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Masons’ and Freemasons’ Marks
THE subject of Marks forms an interesting episode in the history of Masonry, both Operative and Speculative. A Mason’s Mark is a monogram, a symbol, or some other arbitrary figure chiselled by a mason on the surface of a stone for the purpose of identifying his own work and distinguishing it from that of other workmen.
Mr. Godwin, in an article "On Masons' Marks observable on Buildings of the Middle Ages," published some years ago,1 has given, perhaps, the best definition that we possess of the true character of these Sculptural figures.
He says that it can perhaps hardly be doubted that these marks were made chiefly to distinguish the work of different individuals. At the present time the man who works a stone (being different from the man who sets it) makes his mark on the bed or other internal face of it so that it may be identified. The fact, however, that in the ancient buildings it is only a certain number of stones which bear symbols - that marks found in different countries (although the variety is great) are in many cases identical, and in all have a singular accordance in character - seems to show that the men who employed them did so by system, and that the system, if not the same in England, Germany, and France, was closely analogous in one country to that of the others."
He adds that many of these signs are evidently religious and symbolical, "and agree fully with our notions of the body of men known as the Freemasons."
That there should be a purpose of identification so that the particular work of every Mason might, by a simple inspection, be recognized by his Fellows and the Lord or Master of the Works might be enabled to attribute any defect or any excellence to its proper source, was essentially necessary to constitute a Masonic Mark.
By observing this distinction we avoid the error committed by several writers of calling every device found upon a stone a mark, and thereby giving to the system of marks a greater antiquity than really belongs to it.
Thus it has been said by one writer that "Masonic Marks have been discovered on the Pyramids of Egypt, on the ruined buildings in Herculaneum, Pompeii, Greece, and Rome, and on the ancient cathedrals, castles, etc., that are to be found in almost every country of Europe."2 But the fact is that the inscriptions and devices found on stones in buildings of antiquity were most probably mythological, symbolical, or historical, being a brief record of or allusion to some important event that had occurred. If any of them were proprietary — that is, intended to identify the work or the ownership of some particular person — there is no evidence that any well-organized system of proprietary marks existed in that very early period.
Lord Lindsay, in his Letters on Egypt, Edom, and the Holy Land, inserts a description of a square building or monumental chamber, near Baalbeck, given to him by Mr. Farren, Consul-General in Syria, which was covered with small marks, on which Mr. Farren makes the following remarks: "It is very remarkable that the faces of this monument are covered with small marks cut on the stones - hieroglyphics I can not call them - they are too numerous to be accidental. I was convinced that they were not from the mere process of chiselling."3 On this statement, Mr. Godwin remarks: "Whether or not they were analogous to the marks under consideration (Masons Marks) I do not pretend to say."4 I can not myself doubt that they were not. The fact that innumerable monuments of the ancient East have been found covered with devices and hieroglyphics which the comparatively recent labours of learned mentalists and antiquaries have deciphered and shown to be mythological or symbolical, and very often historical would lead us to infer that those on the monument near Baalbeck were of the same character. The sculptures on the Pyramids, which Lyon refers to as "Masonic Marks," are really inscriptions, mostly.
Thus Mr. Ainsworth tells us that in the ruins of Al-Hadhr, in Mesopotamia, "every stone, not only in the chief building, but in the walls and bastions and other public monuments when not defaced by time, is marked with a character, which is for the most part either a Chaldea letter or numeral.
Some of the letters resemble the Roman and others were apparently astronomical signs, among which the ancient mirror and handle were very common."5 Ainsworth’s description is too meager to supply the foundation for an hypothesis, but we are hardly warranted in ascribing to the Chaldean letters and astronomical signs the character of proprietary marks, such as those practiced by the Freemasons of the Middle Ages.
The sculptures on the Pyramids which Mr. Lyon refers to as "Masonic marks," are, as we have reason for believing, inscriptions, mostly in the cursive character generally recording the names of the different kings in whose reigns they were constructed.
Again, the Messrs. Waller, in a work on Monumental Brasses,6 describe a monument to Sir John de Creke and Lady Alyne, his wife, at Wesley Waterless, in Cambridgeshire, about 1325, which is inscribed with a monogram or device consisting of the letter N, with a half moon on one side, and a star, or more probably the sun, on the other, and a mallet above. This is supposed to have been the device of the artist.
But the same is found on a seal attached to a deed dated 1272, wherein Walter Dixi, called Caementarius de Bernewelle, conveys certain lands to his son Lawrence. The seal has for its legend the words, S. Walter: Le: Massume.
