Printing History

The Secret Discipline, an 1833 book that escaped New York's Great Fire of 1835

GL2004_0059DS1_webWe have in our library's collection, The Secret Discipline, Mentioned in Ancient Ecclesiastical History, Explained. According to the title page, it was published in 1833 by James Ormond in New York and written by Theodore Temple.

Although the name Theodore Temple appears on the title page, this appears to be a pseudonym. The American Antiquarian Society has a copy of this book and, based on manuscript annotation in their copy, they suggest that the author is Thaddeus Mason Harris (1768-1842), pictured at left. Indeed, our copy contains copious corrections and annotations - consistent with those of an author correcting his work for a new edition. A comparison of the handwriting in our copy to known examples of Harris's handwriting suggest that this may have been Harris's own copy. The book was published during the anti-Masonic period in the United States and was in direct response to critics of Freemasonry who claimed that the beliefs of religious men - Christians particularly - were not compatible with Freemasonry. Harris, a Unitarian minister, defended Freemasonry throughout the anti-Masonic period and was active within the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts from 1797 on.

They very first annotation in our copy (pictured below) appears on the front free endpaper and gives a very interesting glimpse into the past:

"Soon after this little book was printed the publisher failed in business and before more than a dozen or two were sold, the stock was attached and remained in keeping in a storesafe till in the great fire of 1836 the whole impression was consumed."

Let's take this sentence apart to see what it might it reveal.

Great fire quoteReference to the "great fire of 1836" is much easier to understand. It is likely that this is a reference to the Great Fire of 1835, which, starting on December 16, destroyed almost 700 buildings in 17 city blocks. It is possible that, in writing about this later, Harris could have misremembered the December 1835 fire as having happened in 1836. Harris was living in Massachusetts, not New York, so this does not seem impossible to imagine.

The claim that the "the publisher failed in business" is a bit harder to understand. According to New York City directories, James Ormond appears to have been in business in New York City from 1829 until 1840. It is possible that Ormond might have "failed in business" some time in 1833 or 1834 and then re-started his business, but he is listed in city directories as a printer throughout that period. Perhaps further research may reveal more about this.

As for whether it's true that no "more than a dozen or two were sold," it's hard to judge. WorldCat only lists 11 libraries (including ours) that own a copy, so it certainly seems possible that this claim may be true.

Theodore Temple [pseud.]. The Secret Discipline, Mentioned in Ancient Ecclesiastical History, Explained. New York: Printed by James Ormond, 1833.
Call number: RARE 10.11 .T287 1833 

Thaddeus Mason Harris (1768-1842), ca. 1860, C. Harding, artist, Pendleton's Lithography, publisher, Boston, engraving on paper, Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.0059.

The oldest book in our library collection: A Geneva ("Breeches") Bible, 1580

1580 Bible NT TPAs the librarian here at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, I occasionally get asked "what's the oldest book in your collection?" While age alone is not an indicator of rarity or value (whether financial or intrinsic), it's clear that people are moved by the survival of old books.

The oldest book in our collection is over 430 years old - a copy of the Geneva Bible, printed by Christopher Barker in London in 1580. The British Library gives a quick synopsis of the Geneva Bible: "English protestants in exile in Calvinist Geneva, Switzerland, produced a translation of the New Testament in 1557...followed by a translation of the complete Bible in 1560. Editions were printed in England from 1576 onwards."

The Geneva Bible, which was the first English translation from the original Hebrew and Greek texts (rather than from the Latin Vulgate), is sometimes known as the "Breeches Bible" for its rather unusual (some might say comical) translation of a passage in Genesis 3:7 about Adam and Eve: "They sewed figge tree leaves together and made themselves breeches." In our copy, a former owner noted the passage in red ink (see photo below).

Breeches pageSince we are discussing the oldest book in our library, it would be useful to add some historical context to when this Bible was printed. When this Bible was printed in 1580:

- The first performance of a Shakespeare play was still 10 years away (ca. 1590)
- The publication of the King James Version of the Bible (a reaction to the Geneva Bible) was over 30 years away (1611)
- The arrival of the Mayflower in modern-day Plymouth, Massachusetts was 40 years away (1620)
- And the beginning of the American Revolution was almost 200 years away (1775)

Although we don't know when - or with whom - our copy made its journey from England to North America, two ownership marks tell us that the book was once in Madison, Wisconsin and then in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Pictured at top is the title page for the New Testament in our copy.

