Decades ago, the Grand Lodge Library and Museum had very different exhibit displays from today. Thousands of artifacts were displayed in several cases and cabinets within the Grand Lodge Library and Museum on the entire south end of the 17th Floor. As the collection grew bigger along with its popularity, the Board of General Activities determined to display as many artifacts as possible, to make the collection easily accessible to the public.
In 1996, the library and museum relocated to 14th floor, the artifacts were moved and the exhibits were completely rearranged. These display trays were part of the original museum exhibits through the years. The jewelry trays were removed from the original display drawer, but they were yet to be rehoused and stored properly.
The artifacts were tightly pinned to the felt board with nails. Over time, the storage material could damage the artifacts, possibly from rust, insects, or acidity. To preserve them, I spent a week carefully removing them from the trays and matching them to the old catalog number assigned by the library staff at the time, an inconsistent cataloging system. Then, I assigned them the new catalog number, photographed them and properly stored them.
The Knight Templar badge was previous pinned to the tray. It was removed and given the new ID number (J6inv-2806), previously B475 as shown in the old index card. The badge is now available in online museum.
Although we can physically display very few the artifacts compared to the past, the technology now allows us to display our collection online. We are working hard to steadily process our collection to be accessible to the public again. These jewelries and many in our jewelries collection are now available on display in our online museum.
Unknown photographer, “The Masonic Treasure of New York” by Wendell K. Walker, The Masonic Service Association, 1956
To celebrate the 151st Anniversary of laying the cornerstone of the original New York Masonic Temple at the 23rd Street, our artifacts of the 1875 Masonic Hall are now on display.
In 1842, the brethren proposed the project of the new Masonic Hall in place of the former Masonic Hall (also known as Gothic Hall) at Broadway between Pearl and Duane Street. After several fundraising events, it was pushed back by the Grand Lodge schism, the Civil War and by insufficient funding. In 1869, the trustees of the Hall and Asylum Fund finally purchased the land at the corner of 23rd street and 6th avenue for the cost of $340,000.
The cornerstone was laid on June 8th, 1870 by the Grand Master MW James Gibson. More than 50 items, consisting of coins, newspapers, badges and other souvenirs contributed by several lodges and officers were deposited inside the cornerstone by the Grand Treasurer during the ceremony. Designed by Napoleon LeBrun, the famous architect at the time, the building was completed and dedicated in June 1875.
Later in 1911, the Grand Lodge of New York made a decision to replace the building with the current Masonic Temple, or the Grand Lodge of New York building that we know today. The original building was torn down, and thus the cornerstone artifacts were recovered only 36 years after they were sealed. They are now on exhibit in a display at the Robert R Livingston Library and they are available to view in our online museum.
Lang, Ossian Herbert. “The Masonic Hall.” History of Freemasonry in the State of New York, Grand Lodge of New York, 1922.
Sketched by Stanley Fox, Harper’s Weekly newspaper, June 25th 1870.
The Knights Templar’s special communication held every three years is called the Triennial Conclave. The Knights Templar commanderies across the country often commission regalia manufacturers to produce souvenirs to commemorate such special occasions, commonly badges, medals, pins or ribbons.
Ribbons were one of the popular souvenirs, made with silk with a unique decorative print, and often with metal pin and fringes attached.
More Knights Templar artifact, the Triennial Conclave Commemorative Ribbon Collection and many fascinating Knights Templar items are now available on view in our online museum.
The story of the historic Traveling Silver Trowel of Justice Lodge no. 753 began with RW C. Fred Crosby, the Senior Master of Ceremony of Justice Lodge no. 753, New York. In 1905, He suggested the idea of sending the trowel on a journey from lodge to lodge across the North America, carrying the message of brotherly love and bringing the brethren closer. Read More …
The COVID-19 epidemic is not the first epidemic the New York brethren have faced.