Messrs. Waller think that the occurrence of a similar device in two instances seems to show that it was not an individual mark, but that it may have been the badge of some guild of Masons. On the contrary, the use of it as a seal on a deed of conveyance proves that it was a family device. It is probable that the monumental brass referred to above was the work of the son or grandson of the Caementarius or Mason who conveyed the land fifty-three years before, and whose family seal as well as his profession was retained by his descendant.
Mr. Godwin gives from the Gloucester Cathedral a mark or device in the form of a seal, consisting of a mallet between a half moon and a sun.
This will give some show of probability to the hypothesis that this device was the badge of some early Masonic guild. But the interpolation of the letter would also tend to show that Walter Dixi had adopted the guild device with the addition of the letter, to form his own private seal, which he also used as his mark.
If this be so, then this would be a very early specimen of a proprietary mark. While, however, it presents the characteristic of a mark used to designate the personality of a workman who constructed the brass, it differs in its complicated form from the more simple marks used by the medieval Masons. The Messrs. Waller, whose theory was that it was the badge of a guild of Masons, say that this will suggest "that the same minds that designed the architectural structures of the Middle Ages also designed the sepulchral monuments." Without accepting the truth of the premises there can be no doubt of the correctness of the conclusion.
The same artistic skill and taste that were displayed in the exterior construction of churches and cathedrals was also employed in their interior decorations, sepulchral and otherwise, and the same class of artists were engaged in both tasks.
If the profession and the "seal of Walter the Mason" were retained, as we may well suppose, by his descendant, then we have the very best evidence that the sepulchral brass of Sir John de Creke and his wife were designed and constructed by a Mason, who used his family seal as his proprietary mark.
Letters, as initials of the names of the workmen, are repeatedly found among the medieval Masons' marks. This letter N is met with on stones in the Church of St. Rudegonde, at Poitiers, in France, and in different churches in Scotland.
Mr. Lyon gives, from the Minute Book of the Lodge of Edinburgh, and Mr. Godwin, from personal observation of stones in the churches of England and the continent of Europe, many marks consisting only of letters, single and double, of which the following are specimens: Besides this class of what may be called literal marks, being evidently the initials of the names of the workmen who inscribed them, there was a second class of marks which were geometrical, consisting of angles, curves, circles, and other mathematical figures. These were far more common than the literal, and have been found in great variety. The following are a few specimens taken from English, Scottish, and Continental churches: The great prevalence of these marks, composed of mathematical lines, is a strong confirmation of the truth of the opinion entertained by Paley, Lindsay, and many other writers, that the secret of the medieval Freemasons was the application of the principles of geometry to the art of building. This secret, the magnificent results of which were exhibited in the great Cathedrals and other massive edifices erected during the Middle Ages in the Gothic style, has been lost to the professional or Operative Masons of the present day. But its influence is still felt by the Speculative Freemasons, who succeeded the Operative Lodges as organized bodies, and who, when they abandoned the operative art, or rather transmuted it into a science, still retained, so far as they possibly could, the relics of the older institution.
Hence we find these Speculative, or, as they called themselves, "Free and Accepted Masons," made "right angles, horizontals, and perpendiculars" the basis of all their manual modes of recognition, and declared that "geometry was the foundation of Masonry."
A third class of marks may be designated as the symbolical. And here I am compelled to dissent from the views of Bro. Lyon, who says that "there is no ground for believing that in the choice of their marks the 16th century Masons were guided by any consideration of their symbolical quality or of their relation to the propositions of Euclid."7 Symbolism, as a means of giving a language and a spiritual meaning to their labour, was a science thoroughly understood and practiced by the Masons who invented the Gothic style. Findel says that they symbolized their working tools, a custom in which they have been closely imitated by their Speculative successors.
The symbolism of the Gothic architects has already been sufficiently discussed in a previous chapter, and it is now necessary to advert to it only in reference to the fact that the symbols used by the builders in the ornamentation of the churches furnished them also with a fertile supply of marks.
We must not, therefore, confound the more complicated decorations used as symbols on the exterior and in the interior of churches, such as gargoyles, rose windows, cathedral wheels, etc., with the simpler forms of some of these symbols which were adopted by the builders as proprietary marks.
As these symbolic marks presupposed that those who adopted them to designate their work must have understood their meaning, it would not be a very bold assumption to believe that the use of them for that purpose was confined to the more intellectual portion of the workmen.
