In 2012 I made a blogpost about artefacts lost by freemasons. I am pleased to say that I have been able to retrieve that lost post and also make some additions.
Detectorists up and down the country are making discoveries that can be associated with freemasonry in one way or another – from the humble finds to the esoteric – whose meaning are known only to the initiated. Undaunted, these searchers continue to search for their own ‘Holy Grail,’ whatever that may be.
This is not something given by the dry-cleaner so that you can redeem your clothes but, as you can just see, something masonic. James Sketchley, printer, publisher, auctioneer and freemason minted this in 1794 in honour of the election of the Prince of Wales (who later became George III) as Grand Master. It isn’t very clear from my find, but the reverse design shows a Cupid and various masonic symbols within a triangle. At the top of the triangle appears the G and above that the all-seeing eye. You will also notice the words ‘Wisdom,’ ‘Strength’ and ‘Beauty.’ The Latin SIT LUX ET LUX FUIT – “let there be light, and there was light,” can be seen around the outer edge.
These tokens were so superior in their copper content (compared to the coinage of the time) that they readily became tender. It wasn’t until 1817 that they were withdrawn from circulation by government order. The Sketchley token is not particularly rare and is the most likely artefact that a metal detectorist will come across – one can presume this has a lot to do with the token being used as currency – although those in better condition than that depicted are becoming scarce.
One of the more unusual finds of a Bedfordshire detectorist (unfortunately a picture isn’t available) was an old Golden Virginia tobacco tin containing two masonic ‘jewels’ nestling in a bed of soft paper. The local masonic hall, after checking its records was able to name the mason who had lost his baccy tin all those years ago and return it to his descendants. Makes you wonder what he was doing in the field . . . perhaps taking a short-cut home after imbibing too much alcohol at the dinner held after his Lodge meeting. Alas, we shall never know for, at the time of finding, that freemason has already departed his mortal coil and left for the ‘Grand Lodge’ above. His secret was safe!
The next two items look as though they would be easily identifiable but that has proven not to be the case. Although slightly different on the reverse they do resemble buttons of some kind or another.
The curator of the Masonic Hall Museum and Library at the Masonic headquarters in London had not seen anything quite like them before but said this of the first example:
“Regarding the object . . . it is frankly a little puzzling to us as well. A button would seem to be the most likely possibility. The decoration of the Set Square put one of my colleagues in mind of American Masonic style, although there would normally have been a “G” in the centre for an American Set Square and Compasses. If it is American, then a further possibility is that it is a tuxedo stud, which does make it the correct size. It could also be part of a Masonic lapel or pin badge, although that would not be part of any official regalia and could only be worn outside of a lodge.”
So, we have our own little bit of intrigue here. The ancient brotherhood retains its shroud of mystery and we can only guess at the true use of these ‘buttons.’ Perhaps there are freemasons out there who can shed further light on these unusual items. They don’t seem to be a common find . . . unless you know different, of course.
The item on the left is also a bit of an enigma. The item shown opposite depicts various Masonic symbols and (perhaps) it would have originally hung in a semi-circular mount. This fine example was found by a detectorist in Cheshire and exact matches of the side shown here can be found in the Masonic Hall Museum in London where they are known as Spinner Fobs. They are well-documented and date to the late 18th century. There was a pin at each end of the long axis (says a museum spokesman) and the fob would have been able to spin freely. However, this find doesn’t look as though it ever had a pin.
USED as a SEAL. On the other side there was normally the bust of a famous personage. For example, the spinners housed in the London museum show Socrates and Brittania. Somebody who was a freemason would have used it to seal a letter. When writing to people he didn’t want to know that he was a freemason he would use the side showing the famous person and the other side when corresponding with his masonic brothers. So, this could be an early Masonic Fob Spinner – if the identification is correct – and it continues to play on the theme of keeping masonic secrets. Randy Dee thinks not. He says:
The reason I am sure that the object you have pictured in your blog is not a seal is because the “G” in the top left corner is portrayed in its correct orientation.
If you wish to see examples of the spinner, you may care to visit the first online masonic museum in North America . Explore this site and you will see a fob where half of the square and compasses are on one side of and the other half is on the opposite side. When the Fob is spun with your finger it shows the entire picture of the Square and Compasses. Most interesting.
However, our example is blank on the reverse and has no visible holes for the pin and the only conclusion that I can arrive at is that it may not have been a spinner at all. Masonic archives show that many Lodges in the 18th and 19th centuries had a seal which could be used on the lodge summons or on other correspondence. It is also possible that it was made for private use. Strange though that this Cheshire find should be a dead ringer for one of the spinners housed in the museum.
I was contacted by Lynda Platts who came across this site whilst searching for information on Google. She had discovered a masonic artefact belonging to her late father and wondered if I could tell her more about it. Unlike my example above, this one had a personage on the reverse … but who could it be?
I must admit that I was unable to give a definite answer, so consulted the Masonic Museum in London. Assistant curator Andrew Tucker thought that the image was most likely to be that of George III. He said:
He wasn’t a mason, but his sons were, and items of this type quite often have a famous personage on one side regardless of whether they were a freemason or not. In the museum there are some identical and a few variants, one of which is actually inscribed as being George III.
Andrew also directed me to a site where there was a similar item for sale. I thank Andrew for his help and cooperation in identifying the image. If you check portraits of the king, you may even find resemblance to the image in the various paintings.
I suspect the penny token shown above is not that old and belongs to an order in freemasonry called the ‘mark degree.’ The mark mason’s crest or badge often incorporates a keystone like the one depicted here around which are engraved the letters KSHTWSSY which have significance to the members and, even if I did know the meaning, it would be wrong to repeat it here. Mark masons are told what it means of course and I have been told that they use the mnemonic “King Solomon Had Twelve Wives Some Say Twenty” to help them remember. The token is given to every new member after their initiation and symbolises the wage given to the builders of King Solomon’s Temple. A nice find and rather unusual.