The Bible, translated according to the Ebrew and Greeke, and conferred with the best translations in diuers languages; with most profitable annotations vpon all the hard places, and other things of great importance ... [Geneva Bible]
London: Christopher Barker, printer to the Queenes Maiestie, 1580.
Call number: RARE BS 170 [1580]

Masonic & Fraternal Gift Books: "To the Wives, Daughters, Sisters, and Sweethearts of Freemasons"

Masonic_Offering_cover_webGift books were a popular mid-nineteenth-century publication. Usually issued in a highly decorative binding and illustrated with engravings, gift books were collections of poetry, fiction (both usually of a sentintmental nature), and various non-fiction selections. Among middle-class Americans they were a conspicuous way to express friendship or love - with their fanciful bindings, gift books were intended to be displayed in the parlor where they could be seen. The audience for gift books was primarily - perhaps exclusively - women. Women also contributed to gift books; a number of the collected poems and stories in gift books were written by women. So it may come as some surprise that there were a number of gift books published in the 1840s and 1850s that were associated with exclusively male organizations like the Freemasons and the Odd Fellows. Covers of two of these books are pictured here: The Masonic Offering for All Seasons (above) and The Odd Fellows' Offering for 1849 (below).

In the collection of the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives, we have a number of fraternal gift books. One otherwise excellent source on gift books placed fraternal gift books under the heading "Gift Books as Propaganda," writing, "the Odd Fellows, Freemasons, Sons of Temperance and Know-Nothing Party often published 'souvenir' books of similar make-up to literary annuals but with content to serve their purposes." While it is true that these fraternal gift books contain a majority of material that is either directly related to the organization, or which focuses heavily on the goals and tenets (e.g. friendship, love, truth, charity, benevolence, etc.) of the group, it is possible to look at these fraternal gift books in a slightly different way.

Odd_Fellows_Offering_for_1849_cover_webFreemasonry in the nineteenth-century lodge room was an exclusively male event. Home life, however, was different. As we've written in earlier posts, nineteenth-century women were familiar with Masonic symbols and participated in Freemasonry through the decoration of Masonic aprons, the making of Masonic-themed samplers, the making of quilts embellished with Masonic symbols, and even the illustration of a Masonic "Mark book." Perhaps it is not too much of a stretch to imagine that a man who was a Mason might have wanted to share his enthusiasm about Freemasonry or other fraternal organizations with a female member of his family in a way that was both culturally and fraternally approved. A fraternal gift book, given as a birthday, Christmas, or even New Year's gift, would have fit the bill perfectly.

The evidence of Masons wanting to share their knowledge about the teachings of Freemasonry with female loved ones is made explicit in these gift books. In the preface to The Masonic Offering for All Seasons, published in the early 1850s and dedicated to the "Wives, Daughters, Sisters, and Sweethearts of Freemasons," the editor writes:

"Every Society of any standing has its Annual [i.e. literary annual, or gift book]; and why not the Masonic Order? It has principles inferior to none--evidences equal to any; and, if antiquity has aught to do with the matter, Masons undoubtedly take precedence.

The gentler sex should learn more of Masonry; and this is one object of this book. It sets forth these truths that will not only prove a blessing to them, but to those around the social circle; and it will enable them more powerfully to wield that influence they are so admirably adapted to exercise, for the benefit of themselves and others."

While not all of the gift books in our collection are inscribed, some are, and show evidence of these books having been used as intended. Nearly all of these books contain elaborately decorated presentation pages, intended to be filled out by the gift-giver to the recipient. One of our copies of a Masonic gift book called The Emblem: A Gift for All Seasons, for example, reflects the nineteenth-century activity of exchanging gifts at New Year's and is inscribed to "Mollie K. Randolph, New Year's 1859."

If you're interested in learning more generally about gift books, a couple of good online resources can be found below.

