive images and accompanying text. For example, "The Snow Ball", three slides of which are pictured here, illustrates the amusing hijinks of a group of boys whose snow creation wreaks havoc on a country town. A long-lived Boston stereopticon company named A. D. Handy produced these slides. You may view the rest of the riotous story of the snow ball, as well as more magic lantern slides produced by this company and others, at our Flickr page

 

2008_023_136DS1"The Snow Ball--8. It was Darwin's latest, 'The Descent of Man!'" 1895-1925. A. D. Handy Stereopticons and Supplies, Boston, MA. Gift of Anne R. Berntsen, 2008.023.136.

Do you have any magic lantern stories to share, or perhaps slides or projectors in your attic? Let us know in the comments section below! As always, we invite you to visit our other online exhibitions and explore our collections online. Happy holidays!

 

 


A Daughters of Rebekah Quilt

94_007T1Temple Hill Quilt, 1924-40. Members of the Temple Hill Daughters of Rebekah. Temple Hill, Illinois. Museum Purchase, 94.007.

Continuing our celebration of the centennial of women’s suffrage in the United States, here we feature another object from the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library representing women’s involvement in fraternalism: a quilt made by members of the Daughters of Rebekah in the Temple Hill, Illinois, area.

The Daughters of Rebekah is a women’s group associated with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.). Commonly known as the Rebekahs (and officially as the International Association of Rebekah Assemblies), this group was founded in 1851, making it the first women’s auxiliary connected to any American fraternal order. Its name honors the biblical character who offered hospitality to a humble stranger. When it was established, the group’s stated objectives were to “aid in the establishment and maintenance of Homes for aged and indigent Odd Fellows and their wives… [and the] care, education, and support of orphans of deceased Odd Fellows and deceased sisters of the Rebekah degree” as well as to cultivate social relations among these groups.

The quilt shown here, possibly made as a fundraiser by Rebekahs living in the Temple Hill, Illinois, area, was pieced by hand and machine. Measuring 85 by 64 inches, it is rendered in the symbolic colors of the Rebekahs, pink and light green. Like many quilts associated with fraternal groups, this one is replete with symbols. Many of these—such as the sword and scales, open bible, and coffin and scythe—are used in both Odd Fellowship and Freemasonry. At the quilt’s lower center, under a 48-star American flag and a panel bearing the I.O.O.F. three-link chain emblem, is a pink square dedicated to symbols used by the Rebekahs. It features the four main emblems of that order: the beehive, to remind members of the sweet rewards of industry and coordinated effort; the dove, to teach them to promote “peace on earth and good will to men”; the lily, to nudge members toward purity of thought and action; and finally, the moon and seven stars, to represent order in the universe and thus in one’s duties, as well as to evoke the idea of reflecting the glory of the Supreme Being as the moon and stars reflect the sun’s light in the darkness.

This quilt was likely made between 1924 and 1940, a period when the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs enjoyed popularity. Over the prior seven or so decades, Rebekahs had flourished, counting numerous first ladies and pioneering female civic leaders among their membership. These included Arizona state representative Vernettie O. Ivy (1876-1967); Warrenton, Oregon, mayor Clara C. Munson (1861-1938); and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962). Possibly due in part to the increased social buttresses of the New Deal, membership in such mutual aid societies began to decline precipitously by the mid-twentieth century. Today, Rebekah lodges continue to be active in community and charitable projects, with a creed to "live peaceably, do good unto all" and obey the Golden Rule.

Do you have a question or observation related to women's involvement in fraternal groups? Let us know in the comments section below! We also invite you to join us on Facebook and check out our online exhibitions and online collections

References:

Lynne Adele and Bruce Lee Webb. As Above, So Below: Art of the American Fraternal Society, 1850-1930. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2015.

Max Binheim, ed. Women of the West: A Series of Biographical Sketches of Living Eminent Women in the Eleven Western States of the United States of America. Los Angeles, CA: Publishers Press, 1928 edition, https://archive.org/details/womenofwestserie00binh (accessed Aug 25, 2020).

George and J.C. Herbert Emery. A Young Man's Benefit: The Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Sickness Insurance in the United States and Canada, 1860-1929. Montreal and Kingston, Canada: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1999.

Alvin J. Schmidt. Fraternal Organizations (The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Institutions). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980.

Membership manual of the Sovereign Grand Lodge Office and Grand Lodge of Rebekah Assembly of CA, http://www.ioofmembership.org/Membership%20Manual.htm (accessed August 12, 2020).

 


Well Matched: Masonic Portraits of Couples

Among the many portraits in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s online exhibition “What’s in a Portrait?” are a number of portraits of couples. Similar to other types of portraiture, these works convey meaning about what the sitters valued. Couple portraits were commissioned by married or betrothed couples to honor their union, or document other family events. Pictured here are two beguiling examples.

Mr. J. and Mrs. M. Hull, ca. 1800.
Mr. J. and Mrs. M. Hull, ca. 1800. United States. Special Acquisitions Fund, 78.47a.