In 1918, the first World War and the influenza worldwide pandemic were happening at the same time. The Grand Lodge of New York’s War and Relief Administration Committee aimed to aid the brothers and/or their sons who were sick from influenza or wounded from the war. The Grand Lodge of New York organized the Visiting Representatives, consisting of volunteering brothers assigned to the hospitals across New York State. The volunteers frequently visited the hospitals to search and aid the brothers and/or their sons in need.
The influenza was mentioned several times in the Grand Lodge Proceedings during the years of 1918-1920. In 1919, RW William J. Wiley, the superintendent of the Masonic Home in Utica, reported that 124 children had gotten sick with influenza, and all had recovered under the care of the Masonic Home. RW Horace W. Smith, the Grand Lecturer at the time, reported that the influenza had interfered with his itineraries, causing postponement and cancellation of many events.
Also, in 1920, several foreign correspondence reports mentioned other Grand Lodges that lost their members to the influenza epidemic and their efforts to help with the cause. For example, the report from the Grand Lodge of Alberta stated that, “The several lodges there at once co-operated with the result that an office was provided for them in the nursing headquarters, telephones were installed and a voluntary office staff of six or eight brothers from different lodges took charge of day and night work, and as the result hundreds of volunteers were placed on duty, helping the nurse or working alone. This was continued until the pressure relaxed so that schools, churches, and theatres were re-opened.”
MW William S. Farmer, the Grand Master of New York at the time, addressed the influenza pandemic as follows:
“For our brethren who have been and are confined to their homes on account of illness, either of themselves or families, we bespeak a goodly measure of sympathy, fraternal greetings and good cheer, and assure them of the kindliest thoughts of the brethren of this Grand Lodge. May they and theirs speedily recover.”
To celebrate 60 years of Masonic service of MW Daniel M. Semel, Past Judge Advocate, the Library and Museum organized a special display consisting of documents from Lodge Historical File of Shakespeare Lodge no.750, books from the library collection, and artifacts from the museum related to MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York.
MW Daniel M. Semel is an Honorary Past Grand Master and he also serves as its Grand representative of MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York, near the Grand Lodge of New York, so we put a book he had donated. We also put on display medals from MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York, and reprinted Charter from African Lodge no. 459.
In 1988, MW Semel was appointed as the Chairman of Unity Committee, which was featured in the article and report we included. The Unity Committee was founded with the aim of bringing the Grand Lodge of New York and the MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York into unity.
MW Daniel M. Semel was initiated, passed and raised in Shakespeare Lodge no.750 in 1959. We found two trestleboards of Shakespeare Lodge no. 750 from the same year. One listed him as “Awaiting First Degree” and one from three months later, which mentioned him as a newly raised Master Mason.
Ten years later, in 1969, he became Master of the Lodge as
we show the picture from Shakespeare Lodge no.750 Centennial Anniversary book.
He became Judge Advocate in 1979 and the program of the ceremony was also on
We were honored to be part of the celebration and it is our pleasure to honor one of the most significant members in the history of the Grand Lodge of New York.
Folded and attached to a leather case, a travel certificate is carried and used as Masonic identification when a Mason visits foreign Lodges. In the Museum collection, we have a sub-collection of travel certificates, and I am pleased to share some of the interesting pieces I have found during my work with this collection.
Illuminated “Masonic Register” Certificates
Once unfolded from its leather case, a giant and beautifully illuminated certificate is revealed. This “Masonic Register” belonged to Worshipful Rudolph Holde, Past Master of Shakespeare Lodge no. 750, and Washington Lodge no. 21, and both Charter Member and Past Master of Great Kills Lodge no. 912.1 The certificate elaborates on the details of his Masonic milestones, and is decorated with hand-painted illumination. His photographic portrait is also attached. It even includes his “Called from Labor” date, which was likely written in before the certificate was accepted into the collection.
Another certificate of similar fashion belonged to Worshipful Augustus W. Peters, another prominent member who served as Master of Acanthus Lodge no. 719, as High Priest of Constellation Chapter no. 209 and as Eminent Commander of Clinton Commandery no.14. In his non-Masonic life, he was a Chairman of Consolidated Stock and Petroleum Exchange and served as the first Manhattan Borough President.2 The certificate also shows his long list of membership and affiliations in various Masonic bodies.