The adoption of a symbol for a mark would, in general, indicate that the person who adopted it was one who had extended his studies to the highest principles of his art and had made himself conversant with the science of symbolism.
If this reasoning were accepted, we should then recognize another class lower in culture than the former and less familiar with the occult elements of their profession, though perhaps equally skillful in all its practical operations. Being therefore familiar with the method of applying geometry to the art of building, these workmen would be likely to select mathematical figures for marks.
Pursuing the same train of reasoning we would find a third and still lower class, far inferior to either of the two preceding classes in intellectual culture and having sluggish minds wholly uninspired by anything that was not purely practical in their profession. As they would be compelled, by the regulations of the guild or as they were guided by their own inclination, to distinguish the stones which they had wrought from those of other workmen, we might suppose that they would be content to achieve that object by using the simplest method that could present itself, which, of course, would be the initial letter of their name.
We would thus have, if we accepted this theory, an easy method of detecting when we inspected the stones of a medieval edifice constructed by the old Gothic Freemasons, not only the practical skill in architecture of the builders whose works have been individualized by their proprietary marks, but also the intellectual cultivation of each workman. This one we might say was high in art, for he had cultivated the symbolism which was its highest development; this one had not aspired so high, but had confined himself to its geometric formula; but this one was low in intellectual cultivation, with little if any identity or imagination, for he had contented himself with no more ingenious device to designate his labour than the simple sculpture of a letter of his name.
The acceptance of such a theory as this would, I confess, very readily relieve the antiquary from all the embarrassments which he encounters, in the attempt to explain the reason of this diversity in the character of the Masonic marks of the Middle Ages, and would enable him to explain why they are not all of one kind — not all monogrammatic, or all geometrical, or all symbolic.
Unfortunately, however, for the easy solution of the problem, another theory has been proposed by M. Didron, to which further reference will be directly made, which ascribes the monogrammatic marks to the higher class of workmen or overseers, and the bolic and mathematical to the inferior class of masons.
This theory is not untenable, because it is based upon the well-known fact that in the Middle Ages the art of writing was not so generally diffused as it is now. Many persons of high station were unable to sign their names, and there are instances where kings have affixed the sign of the cross to charters, assigning; as a reason pro ignorantia literarum in consequence of their ignorance of writing. Now, it is not to be supposed that the lower order of Masons were any better instructed, and as the use of initials would indicate a knowledge of letters, it may be inferred that only the more educated part of the fraternity used this method of making their proprietary mark, while crosses, angles, shoes, triangles, and other similar figures would be adopted by those who were unacquainted with the use of letters.
But reasonable and plausible as this theory may at first glance appear, neither it nor the former are sustained by the facts that are within our knowledge.
In Mr. Lyon’s most valuable work on the Edinburgh Lodge we will find several facsimiles of minutes of the lodge, in which are the signatures of the officers and members. Now, a careful inspection of these marks does not reveal any such arraignment as is indicated in either of the two theories, and, therefore, supports neither.
Let us take, for instance, a minute of the lodge in June, 1600. Here there are thirteen signatures and thirteen marks. Of these but one, that of the Warden, Thomas Vier, or Weir, is a monogram; the twelve others, all of them Maisteris, or Masters, are mathematical, or symbolical. Here we might infer that the chief officer alone used a monogram, which would, to some extent, sustain M. Didron’s theory.
But on the inspection of another minute of the year 1634 we find that the Deacon and Warden use initial letters for their marks, while Anthony Alexander, the highest Masonic officer in the kingdom, being the King’s Master of the Work, adopts a symbolic mark, a practice that was imitated by Sir Alexander Strachan, who had just been admitted as a Fellow Craft.
There is so much contradiction in these records, in reference to any appropriation of marks of a particular kind to distinctive classes of workmen, that we are compelled to leave the whole question "under advisement."
It is, perhaps, a plausible solution to suppose that the choice of a mark being left entirely to each workman it became a mere matter of taste, and that while some were contented with a monogram or merely an initial letter, others, more imaginative, would select a symbol, or, if they were peculiarly mathematical in their notions, would take a geometrical figure.
It was probably only to one of the first class that could be truthfully assigned the title borne by that skillful architect, who had been summoned from Germany by Ludovic Sforza to complete the Cathedral of Milan, and who, doubtless for his skill in symbolic architecture by which he gave to stones an instructive voice, was called Magister de vivis lapidibus— "Master of living stones."
