Staff Picks

More than Meets the Eye: Masonic Ball Watch Fob

2015_019DP1DbThe Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library recently added a silver Masonic ball fob to the collection. These types of fobs, also referred to as golden globe and cross fobs, are actually comprised of six small pyramids that form a small ball. The ball fob makes the shape of a cross when open. Twenty-four different Masonic symbols including the square and compasses, skull and crossbones, sprig of acacia, and six-pointed star (or seal of Solomon), are engraved on the pyramid faces.

Decorative watch fobs were extremely popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s and customarily worn with the watch chains attached to pocket watches. They ranged in size from 11/64" to 1" in diameter. There are four types of Masonic ball watch fobs: German, Old English, New English, and Scottish. All four types are similar in shape and size but differ in how the ball opens and how the clasps attach to the ball.

The fob se2015_019DP2DBen here is an example of an Old English ball which has four "claw-like" clasps on the sides with a small pin on the inside of each clasp.  Do you own another example of a ball watch fob? Let us know with a comment below or email Ymelda Rivera Laxton, Assistant Curator, at ylaxton[@]




Masonic ball watch fob, late 1800s, unidentified maker, probably England, Gift of the Supreme Council, 33º, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, USA, 2015.019. Photographs by David Bohl.

References:C. Clark Julius, Masonic timepieces, rings, balls & watch fobs, Pennsylvania: The Printing Express Inc., 1983.

The Order of Railway Conductors and American Freemasonry’s Influence upon Labor Unions

One of my favorite objects in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is this minute book from the Order of Railway Conductors (ORC), Lincoln Division, No. 206. Besides being one of my first acquisitions as the newly appointed Archivist for the Museum and Library in October of 2014, my research for this object provided me with a new appreciation for the work performed by railway conductors and in the role that these men played in the development of fraternalism.


Order of Railway Conductors Minute Book, Lincoln Division, No. 206, 1941-1960.

As I learned from this online exhibit by the National Museum of American History, the job of railroad conductor in the mid-nineteenth-century was much more difficult and important than I had originally imagined. In addition to collecting tickets, the conductor served as the train’s “captain.” He supervised the train’s crew and determined when a train “could safely depart” the station. He also was the person “in charge during emergencies,” such as train derailments. The conductor’s role was the equivalent of a ship’s captain in many ways, and many of the first men to become railway conductors in the “1830s had previously worked as steamboat or coastal packet captains.”

In addition to the many duties mentioned above, a conductor’s workday was extremely long, highly dangerous, and offered little pay, and it was in response to these hardships that the first “Conductors Union” was formed by a young twenty-two year old conductor, T.J. Wright, in the spring of 1868 at Amboy, Illinois. While Wright’s fledgling organization only lasted a few months, his idea to organize quickly spread across North America, and by November 1868 the Conductors Brotherhood, the original name of the Order of Railway Conductors, was formed in December 1868 at Columbus, Ohio. The new organization “was not a labor union,” in the conventional sense, however, but a “fraternal benefit and temperance society” organized upon Masonic principles as historian Paul Michel Taillon explains in his book, Good, Reliable, White Men: Railroad Brotherhoods, 1877-1917. The typical ORC Division or local lodge was modelled after the Masonic Blue Lodge: An “altar with a copy of the Bible on it stood at the center of the brotherhood lodge room. At the far end of the room sat the lodge master, at his ‘station,’ on a raised platform with a table and gavel.”

Letter to the Members of Lincoln Division, 206, on the Passing of Brother Allton, February 1943.

While fraternal and beneficial features always remained strong throughout the history of the Order of Railway Conductors, events within and without the organization would change it in significant ways. In the year 1890, the old leadership was replaced, and a “more aggressive program of trade regulation was adopted.” Furthermore, ORC would adopt the strike clause, which had previously been forbidden and punishable by expulsion from the Order. Technological changes in the railway industry also had a great impact upon the Order, which were only delayed by the outbreak of World War II. The conversion to diesel locomotion after the war brought “greater operating efficiency,” a Life Magazine article reported in 1949, and with this operating efficiency came a reduced need for the many men (and trains) that kept America moving. Placed within its historical context, this minute book by Lincoln Division, No. 206, covering the years 1941-1960, captures the postwar decline of the Order, which by 1969 had merged with the several small railway unions to form the United Transportation Union.


Order of Railway Conductors Minute Book, Lincoln Division, No. 206, 1941-1960. Museum Purchase. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, FR 200.001.


Ehrlich, Leslie, and Bob Russell. “Employment Security and Job Loss: Lessons from Canada's National Railways, 1956-1995.” Labour/Le Travail 51 (Spring 2003): 115-152. 