James M. Austin’s Knights Templar Certificate with Robert Macoy’s Signature, 1858
Before Right Worshipful Edward M. L. Ehlers’ celebrated, 36-year service as Grand Secretary, Right Worshipful James M. Austin served as the Grand Lodge of New York’s Grand Secretary for 27 years. One of the certificates from his leather travel case is his Knights Templar certificate, which is signed by Robert Macoy as Grand Recorder. Right Worshipful Robert Macoy was the Grand Lodge’s Deputy Grand Master, the Grand Commandery Knights Templar of New York’s Grand Recorder, and the founder of Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., still in existence today.
Edward C. Ehlers’s WW1 Masonic Letter, 1918
During World War I, Right Worshipful Edward C. Ehlers, the son of Honorary Past Grand Master and Past Grand Secretary Most Worshipful Edward M. L. Ehlers, was serving as a First Lieutenant in the Medical Reserve Corps in the United States Expeditionary Force3 . Although he was stationed at Camp Gordon, Atlanta3, his Masonic identification letter came in four different languages: English, French, Italian, and German. The letter issued by Continental Lodge no. 287 confirms the holder’s Masonic identity and requests assistance from other Brothers if he is found in distress, regardless of their affiliation.
An expelled Mason’s certificate and a warning letter, 1866
Found folded within a travel certificate, the above is warning letter issued by Crescent Lodge no. 402, NYC, which describes the appearance of an expelled Mason and outlines his “immoralities”. In the letter, William T. Miller was accused for adulteries and fraud. The letter was presumably spread throughout the country to notify the Lodges to be cautious of his presence and his “evil designs”. The letter also includes his photographic portrait, which is uncommon for such a warning letter. Surprisingly, along with the letter a certificate was found which belonged to William T. Miller himself. Apparently, at one point, it was taken away from him and the notice was put with it for future reference (a precaution which has worked as intended).
The above is a sample of the vast and diverse certificate collection held by the Museum of the Grand Lodge of New York. Each reflects the history of an individual Mason as well as various aspects of the organization. Accordingly, this collection is essential to the preservation of Masonic heritage, as it provides the primary historical data source for research and study.
1. Semel, Daniel, Shakespeare Lodge no.750, Did you know that?, March 14 1974. Print
2. Harrison, Mitchell Charles. New
York State’s Prominent and Progressive Men: an Encyclopedia of Contemporaneous
Biography. Vol. 3, New York Tribune, 1902.
3. Continental Lodge no. 287, Honor Roll, May 1918. Print
Among the 60,000 artifacts in our care, we have a fascinating coin and medal collection which reflects both rich Masonic history as well as the history of the world. As I have been cataloging and studying them, I am excited to share with everyone some of the collection’s highlights that I have come across .
The Masonic Medal issued by the United States Congress
To commemorate the centennial of the death of George Washington in 1899, the United States Congress issued four commemorative medals to fund The Washington Monument Association in 1902.1 The collection feature George Washington’s profile based on Jean-Antoine Houdon’s works on the obverse with four reverse variants; Surveyor variant, Firemen variant, Husbandry variant and Masonic variant, which was suggested by a committee appointed by lodges in Alexandria. 2 They were pressed in later in 1904 in Philadelphia and were distributed for $1 each in bronze (and $1.5 in silver) 2
The four medals reflected his life and time as a citizen in Virginia where he spent his career as a surveyor, a fireman and a farmer, and served as the Master of the Lodge.3 The reverse of the Masonic variant displays a Masonic apron with a square and compasses and the inscription of Alexandria Lodge No. 22 of Virginia, the Lodge in which George Washington served as Master in 1788.
