The Library and Museum has a large collection of pierced Masonic jewels (the name given to medals and decorations worn by masons, generally dating from the end of the 1700s. The name relates to the method of manufacture – cutting out the metal (normally silver) to make the design. Prior to the Union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813 the design of Masonic jewels was not regulated and often freely incorporated a number of Masonic symbols. This particular silver jewel is not hallmarked but has been dated to around 1770. It is inscribed to a John Gale but any further attribution to a particular individual or lodge has not been possible. Very few of the jewels in the collection are named so it is relatively rare and its design is unique.
The inscription on the set-square in the centre of the jewel reads “Nous Vivons Sur Le Quarre” (trans: We live on the square). The words around the border read “Sola Concordia Fratrum” (trans: Harmony only among brothers). The symbols include a number of stonemasons’ tools which freemasonry uses symbolically to represent various moral values. These include the set- square and compasses, a level, a plumb and a trowel.
All the early lodges were know by a number alone, not by a name and number as is the modern custom. So we may surmise that John Gale is the owner’s name, and number 184 is his lodge.
Now the story becomes more complicated. Prior to the Union of the two grand lodges, the Antients and the Moderns in 1813, there were two sets of numbers – one set for each grand lodge. Every so often they reviewed their lists, saw which lodges no longer existed and shuffled up the numbers. This means that some of the oldest lodges can have had up to 11 different numbers during their life.
In the case of this jewel we were not helped by the lack of a hall mark which would give us a precise year and an assay mark which might help locate a place of manufacture. But if we take the period 1750 to 1800 as our best guess, there are four possible lodges. These are:
– In 1754 lodge no 184 met in various taverns in the City of London. It ceased to exist in 1777.
– St John’s Lodge in Newcastle, originally no 225 was renumbered 184 in 1770. It ceased to exist in 1788.
– Royal Naval Lodge in Deal which was originally no 282, then became no 229 in 1770 and then no 184 in 1781.
– The only Antients lodge with this number existed in northern France only for one year in 1773.
– All the other lodges with the same number are equally unenlightening, there are no members by the name John Gale in any lodges where we have membership lists.
This being a particularly important case, we searched the available membership registers of English Constitution lodges for the name John Gale. There were three members with that name for this period. One was a king’s pilot, one was a surgeon and one was a gentleman. None of them are connected with any lodges numbered 184. Perhaps John Gale was a member of another lodge for which returns were never received? Perhaps with no hallmark it is a foreign jewel and he was a foreign mason?