Four of these symbolic marks, which are of comparatively frequent occurrence, are the pentalpha, the double triangle, the fylfot, and the vesica piscis, which are delineated in that order in the following cut: It is worthy of note that not one of these four marks here delineated are of purely Masonic origin. The first, which is the Pentalpha, is derived from the Greek, and was, in the school of Pythagoras, a symbol of health. Among the Orientalists it was deemed to be a talisman against evil, and is often seen on old coins of Britain and Gaul, where it is supposed to have been a symbol of Deity. It was finally adopted by the early Christians, who referred its five points to the five wounds of Jesus, and it is probable that through this character as an ecclesiastical symbol it passed over to the Freemasons, whose organization, as we have seen, was at first purely ecclesiastical.
The second is a Hebrew symbol and known as the shield of David, and sometimes as the seal of Solomon, and was considered by the ancient Jews as a talisman of great efficacy, because it had a recondite allusion to the Tetragrammaton or four-lettered, incommunicable name of God.
The early Christians adopted it and made the two intersecting triangles symbols of the two natures of Christ, the divine and human. Thence it became a favourite decoration of the Gothic architects and is to be found in most of the medieval churches.
The third mark, here delineated, is what is known as the Fylfot, or Mystic cross of the Buddhists. It is found in Egypt, in Etruria, on the Scandinavian Runic stones, and on British and Gaulish coins.
The fourth of these marks is known as the Vesica Piscis. The fish was universally accepted among the early Christians as a symbol of Jesus, and is found constantly inscribed on the tombs in the Catacombs. The fish was adopted as an emblem of Jesus, because the letters of the Greek word for fish form the initials of the words in the same language which signify "Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour." At first, as it appears in the Catacombs, it presented the correct, though rudely drawn, shape of a fish. It afterward assumed the abbreviated form of an oval. In this latter form it was frequently employed by the Freemasons of the Middle Ages as a symbolic decoration, and the seals of all religious communities and ecclesiastical persons were made of the same shape.
Albert Dürer, who was a distinguished architect of the 15th century, wrote a work on Geometry in which he says that the vesica piscis is formed by two intersecting circles which produce two pointed arches, one above and one below. It is probable that it was in reference to this idea, which was not confined to Albert Dürer, that the pointed arch, the peculiar characteristic of the Gothic style, was suggested by the intersection of the two circles which also form the vesica, piscis, that the Freemasons adopted it as a mark, though its early religious origin would also sufficiently account for the introduction of it into church or Gothic architecture.
But the further discussion of these symbolic marks appertains more properly to a subsequent portion of this work which is to be specially devoted to the investigation and interpretation of Masonic symbolism.
Various other classifications of these marks have been made by different writers who have investigated this interesting subject.
M. Didron, who collected a great many of these marks in France, thought that they were divided into two classes, namely, those of the overseers of the works, the magistri operum, and the men who wrought the stones. The marks of the first class, he says, consist generally of monogrammatic characters and are placed separately on the stones; while those of the second class partake more of the nature of symbols, such as shoes, trowels, mallets, and other objects of a similar kind.
Other writers have divided these marks into three classes, and suppose that some were peculiar to the Apprentices, others to the Fellows, and others again to the Masters.
There is abundant historical evidence, especially in the Ordinances of the German Masons, that Apprentices were sometimes invested with a mark, particularly when, for certain reasons, they were permitted to travel, before the expiration of their time, in search of employment.
But I do not find any authentic means by which we can distinguish from the appearance of any mark, or from any other cause, the marks which were peculiar to any grade, or by which we can authoritatively distinguish the mark of an Apprentice from that of a Fellow or Master.
Speaking of the traditional arrangement of marks into distinctive classes for each of the three grades of Masters, Fellows, and Apprentices, Mr. Lyon says that "the practice of the Lodge of Edinburgh, or that of Kilwinning, as far as can be learned from their records, was never in harmony with the teachings of tradition on that point."8 What is thus said of the Scottish Masons may, I think, be said with equal correctness of those of Germany and England. Indeed if, as will hardly be denied, the system of proprietary marks was originally derived from the German Masons, who perfected, if they did not invent, it at Strasburg, it is reasonable to suppose that the same or very similar regulations must have prevailed in every country into which the system was introduced. There might have been some modifications to suit local circumstances, but there would have been no radical changes.
We must, therefore, reject the theory that there was any distinction of marks appropriated to the three ranks of workmen. Certainly, at the present day, we have no authority for recognizing any such distinction.