This medal is one of the only Masonic medals ever issued by the US Congress. The creation of this medal could also suggest that George Washington’s strong connection with the Freemasons was still widely acknowledged back in that time.4
The Ciphered Masonic Medal of the Netherlands
This medal was struck in 1825 at The Hague by the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands to commemorate the marriage of the Grand Master of Masons in the Netherlands, Prince Frederick of the Netherlands, to Princess Louise of Prussia. The medal was designed by Joseph-Pierre Braemt, a famous Belgian medalist & engraver. The obverse presents the female figure referred to as Latomia with ciphered lettering above translated as “Ornat Et Auget”5 which possibly means “Elegantly Increase in Wealth and Fertility” as a blessing to the royal couple.
The reverse displays an radiated delta with the letter G , with ciphered inscription around which can be translated to “In Memoriam Augustissimarum Nuptiarum Fratum Libere Ac Fidelis Silenti Lege Operantium Florentissima In Belgio Societas.”5 It could be roughly translated in English as “The most flourishing Society in Belgium of Brethren working freely under the law of faithful silence to commemorate the majestic wedding.”5
On a side note, after the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, Belgium was annexed into the Kingdom of Netherlands, and so were the Belgian Lodges.6 It could possibly be that the Belgian Brethren, who were under The Grand Lodge of The Netherlands at that time, were the ones who issued this medal, which would explain why Belgium was mentioned on its inscription.
The non-Masonic French Revolution Token
The five Sols copper token was commissioned by Monneron brothers of Paris (Monneron Frères) as “necessity money” in 1792 during the economy recession due to the French Revolution. The obverse displays the adaptation of “Fête de la Fédération” (The Festival of Federation) of July 14th, designed by Augustin Dupré, and depicting the soldiers saluting the female figure which represents Liberty.7 The inscription says “Vivre Libre ou Mourir”, which means, “Live free or die.”
The Monneron brothers commissioned Matthew Boulton of Soho Mint in Birmingham, England, to make the token. The token was made of copper, using a steam engine coin press and it was considered one of the highest-quality tokens ever produced. However, the token barely lasted a year before it was forbidden by the French government later in 1793 and slowly ceased circulation.8 (On a side note, the term ‘coin’ only applies to government-issued money, while currency issued by a non-governmental entity is instead named a token.)9
The non-Masonic Civil War Medal of Confederate General Jackson
The Stonewall Jackson medal was the medal issued by the Confederates to commemorate the death of Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, the famous Confederate General of the Stonewall Brigade. This medal is claimed to have different origins from various sources: some claim it was commissioned by a grandson of the Marquis de Lafayette of the Revolutionary War10; some claim it was Charles Lamar, a Georgian businessman and Confederate Colonel who commissioned it.11
There is also a claim that the medal is the only medal issued by the Confederate States12,although there is no official record of it anywhere. The most likely claim is that, shortly after his death, the medal was made by fundraising through subscription, along with the funding of his statue.13
The medal was designed by Armand Caque, a French medalist. The finished medals were shipped from France and arrived at the very end of the Civil War. The other shipment was purchased in Paris by Charles Lamar during a business trip in Europe, hence the assumption that he was to one who commissioned it.13
The shipment made it through the Union’s blockade to Georgia, but then Lamar rejoined the army and was killed in action before he could distribute them. The medals were kept away in the Lamar family’s warehouse for almost thirty years before they were recovered again, making headlines in newspapers.14They were later sold for $1 each through The Lady’s Auxiliary to aid disabled Confederate veterans, as advertised in 1894 in the Civil War Veteran magazine.13
The obverse of the medal shows the bust of Stonewall Jackson, facing left. The reverse shows the list of Civil War battles in which he participated. Though it was one of the most significant items associated with the Confederate, it is criticized for a number of inaccuracies on the medal such as mistakes in the list of his battles13,the wrong year of his birth and the poor likeliness of his portrait that has more resemblance to Abraham Lincoln than to Stonewall Jackson.14
Statutes at Large of The United States of America.” The Statutes at
Large of The United States of America, vol. 32, Government Printing Office,
1903, p. 715.
2. Brownell, J. H. “Monument to Washington, as a Citizen in His Home Town.” The American Tyler, edited by Arthur M. Smith, The Tyler Publishing Co., 1904.