“Locomotive Graveyard” (1946). Life, December 5. Accessed: 12 December 2015.

National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution (no date). “Railroad Conductor.” America on the Move: Lives on the Railroad. Accessed: 12 December 2015.

Order of Railway Conductors and Brakemen (1968). O.R.C & B., 1868-1968: Serving the Man on the Road for 100 Years. Cedar Rapid, Iowa: Order of Railway Conductors and Brakemen.

Steward, Estelle M. (1936). Conductors of America, Order of Railway. In Handbook of American Trade-Unions, (pp. 253-256). Washington, D.C.: United States. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed: 12 December 2015.

Taillon, Paul Michel (2009). Good, Reliable, White Men: Railroad Brotherhoods, 1877-1917. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press.

Taking Care of Clocks in the Collection

MH with Willard clock
Collections Manager Maureen Harper winding a clock in "Keeping Time: Clockmakers and Collectors."

Of the over fifty clocks featured in “Keeping Time:  Clockmakers and Collectors” at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, several clocks in the exhibition are running. Care for the objects in the collection falls to Maureen Harper, the museum’s Collections Manager and a staff member for over twenty years. Among her many duties, Maureen winds, sets and looks after the operating clocks on display. Here she talks about the working clocks under her care.

What do you do to keep the clocks on display running?

Currently we have a handful of working clocks on view in the “Keeping Time” as well as a tall case clock by Nathaniel Mulliken, Jr., that is always in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives. They are all eight-day movements. I try to wind them weekly so they won’t run down. I go up to the gallery on Tuesdays with a box of all the clock door keys (some have two) and winders, each tagged with the number of the clock it fits. The clocks that run consistently are pretty accurate but I check the time and reset them or adjust the pendulum if a particular clock is running a little off. 

What do you like about working with the operating clocks?

Most things in our collection don’t move. The running clocks are different. Even though they are antique, with winding they come to life. It is thrilling!

What do you do if one of the clocks stops working?

The older clocks don’t always work perfectly, although some are more reliable than others. The Mulliken in the library, as an example, needs very little done to it. If one of the other clocks stops, I wind it and start the pendulum. If it still isn’t working, I call the horologist to come in and take a look. 

Of the clocks on display, do you have a current favorite?

In “Keeping Time” the George Hoff tall case clock has a pretty bell that rings on the quarter hour. It is also wonderful to see the organ clock running. For years it needed conservation. We kept it in our vault.  Because various elements of the clock were large, the hood, works, face surround and the body of that clock were not assembled while they were being stored. It was hard to get a sense of how the parts would look together. It has been great to be able to have that clock’s backdrop, works and the pipes conserved in the past year. The bellows were also rebuilt; the restorer used kangaroo leather for them. Now when I go into the gallery, I take a lot of satisfaction in seeing the whole clock assembled and, from time to time, hearing it chime and play a tune at a few minutes past the hour.

Staff Picks: Jeff Croteau, Director of Library & Archives

RPG Wright title page and ownership label_web
Title page and ownership label from Thomas Smith Webb's The Freemason’s Monitor; or Illustrations of Freemasonry (Salem: Published by Cushing and Appleton, 1816). RARE 14 .W368 1816f. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Lexington, Massachusetts.

My favorite object in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's collection is a copy of Thomas Smith Webb’s book The Freemason’s Monitor, formerly owned by Richard P.G. Wright (1773?-1847).

This book is my favorite object because it tells a fascinating story that is not apparent at first glance. It is one of four copies in the library’s collection of the 1816 edition of Webb’s Monitor, published in Salem, Massachusetts. But it is only this particular copy that is my favorite, because of its history of ownership. I have always loved the idea that marks in books can tell us something beyond the object itself. As the rare books librarian Roger Stoddard observed in his 1985 book Marks in Books, Illustrated and Explained, “When we handle books sensitively, observing them closely so as to learn as much as we can from them, we discover a thousand little mysteries...”

This copy of Webb’s Monitor has both paper ownership labels inside, as well as handwriting, indicating that the book was originally owned by Richard P.G. Wright, who acquired it in 1822. I was not originally familiar with Wright’s name, and it was only when I noticed that someone had pasted a short newspaper article about African-American participation in Freemasonry into the back of the book that I wondered whether Wright himself was black. I asked myself whether, if I dug a bit deeper, perhaps this book might tell a bigger story. And it did.


RPG Wright and family ownership marks_web
Wright family ownership marks from Thomas Smith Webb's The Freemason’s Monitor; or Illustrations of Freemasonry (Salem: Published by Cushing and Appleton, 1816). RARE 14 .W368 1816f. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Lexington, Massachusetts.