There are, however, outside of any question as to the classification of the marks many circumstances and conditions connected with them which are of a highly interesting character.
In the first place, the antiquity of the custom among architects and builders of placing marks upon stones is worthy of notice. But in treating this question of the early origin and use of marks by builders, we must not forget the distinction, which has already been referred to, between such marks as were used simply as symbols, and intended to express some religious idea, and those which were adopted by builders to designate and claim the proprietorship in a stone, and which have hence been called proprietary marks.
There is the very best evidence, that of the stones themselves, to prove that symbols were sometimes represented by hieroglyphics, and sometimes by pictured representations of objects. The hieroglyphical inscriptions on the monuments of ancient Egypt and the emblems sculptured in profusion on the topes or Buddhist towers of Central India,9 though often resembling the more modern Masonic marks, are known to have been used only as the expressions of religious ideas.
They were symbols and not marks.10 The proprietary marks may, however, be traced as far back as the end of the 10th century, and are to be found upon the walls of the Cathedral of St. Mark in Venice. As this edifice was constructed after the Byzantine method and by Greek architects brought to Venice by the government for that purpose, we may safely adopt the conclusion of Mr. Fort, that Masonic proprietary marks were first introduced into western Europe by the corporations of Byzantine Masons.11 It is very probable that the use of Masonic marks at that period was regulated by a system similar to that which prevailed at a later time among the German Masons. But this can be only a matter of conjecture. No regulations on the subject have been preserved, if any such existed. All that we can presume from the testimony of the stones themselves, is that as the design of these marks was to afford the means of distinguishing the work of each artisan, each mark must have been the exclusive property of the mason who used it.
It is not until the organization of the fraternity of Freemasons, which took place at Strasburg Cathedral in the 15th century, and the adoption of their Ordinances, that we obtain any documentary information of the mode in which the proprietary marks of the medieval builders were regulated.
The universality of these marks is another point in their history that is worthy of notice. By their universality is meant their prevalence in every country into which the Freemasons penetrated, and into which they extended their peculiar system of architecture. From the northern parts of Scotland to the island of Malta, we will meet with these marks sculptured on the stones of buildings which had been constructed by this brotherhood of builders. It is curious says Mr. Godwin, to find these marks exactly the same in different countries, and descending from early times to the present day.12 The fact that in a great many instances identical marks have been found in countries widely separated, proves, as Mr. Godwin claims, in a passage already quoted, that the men who employed them did so by a system which must have prevailed in all essential points in all those countries.
M. Didron gives the following illustration of this fact. He found stones marked in the Cathedral of Rheims with a certain monogrammatic character, and the outline of the sole of a shoe; other stones with the same monogram and the outline of two soles, and others again with the same character and the outline of three soles.
The use of the same monogram would indicate a close connection, perhaps in the same guild or lodge, while the variation in the number of soles would indicate that each of the marks belonged to a different person.
This mark M. Didron calls the shoe mark — a very proper designation. As he found the same shoe mark at Strasburg, and in no other place, he accounts very reasonably for that fact by supposing that certain of the workmen at Rheims had been brought from Strasburg.
Dr. Krause has given in his great work a plate of marks found in the church of Batalha in Portugal, and which he says are similar to marks found in a church near Jena in Germany.13 One of them of a rather complicated form is also to be seen among the marks recorded in the minute book of the Lodge of Edinburgh, copies of which are contained in Mr. Lyon’s History of that lodge.
Amid the immense variety of marks suggested to the mind of the Mason, by an unlimited number of objects, it is very likely that sometimes two stonecutters, living at remote distances from each other, might, by a mere accident of caprice, select the same object for the mark of each.
This especially might happen in the case of figures well known, from some religious or symbolic use to which they had been applied. Such, for instance, were the pentalpha, the mystical vesica piscis, or fish, the shield of David, the square and compass, and others of a like import, which were familiarly known in the Middle Ages as religious symbols.
Hence the fact that any one of these figures is found to be inscribed on stones in two or more places, would not necessarily indicate that the same workman had migrated from one of these places to the others and carried with him his own peculiar mark. Two, three, or more Masons, living in different places and who had never seen each other, might each have selected, without reference to the others, so familiar a figure as the pentalpha or the fish,14 for his proprietary mark. And this undoubtedly did occur, for we find these figures used as marks in buildings very remotely distant from each other, and sculptured at such different epochs as to make it impossible that they could all have been the work of one and the same man.
