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