"Gift Books and Annuals." American Women: A Library of Congress Guide for the Study of Women's History and Culture in the United States.

"Tokens of Affection: Art, Literature, and Politics in Nineteenth Century American Gift Books." Publishers' Bindings Online, 1815-1930: The Art of Books.

 To see what gift books we have in our collections, do a subject search for "gift books" in our online catalog.


Rev. John Perry and Paschal Donaldson, eds. The Masonic Offering for All Seasons: Faith, Hope, Charity. New York: Cornish, Lamport & Co., [between 1851 and 1853]. Gift of Wallace M. Gage.
Call number: RARE 60 .P463

The Odd Fellows' Offering for 1849. New York: Edward Walker, 1849. Gift of Grant B. Romer.
Call number: RARE HS997 .D676 1849
[A digitized copy is available via Google Books]

Hindoo Theology for the Use of Missionaries (A Masonic Cipher)

Hindoo_Theology_for_Missionaries_webWhen I first came across a small 74-page book in our collection called Hindoo Theology for the Use of Missionaries, I knew that I couldn't take the title page at face value.

First of all, the publication information on the title page indicated that it was printed in Rome in 1814. As a librarian who has seen a lot of books printed in the early 19th century, I was sure that this book was not printed that early - and pretty sure it probably wasn't printed in Rome, either. It looked to me like it was more likely to have been printed in the late 19th or early 20th century. Secondly, the book was quite clearly some kind of fraternal ritual cipher book. We have many cipher books in our collection and a few of them - like Magicians' Magic Movements and Ceremonies - have deliberately misleading titles. I suspected that Hindoo Theology was another case of Masons having some fun at disguising ritual books.

It was while I was in touch with Arturo de Hoyos, Grand Archivist of the Scottish Rite's Southern Jurisdiction about another book when he mentioned Hindoo Theology for the Use of Missionaries in passing. He stated that it was a cipher for the rituals of the Royal Arch Chapter for the State of New Jersey. And yet I wanted to know more about this book - and about its odd title.

After sleuthing around a bit more I was able to find a definitive printed source that talked about this little book. In the 1950 Proceedings of the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of the State of New Jersey, there's a report of the Grand Historian, Harold V.B. Voorhis, entitled "The 'Manual' and The 'Hindoo.'" Voorhis was a top-notch Masonic scholar, so I knew that I had found a good resource. Voorhis writes:

Let us now look into the advent and adventure of that Masonic oddity known as the "Hindoo." We have no authentic data concerning the author or authors of the "Hindoo" or when it first saw the light of day. However, it is substantially certain that it appeared shortly after the 1864 Gould "Guide to the Chapter" and was published by [James L.] Gould in Connecticut. Consequently, it is not without normal surmise that Gould was responsible for its production. It is doubtful if the name has any significance - "Hindoo Theology for the Use of Missionaries -- Rome -- 1814." It must have been that he compiled it at the instigation of Companion John Sheville, with whom he collaborated in producing the Manual, because, so far as is known, the "Hindoo" was only used in New Jersey, where Companion Sheville had been Grand High Priest.

Although Voorhis concluded that "Hindoo" was only used in New Jersey, there are clear indications that it was also used in Iowa, as well. The 1896 Proceedings of the Grand Royal Arch Chapter for the District of Columbia, for example, state that "We observe that in Iowa the Grand Chapter issues and uses the 'Hindoo ritual.'" Looking at various Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Iowa in the 1890s in our library collection indeed turns up numerous uses of the phrases "Hindoo Theology" and "Hindoo ritual." In the 1893 Grand Chapter of Iowa Proceedings it is also noted that the Grand Chapter of Nevada used the ritual and that "some few years ago we supplied the Grand Chapter of Kansas with copies of our Hindoo Theology."

As to why "Hindoo" theology, I'm still not sure. It's possible that this is simply a case of the West exoticizing an unfamiliar Eastern religion - the same kind of Orientalism that gave rise to the Shriners and other Masonic and fraternal groups and degrees that present Eastern cultures and religions through the prism of 19th-century Western viewpoints. If any of our readers have thoughts on other cultural references that may have made "Hindoo Theology" an unsurprising choice of title, we'd love to hear your thoughts.