The first example is the charming watercolor above, which at 5 by 8 inches qualifies (somewhat paradoxically) as a large miniature portrait. Depicting subjects identified as Mr. J. and Mrs. M. Hull, the work likely dates to 1800. Although its maker and place of creation are not known, the portrait still conveys information about the sitters: for example, the pair’s union is emphasized—even romanticized—through decorative flourishes such as the entwined lovebirds at the top center of the painting and the identical beribboned wreaths encircling the two images. The importance of Mr. Hull’s identification as a Freemason is also conveyed in the carefully detailed representation of his jewel, sash, and apron.

A second example, from 1804, appears below: two matching paintings by artist Benjamin Greenleaf (1769-1821), who worked in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. Depicting Captain Aaron Bird (1756-1822) and his wife, Johanna Glover Bird (1757-1815), these 12-by-16-inch portraits are unified stylistically by their dark backgrounds and the similar clothing of their subjects—dark outerwear with white at the neck anchored by small gold pins. The pin that Captain Bird is wearing, which bears a square and compasses, shows that he was a Freemason. Bird hailed from Dorchester, Massachusetts, and was not only a Revolutionary War lieutenant but also a founding member of two Maine lodges—Cumberland Lodge No. 12 in New Gloucester, and later, Tranquil Lodge No. 29 in Minot.

Screen Shot 2020-05-26 at 8.40.06 PM
Johanna Glover Bird and Captain Aaron Bird, 1804. Benjamin Greenleaf (1769-1821). Massachusetts or Maine. Museum Purchase, 98.064.1-2.

Both of these works also exemplify the American folk art aesthetic in their sharply delineated forms, tidily organized compositions, and overall one-dimensionality of style. For all these similarities, they present contrasting atmospheres. This may be partly due to the artistic media the painters who made them employed. Greenleaf painted the Bird portraits in oil paint on pine board, creating a shiny, nonporous surface. He also selected black and white tones with a stark contrast. His treatment differs from that of the artist who painted the Hulls. This painter employed soft watercolors on light-absorbing matte paper, accompanied by airy imagery of birds and leaves.

You can explore more portraits from the collection on our website while the Museum & Library is closed due to the safer-at-home advisory in Massachusetts. We also invite you to join us on Facebook and check out our other online exhibitions and online collections. As always, we welcome your comments below.

 

References:

Carrie Rebora Barratt. “Nineteenth-Century American Folk Art.” October 2004. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, © 2000-2020. Accessed May 19, 2020 at https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/afkp/hd_afkp.htm.

Andrew Graham-Dixon. “Man and wife—the greatest marriage portraits in art history.” December 14, 2018. Christie’s, © 2020. Accessed May 19, 2020 at https://www.christies.com/features/Andrew-Graham-Dixon-on-marriage-portraits-9594-1.aspx

 


Crayon Enlargements: The Original “Digitally Enhanced” Photos

Past Noble Grand, Grand United Order of Independent Order of Odd Fellows, 1890-1900.Past Noble Grand, Grand United Order of Independent Order of Odd Fellows, 1890-1900. United States. Museum Purchase, 95.067a.

Of the many striking portraits to be displayed in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s upcoming exhibition, “What’s in a Portrait?,” the work pictured to the left is a staff favorite. Depicting a Past Noble Grand of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in his top hat and collar, the portrait possesses a simple grace—not only in its subject’s facial expression, but also in its delicate artistry. 

 

But, you may be wondering, what is it—a photograph, or a drawing? It's a crayon enlargement, or a print enlarged from a photographic negative and then highlighted by hand with chalk, graphite, and pastel. Also referred to as a crayon or pastel portrait, the crayon enlargement was a popular medium between the 1850s and early 1900s. Born out of the carte-de-visite, it allowed people to have their favorite carte images of loved ones blown up for wall-sized display.

 

While there came to be a number of methods through which this type of image could be achieved, the process generally involved a camera with an angled mirror attachment which captured and directed sunlight first through the photo negative, and then through a special enlarging lens onto a piece of treated paper. These images, called solar enlargements, required several hours’ exposure time and repeated readjustments to keep the mirror aligned with the sun’s movement. (See the details of this process and its fascinating evolution in this article.) As illustrated by the example above, one of the process’s tell-tale signs was the fading circular outline around the image where the edges of the lens rendered the image blurry.

 

Photographers quickly discovered, however, that not only did this process magnify imperfections on the negative, but also that images that looked fine in their original, small size needed to have their contrast, depth, and detail enhanced to produce pleasing wall-sized images. These problems could be addressed with hand coloring, which was done with crayon, pastel, charcoal, gouache, and watercolor. Artists favored easily blendable materials and matt papers for the softer-looking end result they produced.

 

While some photographers did the coloring work themselves, many hired artists who specialized in photographic coloring. An artist with a practiced hand enhanced the portrait of the G.U.O.O.F. Past Noble Grand. Below is a different, and earlier, crayon enlargement from the Museum’s collection; in this portrait of a member of the Amoskeag Veterans' Association signed by New Hampshire photographer Henry P. Moore, stark white tones highlight the subject’s shirt and buttons, creating vivid contrasts.