But, as a general rule, when we meet with the same mark in two places, between which there may have been a possible connection, and at times not far separated, it is a legitimate presumption that the marks belonged to the same person, and that he had migrated from one place to the other and had carried his skill and the mark of his skill with him.
The method by which these marks were obtained by the workmen or bestowed upon them is perhaps the most important and the most interesting part of their history.
The knowledge of the Regulations of the Strasburg Masons and of the customs of the same fraternity in Scotland has been transmitted to us, and we are at no loss to describe the method of bestowing marks which was practiced in Germany and Scotland.15 It is, however, singular that neither in the Regulations of Etienne Boileau in France, nor in any of the old Constitutions in England, is there the slightest reference to the subject of Masonic proprietary marks.
We learn, however, from the inspection of buildings still remaining, that the custom of using proprietary marks was practiced by the Masons in both those countries, and we may justly presume that the same or analogous regulations as to their government existed among the French and English Masons as did among the German and Scottish.
Among the German Freemasons of the Middle Ages, when an Apprentice had served his time he became a Fellow, and on being admitted into the Fraternity he received a mark, which he was to carve on the stones which he wrought, so as to identify his work.
The peculiar form of the mark may, we suppose have been selected by the workman, though the statutes speak of it as having been "granted and conceded to him by the craft or corporation," and having been once selected or granted, he was never, as we learn from a clause in the Strasburg Ordinances of 1563,16 permitted afterward to change it — wherever, in the course of his nomadic life as a wandering artisan, he might travel — into whatsoever region he might go in search of work, however distant it might be, he was bound to use the same mark in designating the materials which he had wrought.
Hence it is that we account, in a great many instances, for the repetition of the same mark in various places widely separated. Sometimes it might happen that, by a casual coincidence, two masons, in different places and wholly unknown to each other, would choose the same figure for a mark, but, as a general rule, especially where the mark was at all complicated or peculiar in shape, it would be right to infer that the stone so marked in two places must have been the work of the same artisan who had immigrated from one place to the other.
Thus, as it has already been shown, the "shoe marks," as they have been called, which are very peculiar and complex, accompanied as each is by a monogram, having been found in the Cathedral of Strasburg and also in that of Rheims, it has been justly assumed by M. Didron that they were the proprietary marks of certain Masons of Strasburg who had been brought to Rheims and who continued to use there those marks of proprietorship which they had originally adopted at the former place.
From this necessity of identification, so that the stones wrought by one Mason might be easily distinguished from those which were worked by all the others, it followed that no two workmen who were attached to the same sodality or lodge ever selected precisely the same mark. There were some forms, such as angles, crosses, squares, and triangles, which, being familiar to these geometric Masons, would naturally be suggested to the mind as appropriate figures for marks, and such figures were, accordingly, often selected. But in every case some modification of the original form has been made, which, however minute, has been sufficient to show a distinct difference, so as to easily enable every inspector to recognize it.
Thus of ninety-one proprietary marks copied by Mr. Lyon in his History of the Lodge of Edinburgh from the minute-book of that lodge, no two can be found which are precisely alike. Yet it will be also found that certain forms seem to have been suggested to different minds, but, as has been already said, the original form has always been adopted, with some addition or change necessary to preserve its character and usefulness as a token of proprietorship.
Thus the figure of a lozenge with two sides extended inferiorly, which I am inclined to think was at first suggested by the vesica piscis given in a preceding page of this work, with the circle changed into straight lines for the greater facility of being carved on stone, appears to have been a favourite mark.
Of this mark I have found no less than eleven variations, all of them completely distinct, each from the others, and yet every one preserving evident traces of the original type. Of these marks the following copies are here inserted, taken from the two plates in Bro. Lyon’s work. The first is the original type, and it will be readily seen by inspection, how much and yet how little all the others differ from it. This is a very striking instance of the manner in which these old Masons often fabricated their proprietary marks. One would select some popular and well-known symbol, and several others of less inventive genius would copy his design with some slight modification, or, in the language of the heralds, each would bear his mark "with a difference."
And as the heralds invented and used these "differences" in coat armour, to indicate a descent of all the bearers from one common ancestor, so might we not, with the aid of a very little romance, suppose that the owners of these similar marks bore some close affinity by relationship or friendship and intimacy to the owner of the original type.
But this thought is scarcely worth pursuing, though the results of an investigation on this point would be very interesting if we had any authentic method of making it.
As a general rule, Masters and Fellows only were entitled to use marks.
