The Masonic Emporium

Wednesday, 01 September 2010
Diane Clements Charts The Creation Of The Masonic Consumer

At the beginning of July, the Library and Museum of Freemasonry in Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street, London, opened an exhibition showing the development of the commercial production of masonic regalia, jewels, lodge furniture and dining ware. The exhibition, ‘The Masonic Emporium’, charts the development of the Freemason as a consumer and the creation of companies to serve the production and sale of these specifically produced goods for this specifically masonic market which had never existed before.

By around 1800 masonic regalia and objects such as glassware and pottery were being produced in greater quantities and with a variety of designs but some uniformity in style began to emerge. In the Royal Arch, for example, two distinct designs for jewels had evolved, one for Royal Arch masons affiliated to the Premier Grand Lodge and another for Antient Grand Lodge members.

Manufacturing techniques such as transfer printing were also encouraging repetition of design on larger numbers of items or enabled the same design to be repeated on different objects used in lodges such as plates, mugs, ale-jugs and loving-cups.

But it was the union of the Premier and the Antients Grand Lodges in 1813 that provided the impetus for the expansion of the masonic market. The new United Grand Lodge laid down a specific set of rules as to what a Freemason under the English Constitution could wear in his lodge and these were published as part of the Book of Constitutions.

The standardisation of regalia, together with the increasing number of lodges established as the 1800s progressed, made it easier for manufacturers to undertake ‘mass’ production, ensuring a range of competitively priced products. As additional masonic degrees appeared, each with its own governing body, they too produced their own sets of rules governing their distinctive regalia; these were duly sold by the same retailers.

The increase in masonic membership during the nineteenth century gave important purchasing power to this new market. In 1837, when Queen Victoria ascended the British throne, there were around five hundred lodges in Britain and the Empire. At her death in 1901 the number of lodges had reached almost two thousand. All these lodges needed special masonic equipment and all the new members needed their regalia.

New products were developed. For example, Richard Spencer’s catalogue illustrated a range of styles of collecting boxes. George Kenning invented his patent hanger to go over the shoulder to protect the formal clothing. The hanger provided a vehicle both for displaying the large number of jewels that it was then fashionable to wear and a convenient form of storage when not in use.

In March 1869 the final piece opening the way towards the Freemason as consumer fell into place: the first edition of Kenning’s weekly masonic newspaper, The Freemason, appeared. Kenning declared that its purpose was to have press representation for ‘a society so admirable and so extensive [with] so many members of talent and influence’.

But, importantly, the eight-page paper provided Kenning and many other businesses with the space to advertise to and Brother Higman’s Masonic Bouquet, sold in stoppered bottles and ‘greatly admired for its richness and permanency of fragrance’. As a result Freemasons were established as keen consumers for the increasing range of products that Kenning and others were supplying.

Purpose-built Masonic Halls
By the 1850s it was becoming much more common for individual lodges, or groups of lodges, to meet in dedicated masonic halls rather than rent space in other buildings such as pubs and taverns. As more lodges were established, or enlarged their membership, dedicated halls became affordable. Victorian morality and a desire for respectability also played a part, attitudes epitomised by the reaction of John Havers, a surgeon and chairman of the committee that redeveloped Freemasons’ Hall in London in the 1860s, who told fellow members: ‘It appears to me a disgrace and reproach that the most ancient, influential and by far the most wealthy Grand Lodge in the world should longer permit its headquarters to be used as a Tavern’.

Lodges had a long history of purchasing jewels and certain items of lodge furniture but now had to become significant consumers of masonic chairs, candlesticks and pictures of the Grand Master to furnish these halls. The regalia manufacturers produced comprehensive illustrated catalogues so that lodges outside London and across the Empire could purchase from them. Lodge Llynfi, No. 2965, in Glamorgan spent over £70 in 1903 (nearly £6,000 in today’s money) on furnishings.

All photographs courtesy The Library and Museum of Freemasonry, London.

The Freemason
The first edition of The Freemason was published by George Kenning on Saturday 13 March 1869. Its front cover featured an engraving of the façade of the new Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street. The newspaper was sent by rail to agents, listed in early issues, in major towns who were responsible for its distribution via railway station bookstalls and other shops. The first edition comprised eight pages with the last page devoted to advertisements for a range of goods and services.

Within a year of its first publication, the paper had doubled in size and claimed a circulation of half a million readers a year. Although it is impossible to verify this claim, the size of the paper and the number of advertisements would certainly indicate some success. Out of sixteen pages of the edition published on 11 December 1869, four and a half pages were devoted to advertisements including the first two pages and the back two pages.

As well as advertisements for masonic regalia, books and meeting places, Miss C. Wickins advertised piano lessons in Lower Norwood and the Hydro-Carbon Light Company and Shrewsbury’s boilers were advertising their products (possibly in anticipation of winter weather). Adverts for patent medicines, foodstuffs such as Colman’s British Cornflour and Cooney’s Mustard competed for the attention of readers alongside Henry Newman’s astringent toothpaste. Kenning had found a ready market for his newspaper and the Freemasons reading it could enjoy, or at least aspire to, the products of Victorian consumer society.

ugle logoSGC logo