Member of the Amoskeag Veterans' Association, 1860-1870.Member of the Amoskeag Veterans' Association, 1860-1870. Henry P. Moore (1833-1911). Concord, New Hampshire. Gift of Peter G. Dowd, 2017.030.1a.

 

If you are curious to see more portraits from the Museum’s collection, you can view the online version of "What's in a Portrait?" here. We hope you’ll find time to enjoy it while the Museum & Library is closed due to the stay-at-home advisory in Massachusetts. Also, please join us on Facebook and check out our other online exhibitions and online collections. As always, we welcome your comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

References:

“Crayon Portrait.” A Visual Glossary of Photographic Techniques. Parisphoto.com. Accessed April 27, 2020 at https://www.parisphoto.com/en/Glossary/Photochrome1/

 

Gary E. Albright and Michael K. Lee. “A Short Review of Crayon Enlargements: History, Technique, and Treatment.” Topics in Photographic Preservation, Volume 3. 1989, Photographic Materials Group of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works. Pp: 28-36. Accessed April 27, 2020 at http://resources.culturalheritage.org/pmgtopics/1989-volume-three/03_05_Albright.pdf

 


"Cartomania" and Sitting for a Carte-de-Visite Portrait

2008_038_59DS1Woman and Man Wearing Fraternal Regalia, 1860-1863. Henry R. Cornell (1836-1906). Ligonier, Indiana. Gift in Memory of Jacques Noel Jacobsen, 2008.038.59.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library holds over two hundred cartes-de-visite, or small souvenir photographs mounted on stiff card backings, in its collections. Though diminutive in size (approximately 2-1/2 by 4 inches), these cards were immense in popularity in the US and Europe during the mid-1800s, as they offered a much more affordable and convenient way to have one’s likeness reproduced than had been previously available. Patented in 1854 by French photographer André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (1819-1889), cartes-de-visite soon came to dominate the photography market, with “cartomania” reaching its apex around 1862. More like baseball cards than calling or visiting cards, cartes-de-visite were traded among friends and acquaintances, who collected them and put them into specially made albums. Stationery shops sold cards depicting celebrities and well-known figures, as well.

2008_038_36DS
Independent Order of Odd Fellows Member, 1860-1869. Gift in Memory of Jacques Noel Jacobsen, 2008.038.36.

The experience of having one's photograph taken for a carte-de-visite was detailed with humor and wit by none other than Charles Dickens (1812-1870) in an 1862 issue of the weekly literary magazine he founded, All the Year Round. For all the delights of these cards, Dickens noted, sitting for one was "not a pleasant performance to go through." After entering the "dismal house" where the typical studio was located, the subject was shown into a cramped, darkened space strewn with well-worn props; "dazzled and oppressed by the glare of light above his head" the sitter in his "environment of pillar and curtain" had to hold his pose for the "utterly exhausting" thirty seconds it took to capture the likeness. "Terrific are the temptations of those thirty seconds," Dickens observed, when the sitter had to keep perfectly still and hold a steady gaze on some doorknob or keyhole. His account goes a long way in explaining the serious or stiff expressions on many subjects' faces.

Cartes-de-visite were more than just a cultural craze, however. These small portraits offered a new medium for documenting and preserving one’s identity and allegiances. They were very popular with soldiers during the Civil War. As shown in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s collection (a sampling of which can be seen here), Freemasons and members of other fraternal organizations used them to convey information about their affiliations and achievements.

2008_038_52DS1
Royal Arch Mason Wearing Sash and Apron, 1860-1863. Culber Brothers, Hodges. White River Junction, Vermont. Gift in Memory of Jacques Noel Jacobsen, 2008.038.52.

Eventually, the carte-de-visite was eclipsed in the realm of popular portraiture by the cabinet card, which was larger and therefore more eye-catching to display. The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library will feature examples of cartes-de-visite, cabinet cards, and many other types of portraits in its upcoming exhibition, "What's in a Portrait?" To keep in touch while the 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 online collections. And, as always, we welcome your comments below.

 

References:

Harding, Colin. "How to Spot a Carte de Visite (Late 1850s-c.1910)." Science + Media Museum blog, 27 June 2013. Accessed on April 8, 2020 at https://blog.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/find-out-when-a-photo-was-taken-identify-a-carte-de-visite/.

Dickens, Charles. "The Carte de Visite." All the Year Round. Vol. VII, April 26, 1862. Accessed on April 8, 2020 at http://www.djo.org.uk/all-the-year-round/volume-vii/page-165.html.

"Cabinet Card." City Gallery, copyright 1995-2005. Accessed on April 8, 2020 at http://www.city-gallery.com/learning/types/cabinet_card/index.php.

Volpe, Andrea L. "The Cartes de Visite Craze." The New York Times. August 6, 2013. Accessed on April 8, 2020 at https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/06/the-cartes-de-visite-craze/.


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.