But in Germany there were certain circumstances under which the privilege was extended to Apprentices. Thus according to the Statutes of 1462, when a Master had no employment for his Apprentice, he permitted him to go forth in search of work, and on such occasions a mark was assigned to him.17 But this was only a temporary loan to be used by the Apprentice while away. It was still the Master’s mark. Apprentices in Germany were not invested with marks during their Lehrjaren or time of apprenticeship.
This appears from the next statute in the same Ordinances, where it is expressly stated that "no Master shall be permitted to bestow a mark upon his Apprentice until he had served out his time."18 It will be noted that in the former of these regulations which have just been cited, the verb "to lend," verleihen, is used, and in the latter the verb is "to grant or bestow," verschenken. The Apprentice might get the temporary loan of a mark for a special purpose, but under no circumstances could he be permanently invested with one. That prerogative belonged only to the Masters and Fellows.
It was different with the Scottish Freemasons. The Schaw Statutes, promulgated by William Schaw, Master of Work in 1598 and in 1599, had the same authority with the Masons in Scotland as the "Old Charges" had in England, the Ordinances of Strasburg and Torgau had in Germany, or the Regulations of Etienne Boileau had in France.
Accepting the authority of these Statutes we can be at no loss on the subject of marks. They say nothing about the marks of Apprentices, but they direct that on the reception into the fraternity of a Master or Fellow, his name and mark shall be inserted in a book kept for the purpose, together with the date of his reception.
But the minutes of Mary’s Chapel Lodge and of Kilwinning Lodge furnish ample evidence that the privilege of the mark was sometimes extended to Apprentices, that their marks were also registered, and that they paid a fee for the registration.
It is probable that a satisfactory reason may be assigned why the Apprentices in Scotland received the privilege of marks which, as far as can be learned, was not conferred upon them in other countries.
Apprentices elsewhere were always under the immediate control of their Masters, and did no work independently and for which they were responsible to the owners, the Masters of course assuming all responsibility for the acts of their Apprentices.
But in Scotland, Apprentices were sometimes permitted to undertake work for themselves, and thus for a time they became as Masters, and were therefore, like them, required to have a proprietary mark.
Thus in the Schaw Statutes for 1598 we meet with this clause, which is here, however, transferred from the archaic Scottish idiom of the original to our modern intelligible vernacular: "Item, it shall not be lawful for an Entered Apprentice to take in hand any greater task or work than will extend to the sum of ten pounds, under the penalty aforesaid, namely twenty pounds, and that task being done, he shall undertake no more without the license of the Masters or Warden where they dwell."
Here the position of the Scotch Apprentice was similar to that occupied by the German, when the Master, having no work for him, permitted him to travel in search of employment and at the same time loaned him his mark; that is, gave him permission to use it and to inscribe it on the stones which he finished.
But the Scotch Apprentice was more liberally treated. His mark became a permanent possession, and like those of the Masters and Fellows was registered in the book of the lodge.
As to the formality with which the Mason was invested with his mark, the custom varied in Scotland and in Germany. What it was in England and France we can not tell, as no records touching this subject are extant.
In Scotland the registering of the mark as well as the name of the Fellow Craft appears from the Schaw Statutes to have been a necessary part of the form of reception. But it does not follow that he was at that time invested with it, for he may have selected it while an Apprentice, for the minutes of the Lodge of Edinburgh show that any Apprentice might have a mark if he was willing to pay for it.19 There is no evidence that any especial ceremony beyond that of registration accompanied what in Scottish phraseology was called the giving, choosing, taking or receiving of a mark. In none of the Scottish records, says Bro. Lyon, is there anything pointing to a special ceremony in connection with their adoption.20
The custom was otherwise in Germany. Findel describes the ceremony of reception, which resembled, in many respects, the modern form of initiation into the First degree. Of this rather impressive ceremony the investment with a peculiar mark constituted a preliminary part.21 The Ordinances of 1462 prescribed that when a mark is presented there shall be a banquet given by the Master of the Lodge, to which a few ecclesiastics and not more than ten Fellows shall be invited. The cost of this feast was to be very moderate, and if the workman who received the mark, and in whose honour it was given, desired to have a larger provision, it was to be provided at his expense.22 Dr. Krause, in commenting on this article of the 1563 Ordinances, says that everyone who was to be admitted a Fellow received at the time a mark which was to be peculiar to himself, consisting of straight lines and curves joined together in the form of angles.23 According to Heldmann this mark was called the Ehrenzeichen, or distinctive mark of a Fellow, and that a copy of it was appended to the margin of the register or record of his admission.
