Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Weekend Finds 2: 1880's Masonic Poster

Good morning!

Well, I survived going to the dentist this morning, so I guess it's time to settle down in my cubicle and tell you the tale of how YET ANOTHER bizarre item has made its way into my possession. Don't worry, I haven't backslid on my clutter stance-- I have a round up of items ready and rarin' to go back to Goodwill where they belong as we speak. But when I went to an amazing sale out near Cornelia Fort last weekend on the way out of town, there was no way I could pass up this...whatever it may be:

This doesn't show the size very well, but imagine this is about the width and length of the small coffee table atop which I took this photo... maybe around average poster size, 24 by 26? It's a masonic....poster? Diploma? It was sitting on a couch in this house with AMAZING furniture but very little smalls that interested me, with "$1" written on a piece of masking tape stuck to the back. A buck! How could I refuse? The color is much less yellow and the water stains less apparent in real life, but I assure you, the images are no less mystical, Victorian, and after my own heart. Take, for example, this eye, possibly the Lord's own eye, looking down from heaven upon the masonic lands:

In another quadrant, Noah's ark or possibly just...someone else's ark rocks along the shore under the sheltering arm of a rainbow. Don't the water stains make this particular tableau look ominous?

Throughout the piece, various Biblical and I guess fraternal order scenes are acted out along spaces where you can ink in when you reached such and such level of brotherhood. At the very bottom, a 1887 (!!) copyright bears the name "Pettibone Mfg. Co., Cincinnati", which also lists itself as a maker of fraternal order ceremonial items. While the pictures are in poorer condition, this website features a better condition poster from the same time along with a reprint made in 1917 (still none too young in terms of vintage). I kind of prefer my weirdly messed up version as it's a tad bit spookier/atmospheric, but youknowhowweareaboutthesethings. That post, under "Masonic Museum", mentions that "[t]his is a certificate that would have been filled out and presented to a new Master Mason." From what I can understand on this website, you can go into three separate types of masonic membership-- "entered apprentice", "fellowcraft" or "master mason". 

The "From Darkness to Light" inscription is also explained on the aforementioned site, as follows:
The candidate enters the Lodge of the Master Mason in darkness, for he has not witnessed the Light at this Degree before.  But the difference of this entrance from that of the others is that he is now in a state of equilibrium and is prepared to walk on sacred ground.  He becomes fully committed to the Fraternity and completely puts his faith on the Three Great Lights.
My dad's dad was a mason, as well as Matthew's dad's dad...I even know three guys my own age who are active Masons, and yet I have to say I don't understand much about the secret ceremonies and rituals of the fraternal organization. I really should take advantage of one of those open houses they do yearly at the Grand Masonic Temple in Nashville...it's literally down the street from the library, and from what I hear, they have all these amazing historical pieces and ceremonial costumes out for us non-initiates to see once a year.

I hope I would see more things like this!

Here's the meat of the poster; notice the ornate 1880's lettering's font, that which the guy in the modern package design book was complaining about last week (I like the fanciness of it, what can I say):

A large image from the same...hello, mountain goat:

Yes, there's a funeral in the background. I guess you're supposed to keep this even after your Mason relative has passed away, as a record of his Masonic life? Note the marker on the memorial's base: "Called from Labor":

More biblical scenes, I think...I'm again, not very up on my religious texts, unfortunately:

A pretty great quote from Exodus, here, "I am that I am", followed by some closeups from the same scene:

Anyway, I know I'm not a Mason so I shouldn't have these kinds of Masonic things laying around the house, but how could I resist?! I hope to find a frame for it and put it in a place of pride in my den, with all the other 1880's portraits and skeleton marionettes and everything else that catches my wicked little eye.

So! What do you think? Have you seen anything like this before out in the wild or in your own family's collection? Know any masons who can decode the secrets of this poster? Aren't you fascinated, as I am, by the beautiful iconography and strange subjects of this poster, not to mention the fact that it's BRIMMING with symbolism I may or may not completely get?

You can see more Masonic themed posters here ( in reprinted form), but I'm warning you-- it's addictive poring over all the individual figures on these over-the-top ceremonial documents. Have at, have fun!

I gotta get back to work, but I will talk to you tomorrow! Keep a good thought for my aching teeth, and I'll see you then. Take care.


  1. That poster is fascinating! I love the occult, especially the florid Victorian type.
    Hope your teethies are feeling better! :)

  2. We have a masonic building in our town of Chariton IA and it is still in use. Built 1937. Once they had a fund raiser spaghetti dinner in basement so we went out of curiosity. Bathroom in basement looked original to the thirties! Hope they do not change them. The main basement room was redone and painted. Older rooms off that still there with ancient wooden folding chairs and stuff. Don't know what was upstairs. You might find something online. They aren't really a religion just a cult thing but still going on. Thanks for sharing the poster.

  3. I have this same poster from my Dad. What do you think is its worth, besides sentimental of course?

  4. You can buy a copy of this lithograph for less than $100 dollars on eBay. This was the most popular Masonic lithograph ever made, so there are thousands of copies of it still around. Yes, we (Freemasons) can decipher the symbols. No, we can't tell you what they mean. However, you can probably decipher most of it on your own by doing a little research on the Internet.

    No Mason I know would be offended if you hung it in your home. Please frame it and hang it up.

    The lithograph is from the York Rite.

    1. Thank you very much for this insight. Appreciate it much! It is hanging on my wall right now and I will pass it down to my children.



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