Hindoo Theology for the Use of Missionaries.
Rome [i.e. Paterson, New Jersey] : [Printed by Mackay Printing Company,] 1814 [i.e. ca. 1890-1902]
Call number: RARE 14.3 .H662


Masonic Confederate Imprints

GL Alabama Proceedings 1862In the world of printing history, Confederate imprints occupy their own special category. Defined as anything printed within the Confederate States of America during its existence, Confederate imprints were, broadly speaking, printed between 1861 and 1865. These dates vary state by state, depending on date of secession and whether they were under the government control of the Confederate States of America at the time of printing. I was curious to find out whether we had any Masonic Confederate imprints in our collection. Unsurprisingly, I turned up a number of them, most being annual proceedings of various state-level Masonic organizations.

The Masonic Confederate imprints in our collection contain a trove of primary source material related to Masonic activities in the Confederacy during the Civil War. Many of the Grand Lodge Proceedings include "annual returns" of various local lodges that not only list the number of members, but include the names of the men who were members of the lodge. In some cases, like the 1864 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Georgia, the individual lodge returns contain a heading that reads "In the Army," listing the members of the lodge that were in the service. These same Proceedings also list the the 19 military lodges that had been chartered by the Grand Lodge of Georgia, lodges created specifically during wartime so that Masons could convene while away from home at war. Owing to the uncertain nature of war, the Proceedings note that the military lodges' "present officers or location are generally unknown at this time."

GL Mississippi Proceedings 1861Perhaps it's no surprise to find that within these Masonic Confederate imprints there is evidence of Masonic organizations in Confederate states seceding from organizations in the Union that they had previously belonged to. One example can be found in the Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Alabama at Two Annual Convocations Held in the City of Montgomery in December 1861 and 1862. Reprinted in the Proceedings is a letter received from S.A.M. Wood, Grand High Priest of the Grand Chapter of Alabama (and later Brigadier General in the Confederate States Army starting in January 1862 ) who was unable to attend the meetings because he was serving in the Confederate Army as Colonel of the Regiment Alabama Volunteers. In the letter, dated "Head Quarters Forces, (Near) Chattanooga, November 29, 1861," Wood writes, in part:

Grand Chapter Florida Proceedings 1864"The troubles to which our beloved South has been brought by the fury, blindness, and fanatacism of the North, have so occupied my mind and energies, that I have been able to do but little this year in the way of masonic study or action." He goes on to write that he had read and heard that both the Grand Chapter of Georgia and the Grand Chapter of Tennessee had severed ties with the General Grand Chapter. (Most of the state-level Grand Chapters in the United States both before and after the Civil War work under, and comprise a part of, the General Grand Chapter.) Wood goes on to write that "My own opinion is that we in Alabama should sever our connection [from the General Grand Chapter] at once, and, to prevent any trouble in the future, that we should never unite with any General Grand body of a masonic character."

It's not too much of a stretch to see Wood's proposal that his state's Grand Chapter "never unite with any General Grand body" as a sort of Masonic "state's rights" argument, favoring the sovereignty of the state-level Masonic organizations over any national or federal body.

Grand Chapter Alabama Proceedings 1864The Civil War is ever-present in these otherwise-often-dry Proceedings. The 1862 Proceedings of the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar and the Appendant Orders of the State of Alabama are all of two pages long, reporting, essentially, that on both days of the annual meeting, there wasn't a quorum present, so they could not have a meeting. Sometimes simply the location of the meeting speaks volumes. The 1863 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi begins:

"On Monday, the 19th Day of January, A.D. 1863, A.L. 5863, the M.W. Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Mississippi, assembled in their Forty-fifth Grand Annual Communication, in the Senate Chamber, in the City of Jackson, (their Hall being used as a Hospital for the sick and wounded soldiers of our army)..."

It isn't suprising to read in the 1865 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi, under the heading "Destruction of Property, etc." that "the Masonic temples of our State have been robbed and desecrated by the Vandals of the North." But what is surprising is, reading further along, one finds this: "I am truly sorry, brethren, and regret exceedingly, that our own troops, in some instances have done worse than the fiends of the North," with a further explanation that two Mississippi lodges were broken into by Confederate troops and the contents of the lodge mutilated or stolen.

The Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives strives to collect complete runs of Proceedings of every American Masonic body (i.e. Grand Lodge, Grand Commandery, Grand Council, etc.). These Masonic Confederate imprints exist within these larger runs of Proceedings, which we continue to collect today.

From top to bottom:
Proceedings of the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Alabama held in the City of Montgomery, Commencing December 2d, 1861. Montgomery: Advertiser Book and Job Office, 1862.

Proceedings at the Forty-Third Grand Annual Communication of the M. W. Grand Lodge...of Mississippi, held at the Masonic Hall in the City of Vicksburg, January 21, 22, 23, and 24, A.L. 5861, A.D. 1861. Natchez: Daily Courier Book and Job Office Print, 1861.

Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of Florida, at an Annual Convocation Begun and Held in the City of Tallahassee, Monday, January 11th. A.D. 1864. Tallahassee: Office of the Floridian & Journal, Printed by Dyke & Sparhawk, 1864.

Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Alabama,at the Annual Convocation held in City of Montgomery, Commencing December 6th, 1864. Tuskegee: "Semi Weekly News" Book and Job Office, 1865.


Old and Smelly?

Auld_and_Smellie_Free_Masons_Pocket_CompanionI recently came across a book in our collection - The Free Masons Pocket-Companion - published in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1765. The title page indicates that the book was "Printed by Auld & Smellie." I immediately sensed a printer's joke in this (just say "Auld & Smellie" aloud and see). It turned out, however, that this was a case of truth being stranger than fiction.

According to Cecil Adams's article, "The Freemasons' Pocket Companions of the Eighteenth Century," published in volume 45 of Ars Quatuor Coronatorum (1932), "William Smellie (1740-1795) was a well-known Edinburgh printer, and for a time in partnership with Auld." Smellie was, in fact, well-known enough to warrant an entry in the 8th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Not coincidentally, Smellie was the driving force behind the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, published in three volumes from 1768-1771.

A biography of Smellie was published in 1811, just 16 years after his death. The partnership between Auld & Smellie is referred to in the text and the book even includes some correspondence from Auld to Smellie.

This was not William Auld's first publication of The Free Masons Pocket Companion. Four years earlier, in 1761, an edition of the same book was "printed by Ruddiman, Auld, and Company; and sold by William Auld."

Auld_and_Smellie_detailWhile Auld & Smellie are not - for better or worse - pseudonymous names for two eighteenth-century printers, there is a rich tradition of not only writers, but also printers, using pseudonyms. If you're interested in the topic, William Cushing's 1885 book Initials and Pseudonyms: A Dictionary of Literary Disguises is a wonderful trove of pseudonyms and the names behind them.

(Many thanks to Martin Cherry at London's Library and Museum of Freemasonry for pointing me to the Cecil Adams article in AQC.)

Both images from:
The Free Masons Pocket-Companion. Edinburgh: Printed by Auld & Smellie, 1765.  
Call number: RARE 14.21 .F853 1765
National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives

Rare "Ast Ritual" Given to Library

Ast_Ritual_web The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library recently acquired two copies of a uniquely American Masonic ritual - the Reverend Daniel Parker's Masonic Tablet (New York, ca. 1822), which was the first published American cipher ritual. The Masonic Tablet was published with no title page and is often referred to as the “Ast Ritual,” a reference to the first word on the first line of the book (shown here).

Both copies were a gift of the Pittsfield Masonic Association of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The gift includes one complete copy of the 28 page book and a second copy of the same edition, but lacking the last four pages. As well, we received a separately printed four-page glossary of cipher words (also originally printed ca. 1822) with their translations, printed in two columns. The Masonic Tablet contains Craft and/or Chapter ritual in cipher and was printed around 1822 in both a 28 page version and a 44 page edition. The only other known copy of the 28 page edition is in a private library. This gift to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library triples the number of known copies of the 28 page book and makes the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives the only Masonic library in the world to hold two copies of this important, early Masonic ritual.

