© The Library & Museum of Freemasonry
Clockwise from top left
Two walking sticks, one with a
secret Masonic message, the other
decorated with Masonic symbols
in fine pokerwork and carving.
A nautilus shell, with a stand
made from another nautilus
shell, engraved with Masonic
and royalist emblems.
A horn cup with a silver rim showing
Chartist symbols engraved on
one side and Masonic symbols
on the other.
Carved coconut incorporating
A naďve, painted apron, depicting
Adam and Eve.
A horn cup with silver rim,
engraved with Masonic symbols
An engraved cow’s horn showing
a ship and a parade of kangaroos
and ostriches around the top.
In homes, sale rooms, antique shops and
Lodge rooms, objects were bought and
made by Masons and members of other
fraternities. These are the mass of men who
lived, contributed to their communities and
Freemasonry, but are remembered only by
their families and, sadly, in some cases there
is no family remaining.
The objects they chose to buy, make or
decorate give us some indication of their
tastes and character and a glimpse into their
unwritten lives. The summer show at
Freemasons’ Hall – Tokens of Unwritten Lives –
the Folk and Popular Art of Fraternity –
showcases these items: often of low monetary
value, but invaluable in historic terms.
In private life, simple engraving on horn
beakers, coconut shells and ivory allowed
members to document their lives, never
imagining they would be preserved 200 years
later as a valuable record of who they were.
A horn cup shows its owner to have been a
member of the Chartists, radical campaigners
for parliamentary reform, as well as a Mason.
An engraved horn has a humorous procession
of kangaroos and pack animals on an
expedition, while another object contrasts
peaceful Freemasonry with the belligerent
army. Vesta cases for sulphur matches are
another commonplace for decoration with
symbolism and names combined.
Folk Art demonstrates levels of skill
that vary widely as do the techniques.
Coach painters were employed to make
coats of arms such as the wonderful example
of the Ancients. Before photography, the
same painters would set themselves up as
portrait painters and capture the members
in their regalia.
Poker work, where a heated piece of
metal is used to mark an object, is often found
as it is relatively easy to do. Simple scratched
engraving appears on many objects, with
even shepherds’ crooks being marked and
personalised by the owners. Cheap materials
can be used to great effect by more skilled
hands, with tracing boards made from straw
chips to simulate more expensive marquetry.
Sometimes Masonic humour is incorporated
as in a ‘two-ball cane’.
Early regalia was often hand-made,
especially in friendly societies, and some
examples will be on show, including a
spectacular Forester outfit worn for 50 years
at processions until the owner’s death in
1919. In this age of mass production and
standardization, they are a reminder of a
With industrialisation and mass
production, came the advent of Popular Art,
items made and designed for people to buy
and decorate both home and Lodge room.
Here, too, the objects are a clue to the taste
and wealth (or lack of it) of members.
Where the prosperous bought silver and fine
porcelain, the less well-off relied on transfer
Many variations on lustreware are
known, bearing doggerel verses and images
of Solomon’s Temple. The patterns on the
more expensive items migrated to these, and
preserved designs from the 1700s well into
the Victorian era, long after the ‘fashionable’
had rejected them.
The Victorian home was (in)famous
for clutter and ornamentation. Fraternally
decorated items include tablecloths,
bedspreads, smoking caps and trivets for
the fire. Even household objects like rolling
pins, cream skimmers and bed-warming
pans bear the marks of fraternal ownership.
Membership certificates, icons of popular
art, were first made available through the
skills of copper-plate engravers to be handcoloured,
such as those produced by Cole
for the Freemasons.
Certificates of fraternal, trade and benefit
societies, were designed by artists such as
Walter Crane. With the introduction
of colour litho that maintained many
traditional elements, but enabled larger
sizes to be produced, they became large
and bright for hanging in the parlour of
members’ homes, a connecting link with
others in the fraternity.
An object of pride in the household,
while technically banned from display
in Freemasonry, these certificates were
displayed in frames, sometimes ornately
produced commercially or hand carved
by the owner.
In Lodges, the use of appropriate
materials is also common. St George’s
Lodge, failing to find a ready supply of
dragon skin, substituted crocodile for the
binding of their Lodge photo album.
The lodge chairs of Argonaut Lodge
were created by Putney Bridge Lodge from
the oak piles of old Putney Bridge. In
working tools, the ashlars are a chance to
make connections with history, examples
of which exist made from the tomb of Cecil
Rhodes, carved from the base of Cleopatra’s
Needle or the ruined columns of an abbey.
Nor is this just a UK phenomenon. In the
USA particularly, the very visible presence of
fraternal organisations has led to a wealth of
objects being produced for them from car
number plates and copper lanterns to Masonic
Christmas decorations and snow globes.