A little investigation revealed that Richard P.G. Wright was a black abolitionist and a Freemason who, along with his more well-known son, the preacher Theodore Sedgwick Wright (1797-1847), was active in predominantly white lodges in Schenectady, NY, as early as 1818 until their deaths in 1847. We can assume that this book held important meaning in Wright’s family since this copy of Webb’s Monitor also contains ownership marks indicating that it was later passed down to Wright’s daughter, Lydia L. Thompson, and then to his grandson,  Samuel Thompson.

Inspired by my curiosity from the markings in this book, I eventually followed a trail that showed that, at the same time that they were active Masons, both Richard P.G. Wright and Theodore Sedgwick Wright were heavily involved in the abolitionist movement. Both men were members of the American Anti-Slavery Society and the Committee of Vigilance. Richard P.G. Wright’s Schenectady barbershop was located along the Erie Canal, and was known to be part of the Underground Railroad. Theodore S. Wright came to abolitionism through his father, Richard P.G. Wright, who himself attended abolitionist meetings at least as early as 1816, and who named his son after Theodore Sedgwick, a Massachusetts jurist and legislator who successfully defended an enslaved Massachusetts woman against her master, from whom she had fled.

Richard P.G. Wright, then known as Prince G. Wright, was raised a Master Mason in a lodge of black abolitionists – Boston’s African Lodge No. 459 – in 1799. Yet upon relocating to Schenectady, both he and his son were members of, or visitors to, at least five different predominantly white Masonic lodges or chapters. In Scottish Rite Freemasonry, Wright served as both Treasurer and Tiler in Schenectady’s Delta Lodge of Perfection as early as 1822, serving alongside Giles Fonda Yates (1799-1859), who would later become Sovereign Grand Commander of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s Supreme Council.

Unlike much archival material, books – even the rarest of books – are not unique. However, individual copies of books, with interesting histories of ownership, like this one, can tell a story different from every other copy of this book in existence. We can be grateful that the Wright family wrote their names in this book so that we can tell their story today.

The Organ Clock in "Keeping Time: Clockmakers and Collectors"

Organ Clock, 1820-1850. T. Hilzinger, retailer. Germany. Gift of Mrs. Willis R. Michael, 77.80.11a-t. Photograph by David Bohl.

At almost nine feet tall, this clock, now on view in “Keeping Time: Clockmakers and Collectors” at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, makes a real impression. But sheer size is just the beginning; this clock features an automated performance by a uniformed band of six musicians every hour. Wooden and metal pipes inside the bonnet provide the music.

Like many clocks exhibited in “Keeping Time,” this one was collected by Willis Michael (1894-1969). Michael started his collection with a single tall case Pennsylvania clock. By the time he died decades later, his collection had grown tremendously. This clock was just one of the nearly one thousand clocks, watches, tools, books and automata that Michael and his wife Ruth (1904-1992) purchased and enjoyed.  In the accompanying photograph, you can see how the Michaels displayed this clock and others at their home in Red Lion, Pennsylvania.   

Interested in different kinds of mechanisms, technology and time-keeping systems, Michael amassed timepieces made in America, Europe and Asia, dating from the 1600s into the 1900s. German makers crafted this organ clock, also called a flötenuhr (flute clock), sometime between the 1820s and the 1850s. The pipes, bellows, painted elements, figures and musical mechanism were made in the Black Forest area. This clock plays several melodies, all ingeniously stored on a pin barrel (visible along with some of the pipes in the image below).  Right now, when activated, the clock plays the tune of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” also known as “God Save the King.”

Visitors to the Willis Michael clock room 1949
Willis Michael’s “Clock and Watch Museum.” Red Lion, Pennsylvania, 1949. Photograph by Henry M. Blatner.

A name painted on the clock’s enamel face, “T. Hilzinger,” probably indicates the retailer who sold the clock to its first owner. That person likely commissioned a local cabinetmaker to put together the hood and case to suit the clock owner's needs and taste. On the inside of this case a partial chalked name, “Moses…,” may be that of the cabinetmaker.   

During the first half of the 1800s, some Black Forest craftsmen specialized in producing sophisticated organ clocks like this one. Decorated with scenes from drama, mythology and other sources, and playing a variety of tunes taken from operas, dances and hymns, these clocks kept the time, but primarily delighted and entertained their owners. Today, this clock charms visitors to “Keeping Time” and will through October, 2016.

Detail organ clock 77.80.11
Detail, Organ Clock, 1820-1850. T. Hilzinger, retailer. Germany. Gift of Mrs. Willis R. Michael, 77.80.11a-t.

Many thanks to Prof. Eduard C. Saluz, Deutsches Uhrenmuseum, Furtwangen, Germany.