Ast_Ritual_detail The book’s striking cipher (see detail at right) uses five different methods to conceal the text: letter and number substitution, omission of letters, inclusion of meaningless letters between backward brackets, numbers and punctuation marks, words spelled backwards, and the inclusion of foreign words. This is in stark contrast to the many plain-English (i.e. unencrypted) ritual exposures that followed Parker’s Tablet in the 1820s and 1830s, which clearly aimed to reveal Masonic ritual to non-Masons. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine that anyone who wasn’t already familiar with Masonic ritual would have easily deciphered the text of the Ast Ritual. As for the content, according to one Masonic ritual expert the Masonic Tablet likely contains the ritual that lodges in and around New York City in the 1820s would have used. Although the book was printed without publishing information in the book itself, Masonic historian Arturo de Hoyos and bibliographer Kent Walgren, using secondary sources, have reasonably attributed the printing of the book to New York (possibly Kingston) in 1822.

Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of the State of New York, as well as the Grand Lodge of New York from the early 1820s, contain information about the Masonic trials that took place when it became known that the Reverend Daniel Parker (1774-1835), a Freemason, was advertising and selling a memory aid containing Masonic ritual. In publishing his cipher, Parker raised the ire of both the Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter of New York. It appears that Parker went to great lengths to conceal, rather than reveal, Masonic ritual and likely intended his book as a memory aid for other Freemasons to learn ritual. Despite this, upon hearing about Parker’s book, the Grand Lodge adopted a resolution in 1822 that condemned the use of all books or manuscripts explaining Masonic ritual. Four years later, Parker was expelled by the Grand Chapter of New York. The Grand Chapter got involved because some editions of the Masonic Tablet contained the Capitular (i.e. Royal Arch Chapter) degrees and the Grand Chapter stated that Parker had “rendered himself a dangerous member of our fraternity.” They also claimed that he had “violated one of the most important of our Masonic obligations, by printing or publishing, or causing to be printed and published, a work calculated to expose some of the mysteries which bind together and preserve our fraternity.” Parker was expelled from the Grand Chapter of New York on February 10, 1826. It is not known how many copies of Parker's Masonic Tablet were printed. Today, there are only six known copies of any edition/state of the Ast Ritual. As this gift proves, others may emerge in the future.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is grateful to the Pittsfield Masonic Association for this important gift. If you have something rare and unusual in your lodge's library, why not drop us a line and ask us about it?

If you are interested in learning more about Daniel Parker's Masonic Tablet, the following two sources, which I relied upon for the information above, are invaluable:

Arturo de Hoyos. Light on Masonry: The History and Rituals of America’s Most Important Masonic Exposé. Washington, DC: Scottish Rite Research Society, 2008; pp.27-34.
Call number: 19 .D4 2008

Kent Logan Walgren. Freemasonry, Anti-Masonry and Illuminism in the United States : 1734-1850: A Bibliography. Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 2003; cat. nos. 2038-2041.
Call number: REF 04 .W165 2003

Photo caption:
Daniel Parker. Masonic Tablet/Ast Ritual (New York, ca. 1822). Gift of Pittsfield Masonic Association, Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, RARE 14.9 .P238 1822.

An Unfinished Apron

2008_058DP1 Kensett Apron As we may have mentioned in previous blog posts, we are very proud of our fraternal apron collection here at the National Heritage Museum.  We have over 400 aprons, which span the centuries and the world.  And, while we can afford to be selective about adding to this collection, we often get excited by many aprons that enter the market.  The apron shown here, which is a recent acquisition, provoked enthusiasm – it was never finished, so it offers fascinating insight into the apron-making process.