Now for the most intriguing artefact of all
Although this clearly shows the square and compasses, I remind you that not all symbolism which appears to be masonic is masonic and I wonder whether this is connected with freemasonry at all. The use of this symbol happens to be widespread through the whole range of friendly and fraternal societies that have ever existed. Some have modified it of course – the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners added a pruning knife. The Oddfellows have also used it as well as Temperance Orders and others; the list goes on.
So, is this masonic or not? It is rather large at 13 x 10cms, quite fragile and has a lot of detail missing. The use of the word “ain” suggests that it might be Scottish and indeed it was found on a beach near Fife. What wording on the left is missing do you think? Could it possibly be ‘Tyneside?’ It has been suggested that this item could be a coffin plate?
Whatever it is, it certainly is’t a one-off for the partefact shown below that was found on the same beach only a few miles away. Although a little thicker it is an almost exact match for the middle portion of the larger item. Very interesting, but I am none the wiser!
Joy! Mick (aka Yeti) has contacted me with a positive identification for that which I referred to as the most fascinating enigma of all. I have waited nearly eight years for an answer. He directed me to a something on an American antiques site that showed this:
The description is as follows:
Antique brass trivet with a turtle like design with a masonic symbol in the middle. The very delicate cut-out letters say FIRESIDE on the bottom and OUR AIN across the top.
The last masonic item I found (Georgian seal above) was totally unexpected and arrived at a time when I was feeling most despondent about my lack of success. What you see is a Georgian fob seal matrix probably owned by a freemason – can you see the square and compasses? The matrix is rather squashed and the intaglio has long disappeared, but I was pleased to find that!
UPDATES 16 March 2017
From the analytics on my blog I can see what is popular and who is reading that particular post. This morning I was pleased to see the following from a Russian forum: Доброго времени суток, попалась вот такая печать, интересно атрибуция и оценка. For those who don’t understand the language, Mr Google tells me that it basically says:
Good time of the day, I found this seal, it is interesting
… and there was a picture:
Thanks to my Russian friend. I now know what the intaglio looks like! I hope he doesn’t mind me using it in my blog. I couldn’t see how to ask for permission! Click HERE for foreign site.
Glennsniper says: Here is another one you can add John ( hope I haven’t already submitted it … memory is not what it used to be . It’s a tie pin I think. The masonic emblem is low carat gold and the securing piece copper alloy that was gilded at one time:
Micheal writes: The masons have a long history for sure John, and you have shown an amazing variety of artefacts. Some I would never have guessed at them being masonic in origin -others are more obvious But, if I may, I’d like to show a couple of photos of some of the Masonic items I have found.
A RING, A PIN and a SILVER MILITARY BRACELET
Tony Hunt of Dorset reports that one of his finds with a new detector was his first hammered coin. But today he found gold in the shape of a 9 carat masonic pendant. Now, how did that come to be lost in a Dorset field? We shall never know. Rather welcome albeit unusual find!
Detectorist Neil has supplied the lead token shown on the left, full of masonic symbols … wonder what it was originally? It is recorded on the UKDFD who say Lodges probably presented tokens of this type to members as keepsakes or mementos.
I would like to thank those detectorists who allowed me to photograph their finds, the Curators of the The Library & Museum of Freemasonry at Great Queen Street in London, and The Berkshire Library and Museum of Freemasonry at Sindlesham for their help in the preparation of this blogpost. This has been adapted from one of my articles first published in The Searcher.
After reading the above, Jim Leonard, who was owner and publisher of the Relic Hunter Magazine, contacted me. Sadly, Jim passed away in January of this year. Below is what he said. Thank you, my friend. May you rest in peace.
Brilliant article on Masonic Secrets!
Here’s a special find I made a few years ago while hunting the backyard of my late grandfather’s home. I had found a very large coin, about the size of an American Half Dollar. It was a Masonic Penny. Little did I know, it was my grandfather’s coin.
I researched the coin. I wanted to know why it was made and to know the symbolism that’s represented on it. Symbolism has always been reflected with the history of Masons. This is a penny from the Royal Arch Masons (R.A.M.), Lodge 50, in the city of Douglasville, Georgia. My grandfathers place of residence and his lodge. And it was given to him as a reward, a tribute, for reaching another level in their organization, with the top being a 32 degree mason.
From years past, Masons would make their mark somewhere on the structure that they were constructing. You’ll find them in the cathedrals in Europe up to present day structures, all over the world. What I found interesting was that each mason created or designed his own symbol that was used as a signature. This symbol was recorded in the Masonic Temple or lodge. Each one was distinct and original.
On this coin there’s a round circle surrounded by the letters of S T K S H T W S. Surrounding the circle is the “Arch Stone” or Key Stone. Outside the Key Stone are the traditional “hammer and chisel”, the iconic tools for a Mason. I’m not sure what the letters mean. The person I talked with couldn’t tell me.
What I did find interesting was that inside the circle, the person receiving this coin needed to scratch “their mark” for it to be recorded. Mine is blank and I guess my grandfather either forgot, didn’t care, or didn’t get a chance to do it before he lost his coin. Not really sure how you can let something out of your pocket, as large as this, without noticing it was gone. Perhaps the grass was tall in the back yard, he might have looked for it but never found it.
Metal detecting is a fascinating hobby and serendipity is its forte. You never know what to expect when you dig. It could be your own personal Holy Grail or yet another pull tab – you won’t really know until you investigate. And who would have thought that there were so many masonic artefacts out there – and probably many more just waiting to be rescued from the plough.