5. Marvin, William Theophilus Rogers. “The Medals of the Masonic Fraternity : Described and Illustrated.” The Medals of the Masonic Fraternity : Described and Illustrated, Privately Printed, 1880, pp. 27–28.
6. Brennan, J. Fletcher, translator. A General History of Freemasonry : Based Upon the Ancient Documents Relating to, and the Monuments Erected by, This Fraternity, From Its Foundation, In the Year 715 B.C., To the Present Time, by Emmanuel Rebold, Cincinnati : American Masonic Publishing Association, 1872, pp. 119–120.
12. “Exonumia Auction #66 by Presidential Coin and Antique Company Inc, Public Auction Sale November 13, 1999, Suburban Washington-Baltimore Coin Convention.” Presidential Coin and Antique Company, Robert J. Centola Collection, 2000, p. 133.
Today’s highlighted artifact is one of the biggest and the oldest trowels in our collection, used in laying the cornerstone of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Harlem on this day 129 years ago, October 16th, 1889.
It was made out of sterling silver with an ebony handle by the famous Tiffany & Co. The detailed inscription records that the trowel was a gift from Republic Lodge No. 690 to the Rector, George R. Van De Water, and that the Church is located between 127th Street and Fifth Avenue.
The ceremony and the trowel were also mentioned in the following day’s New-York Tribune newspaper:
The cornerstone of the new St. Andrew Protestant Episcopal Church. Fifth-ave. and One-hundred-and-twenty-seventh-st., was laid yesterday with impressive ceremonies. The trowel used by Bishop Potter for putting the stone in place was a solid silver one present to the Rev. Dr. Van de Water, rector of St. Andrew’s, by the Republican Lodge, F. and A.M….Under the cornerstone were placed the two other [corner]stones …1
It is evident that the newspaper reporter mistakenly identified the Lodge as Republican rather than Republic Lodge. Republic Lodge No. 690 was warranted in 1869 and was working up until 1980, at which time it consolidated with Bunting-Charity Lodge No. 727, which is still in existence today.
The same report also revealed that the cornerstone was actually the third cornerstone of St. Andrew’s Church, the first church having been built in 1829 and the second one in 1872 after the first church was burned. The church then relocated to the present location and held the above-described cornerstone-laying ceremony. According to the church’s history, it is the first Episcopal church in East Harlem. 2-5
The important name appearing on the trowel and in the newspaper is George R. Van De Water, the Rector of St. Andrew Church at that time. The Grand Lodge of New York published a sermon of his to be distributed among the Lodges in 1908.6 He was later appointed as the Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York from 1910 to 19177 and delivered several sermons to the Masons during his term of service as Grand Chaplain.8
From the day the cornerstone was laid, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church has been offering services to their patrons and to the Harlem community through generations. We are proud to have in our care this artifact which reflects both the history of New York City and New York Freemasons .
6. Van de Water, George, Sermon and Address published by order of the Grand Lodge of New York of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York For Distribution Among the Lodges, 1908
7. Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York, 1910 -1917
8. Van de Water, George, A Collection of Sermons, 1908-1914: Masonic Teaching, Bible Truth (1908), The Truth about Freemasonry (1911), The Plumb Line (1912), A Man and a Mason (1913), The Latent Power of Masonry (1914), Masonry and War (1916), Grand Lodge, New York, 1908-1914
Featured Cover Image and Artifact detail:Artifact photo: Ratirat Osiri, Museum Technician
Back in colonial days, in addition to serving food and wine, taverns also played a major role as the community spot where people came for meetings, social gatherings or making business deals. The early Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of New York suggest that colonial New York Masons were also important regular patrons of taverns. One of the earliest records of Masonic activity during colonial New York was a public announcement found in The New York Gazette in 1737, signed by Charles Wood, Secretary.
Brethren of the Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons are desired to take notice that the Lodge for the future will be held at the Montgomerie-Arms Tavern the first and third Wednesday of every month. By the order of Grand Master Charles Wood, Secretary
The only information that I found about the Montgomerie-Arms Tavern was its location, mentioned in the Brotherhood newsletter, wherein it stated that it was “near what is now the northeast corner of Park Row and Pearl Street.” Currently, this corner is now the site of the U.S. District Court – Southern District of New York building. The area is not accessible by (unauthorized) vehicles.