This silk apron is printed with an engraving by Thomas Kensett (1786-1829).  Kensett was born in England and emigrated to America, settling in New Haven, Connecticut, by 1806.  In 1812, he entered into a partnership in the map and print publishing firm, Shelton and Kensett, in Cheshire, Connecticut.  Indeed, we have an engraving in the collection printed by Shelton and Kensett titled American Star that depicts George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Adams (see below).  Around the time that Kensett partnered with Shelton, he joined Temple Lodge No. 16 in Cheshire.  His apron design seems to have been popular – we have another example of it in our collection – as well as a third that uses Kensett’s design but was engraved by Samuel D. Bettle (d. 1833) of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (shown at bottom).83_50_14DI1 American Star

We know that aprons were generally printed before they were hemmed and finished, but this example has the flap basted along the top.  One of our initial questions, then, was whether it was printed before the flap was basted onto the body or after.  Careful examination tells us that the flap was attached before it was printed.  The edges of the engraving plate are visible on the flap and line up with the portion of the design on the apron’s body.  In addition, some of the detail of the tops of the clouds printed on the body extend onto the flap. 

77_24DI1 Bettle Apron cropped The apron has one selvage edge – along the left side – where the threads were woven more tightly together.  The other three edges remain raw.  They would have been folded under and hemmed, then finished with ribbon trimming.  The selvage edge, too, would have been turned under and hemmed.  And, of course, ties (probably made from ribbon) would have been added to the top corners. 

If you have a Kensett apron – or any Masonic apron in some state of partial construction - we’d love to hear about it in a comment here.

Top: Unfinished Masonic apron, ca. 1812, Thomas Kensett (1786-1829), Cheshire, Connecticut, National Heritage Museum collection, Museum Purchase, 2008.058.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Middle: American Star, 1812, Thomas Gimbrede, engraver, Shelton and Kensett, printers, Cheshire, Connecticut, National Heritage Museum collection, Dr. William L. and Mary B. Guyton Collection, 83.50.14. 

Bottom: Masonic apron, 1823, Samuel D. Bettle (d. 1833), Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, National Heritage Museum collection, Special Acquisitions Fund, 77.24.

First Masonic book published in America

Franklinconstitutions Among the many gems in the library's collection is the first Masonic book printed in America. The book is called The Constitutions of the Free-Masons and was printed in June 1734 by Benjamin Franklin.

Why did Franklin print this book? It seems likely that Franklin had perceived that copies of the first edition of the Constitutions (which was published in 1723 in London)  were not easily available in the British colonies and, businessman that he was, he decided to print a new edition.

Franklin’s Constitutions was printed when Franklin was only 28 years old, almost exactly at the time that Franklin became Grand Master of Pennsylvania. Interestingly, Franklin did not give himself credit anywhere within the book for being the printer.  How do we know then that Franklin printed this item? One way we know is that scholars have attributed this book to Franklin’s press on the evidence of the type used – a sort of typographical forensics. There is also further, secondary evidence, such as the series of advertisements for Franklin’s Constitutions which first appeared in Franklin’s newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette in May 1734, all explicitly stating that the book is “Reprinted by B. Franklin.” It's interesting to note that Franklin called his edition a "reprint" (and didn't give himself credit as the printer anywhere in the book). In fact, if you compare his "reprint" to the 1723 edition, you can see that he tried to mimic the look of the original. (Speaking of mimicking the look of the original, a very well done digital (but not digitized) copy of Franklin's 1734 Constitutions is available here.)

Franklin’s Constitutions is an exceedingly rare book. Three fairly recent bibliographic censuses have been done for this book – in 1971, 1974, and 2003 (see the end of this post) – each of which counted less than twenty existing copies of this book in the world.  That being said, there may be more copies of the book in private hands. Our copy was described in the 1971 census by Harold V.B. Voorhis as follows. You will notice that many aspects of marks in this book are noted:

14 – Academy-Borneman Copy
I found this unbound copy in the Academy Bookshop in New York in 1933. It was purchased with a library in Long Island, New York, bound with other items and removed after purchased by the bookshop. It was sold to Brother Borneman of the Committee on Library of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania for $500. After his death it was sold at auction in the Parke-Bernet Galleries to an unknown bidder for $500. It is now rebound. On page 30 is the signature of “Lewis Evans” and on page 86 there is an unidentified word at the bottom. Several pages of the book contain circular water-marks about the size of a silver dollar. The circle is quartered by diagonal lines and in the quarters are the letters “S-P-D-S” starting at the top, reading left to right.

