Badges, medals and jewels are amongst the earliest surviving objects associated with freemasonry. In the eighteenth century, when the first Grand Lodge in the world was formed, it was not uncommon to wear a badge, often very elaborate, which provided visual evidence of membership of an organisation and of rank within that organisation as an “emblem of belonging”.
The tradition continued in the nineteenth century and extended to associations representing all social groups including friendly societies with a “working class” membership whose base metal jewels were stamped from dies in considerable numbers.
Badges are still very much part of twenty first century life. Although they may not now be metal but ribbon or plastic, they still mark the wearer as member of an interest group either supporting a range of causes, from politics to a particular type of music, or a charitable donor.
The Library and Museum of Freemasonry has a very large collection of Masonic jewels. These include commemorative issues, signifiers of rank, fundraising pieces and membership jewels for individual lodges and chapters or Masonic orders. Examples date from the eighteenth century to the twenty first century as new lodges and chapters commission their own lodge or chapter jewels. Illustrated here is the Sisson jewel (the oldest Past Master’s jewel dating to the mid eighteenth century) and the Sackville and Foulkes medals, the two oldest Masonic medals. Also shown is an example of a late eighteenth century pierced jewel.
A jewel is often a fine example of the craft of the medal maker, jeweller or enameller. A jewel tells many stories: why was it made?, who made it?, were there variations in type? why were there such variations? who was it made for? For all these reasons and more jewels have always fascinated collectors.
There have been a number of books on the subject of Masonic jewels and medals. George Shackles, a Hull freemason, collector and member of the Numismatic Society of London published his Medals of British Freemasonry in 1901 illustrated with black and white photographs and drawing on his own collection. This book includes an interesting historical survey by Chetwode Crawley about collectors of ,and writers about, Masonic medals. He dates the earliest literary work concerned solely with Masonic medals to the 1840s when Ernst Zacharias published Numotheca Numismatica Latorum in Dresden. This was illustrated with 48 engravings of medals. In 1851 Dr Johann Merzdorf, Librarian to the Grand Duke of Oldenburg published Die Denkmunzen der Freimaurerbruderschaft which covers 334 separate pieces. This remained the standard work of reference until 1880 when William Marvin published Medals of the Masonic Fraternity, Described and Illustrated in Boston, USA including descriptions of 744 medals and 16 plates of illustrations.
Other writers have taken a more thematic approach. These include John Lane who published the definitive guide to English Constitution Centenary jewels in 1891 and Poole’s catalogue of Masonic medals in the Worcestershire Provincial Library and Museum (1939). This latter included the Shackles collection. In 1938 the then Librarian and Curator of the Grand Lodge Library and Museum in London published his three volume catalogue of the already large collections. This includes detailed descriptions of a small number of medal and jewels and an unillustrated listing of the Craft Lodge jewels and Royal Arch Chapter jewels then held. More recently David Heathcote published his superbly illustrated guides to the stewards jewels for the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls and the royal Masonic Institution for Boys. The first ever book on friendly and fraternal society badges and regalia- Discovering Friendly and Fraternal Societies: their Badges and Regalia by Victoria Solt Dennis- was published in 2005.
Although all these publications are in the Library and Museum collection, apart from the latter two publications, the collector, curator or enthusiast seeking information on these jewels and medals has, in recent years, had to rely on long out of print books or on primary research in the collections at the Library and Museum and elsewhere.
A new publication, The Medals and Jewels of British Freemasonry, has just been published. It includes very many colour illustrations and attempts a broad survey of the subject. The publication is available at the Shop at Freemasons’ Hall or online at www.letchworthshop.co.uk