According to the Proceedings, the following announcements in later years also mentioned a few other meeting places such as King’s Arms Tavern in 1753 and Province Arms in 1754.
In Old Taverns of New York, author Bayles W. Harrison explains that King’s Arms Tavern was previously known as Exchange Coffee House or New Coffee House before George Burn took over and dropped its old name in 1751, but the location was vaguely mentioned as “at the foot of Broad Street”. The King’s Arms name was found in the project report of Fraunces Tavern Block of Historic District, pinpointing the exact address of the building as 105 Broad Street, which is the northeast corner between Broad and Water Streets. It is now a deli store on the first floor, sharing the same historic block with the famous Fraunces Tavern.
According to Harrison, Province Arms was one of the biggest and finest taverns in the city, and was also known as the House of Edward Willet, a famous landlord of colonial New York. It was “at the west side of Broadway, between present Thames and Cedar Streets.” This tavern later became the historic Cape’s Tavern of the Evacuation Day. This tavern was named after the keeper, John Cape, who happened to be a Freemason. It later changed its name to City Arms Tavern. Both names appeared in the Annual Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of New York in later years as well, but these different names essentially shared the same location throughout years.
The location is now Trinity Centre Building, right between Trinity Church and Zucotti Park,
How different the city is today, 281 years after that announcement in 1737 by Brother Secretary Charles Wood! And yet, how constant the Fraternity.
– Authority of the Grand Lodge. (1876). Early history and transactions of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, 1781-1815. (Vol. 1). New York: Masonic and Miscellaneous. No. 2 Bleecker Street, D. Sickles &, Managers.
– Thomas, J. L. (Ed.). (1912). Brotherhood (Vol. 1).
NYC Map: Library of Congress: A plan of the city of New-York & its environs to Greenwich, on the north or Hudsons River, and to Crown Point, on the east or Sound River, shewing the several streets, publick buildings, docks, fort & battery, with the true form & course of the commanding grounds, with and without the town. Contributor Names: Montrésor, John, 1736-1799.
Andrews, Peter, active 1765-1782. Created / Published: [London, 1766] Call Number/Physical Location: G3804.N4 1766 .M6 Repository: Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C. 20540-4650 USA dcu Digital Id: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3804n.ar110400 Library of Congress Control Number: gm71000645
It was a privilege to work at the Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library, a hidden gem of New York City. My time as an intern here gave me valuable knowledge and wonderful experience … more than I could ever have hoped for. I was assigned to working with the subcollections of trowels and gavels, two important categories of Masonic working tools.
My main responsibility was to catalog, photograph and digitize the trowels and gavels in the museum and to create the digital records for them. Each of the artifacts was examined, measured and photographed before being given a record and catalog number, all by me. These records will be put later into the database for museum use, public access and future research.
I encountered artifacts made of ivory, so I also was able to help with the preservation process of ivory artifacts by rehousing ivory trowels and gavels found within the subcollections to a secure, temperature and humidity controlled storage cabinet. For some ivory artifacts that were previously stored in the cabinet, I also learned how to update their condition records, as the majority of them had been damaged in the past from exposure to light and heat. The cracks they suffered had continued to expand upon their storage, but have now hopefully stabilized in their new environment.
This internship experience was exactly what I am aiming to do in my museum career. With help from my supervisor, I have discovered my potential as a museum professional and learned so many essential skills and experiences from her that are very valuable to me. I was also given a rare opportunity to come across numerous artifacts from very significant figures in American history and I learned a lot more about Freemasonry, an organization with very fascinating members, philosophies and histories.
Note: Ms. Osiri was hired in 2018 to become our part-time Museum Technician after her highly skilled work as our museum intern during her final semester of graduate school in the Fall of 2017.
She was hired as full-time Museum Technician in September of 2018.