I will briefly address the watermark mentioned above, if only to say that while this is certainly evidence of a very interesting kind (although I’ve not been able to trace which paper maker used this watermark), it does not give evidence of who owned the book, but rather who had a hand, in a way, in making the book.

I'm interested in "marks in books" - those traces of evidence that tell us more about a book's past (for example, who owned a particular book before it came to reside in our library), and so I was excited to find out that, as mentioned above, our copy of Franklin's Constitutions contains the signature of a former owner of the book, Lewis Evans, as well as the date 1741. Lewis Evans was an important early mapmaker, draftsman, and geographer. He was an associate of Franklin's as well - and Franklin published the book that accompanied Evans's famous 1755  A General Map of the Middle British Colonies (another item in our collection, that we'll address in a future post).

A question that I'd like to answer, but haven't yet, is why did Lewis Evans purchase Franklin’s reprint of the Constitutions? I haven't found evidence that Evans was a Freemason. Also, why did Evans obtain this book in 1741, as he presumably did, seven years after the book was published? Franklin most likely printed the Constitutions with the hope that members of various colonial Masonic lodges would buy up the edition. As late as 1750, though, Franklin was still advertising remaindered copies for sale.

Did Evans buy his copy out of curiosity about Freemasonry? Or, because he was a business associate of Franklin, did Evans obtain the book at a reduced cost or possibly even receive it for free, since Franklin was clearly not having an easy time selling out the edition he printed? These are questions I don't have answers for yet. I'm hoping that, with further research, more answers may possibly come to light.

Sources for censuses of Franklin's Constitutions:

Voorhis, Harold V.B. "Benjamin Franklin's Reprint of Anderson's Constitutions of 1723: The First American Masonic Book." Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge, Volume 84 (1971), pp. 69-74.

Miller, C. William. Benjamin Franklin's Philadelphia Printing, 1728-1766: A Descriptive Bibliography. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1974. Cat. no. 80, pp. 39-40

Walgren, Kent Logan. Freemasonry, Anti-Masonry and IIluminism in the United States, 1734-1850: A Bibliography. Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 2003. Vol. 1, cat. no. 1, p. 3.

Daniel Fenning's The Universal Spelling-Book

Universalspellingbook_detail Daniel Fenning's The Universal Spelling-Book : or a New and Easy Guide to the English Language was originally published in London in 1756. This book was among the earliest spelling books available in the colonies. (Frances Austin gives a nice account of both Fenning and his book here.)

Our copy is a 4th edition, published in London by S. Crowder in 1760. Interestingly, I wasn't able to find a copy of this edition listed in either WorldCat or the English Short Title Catalogue, although, curiously, I did find it in the British Library's online catalog. Still, it leads me to me to believe that our library is one of the few that own a copy of this edition.

Our copy has several inscriptions in it as well, which tell us a little bit more about this particular copy. The first inscription reads "Elisha Harris, His Book: Bought in Providence, cost 40, In February the 24 Day in the year 1762." At that time it wasn't uncommon that most of the stock of a bookstore in the colonies would consist of books published in England and imported to America. It was also common at that time for bookstore owners (who were very often also printers themselves) to take it upon themselves to publish a copy of a book that was popular. In the American Antiquarian Society's collection, they hold a copy of Fenning's The Universal Spelling-Book that has an imprint "London, printed: Providence (Rhode-Island) re-printed and sold by John Carter, at Shakespear’s Head, near the Court-House., MDCCLXXXIII. [1773]." I haven't looked into how many booksellers were in Providence in 1760, but it's possible that our copy, bought by Elisha Harris in 1762, may have been bought from John Carter. And it's possible to speculate that Carter started publishing Fenning's book because he recognized, as a bookseller, just how popular the book was - with people like Elisha Harris buying up the London editions that he had imported to sell in his bookstore.

Pictured above is a detail from the wonderfully illustrated "Life truly painted, in the Natural history of Tommy and Harry," a moral tale that can be found in Fenning's 1760 Universal Spelling-Book.

Fenning, Daniel. The Universal Spelling-Book: Or a New and Easy Guide to the English Language. London: S. Crowder, 1760. 4th edition, with additions.
Call number: RARE PE 1144 .F4 1760