Krause calls it also "Namenchiffer," the cipher of the name, and adds, that with it the Fellow marked all stones in the making of which superior skill was employed.
"Hence we find," he says, "in every country of Europe in the buildings which were constructed by Gothic art on single stones, and also on the outside of the edifice, such name, ciphers, or marks."
Krause also says that at the time of giving the Fellow his mark, he probably also received a particular name.
But of this circumstance, which, after all, Krause relates as only a probability, I have met with no substantiating testimony in any other authority.
I am inclined to believe, contrary to the opinion of some writers, that there was but little or indeed no ceremony of any secret nature accompanying the bestowal of the mark. The only formality appears to have consisted in the giving by the lodge of a banquet.
But that there were exoteric ceremonies accompanying this is to be inferred from the fact that a few ecclesiastics were admitted among the guests.
The giving of a banquet by the lodge was also prescribed by the Schaw Statutes of 1599 to be given by and in the lodge on the entry of Apprentices and the admission of Fellow Crafts. (1) But Mr. Lyon thinks that the custom was afterward abolished and the feast compounded for by a sum of money paid by the entrant to the lodge. (2) The Masons often made use of their marks as seals, and Steiglitz has given, in his work on Old German Architecture, (2) several specimens of marks used as seals. We have already seen, in a preceding part of this chapter, that the mark of Walter Dixi, the English Mason, was adopted by him as a family seal and affixed as such to a deed of conveyance in the 14th century.
Lastly we have to inquire whether proprietary marks were hereditary. We have no evidence that there was any statute or Ordinance regulating this matter, but there can hardly be any doubt that in many instances the son voluntarily adopted the mark of his father. The case of the family of Dixi, just referred to, is an instance in point where a mark appears to have descended through at least three generations.
But a circumstance occurred during the Session of the Archaeological Association at Canterbury in September, 1844, which it would seem ought to set this question of the descent of marks by voluntary inheritance completely at rest.
It is stated in the Archaeological Journal that a member of the Association, believing that marks were quite arbitrary on the part of the workmen and had no connection either one with another or with Freemasonry, requested Mr. Godwin to accompany him to the Mason’s yard which was attached to the Cathedral. When there he called one of the elder men and asked him to make his, mark upon a piece of stone.
The man complied, and being asked why he made that particular form, said that it was his father’s mark (1) All bankattis for entrie of prenteis or fallow of craftis to be maid within the said Lodge of Kilwinning, Schaw Statutes, 1599.
(2) "History of the Lodge of Edinburgh," p. 44.
(3) "Von altdeutscher Baukunst" C.S. Steiglitz, Leipzig, 1820.
and his grandfather’s mark, and that his grandfather had received it from the lodge. (1) Doubtless if the inquiry had been continued it would have been found that many other marks had passed from father to son. Indeed, nothing is more natural where the latter has pursued the profession of the former.
Our investigations have led to the following conclusions: 1. The existence of proprietary marks on European buildings may be traced as far back as the 10th century, and they were probably brought over at that time by the Greek artists who introduced the Byzantine style of architecture, for which the Freemasons afterward substituted the Gothic.
2. But it was not until the 15th century that we were furnished with any historical evidence that there was an organized system of laws by which the imparting, owning, and using of these marks was regulated.
Doubtless such a system had been in existence long before, but its practice was regulated by oral and traditional usages, until old customs, having begun to be neglected or forgotten, it was found necessary to renew them by written Constitutions.
Hence it is in the German Ordinances of 1462 that we are to look for the first written laws regulating the subject of proprietary marks.
If we have no authentic documents which refer to this subject anterior to the 15th century, it is not because a system of giving and receiving marks, and a prescribed method of using them, did not exist anterior to that period, but because, to use the language of Bro. Findel, (2) it was only when the ancient forms had begun to fall into disuse, when the taste for forming leagues and confederacies was on the wane, and when the true comprehension of the signification of the ancient ritual, usages, and discipline was beginning to disappear, that the Masons felt the necessity of reviving the ancient landmarks and of giving them authority by written Constitutions.
Of these "ancient landmarks" not the least important was the (1) "Archaeological Journal," vol. i., p. 383, note, cited by Mr. Pryor in the "Freemasons' Quarterly Review," 1845, p. 441.
(2) "History of Freemasonry" (Lyon’s Translation), P. 73.
use by Stonemasons of proprietary marks, and hence we find that regulations for their government were not revived or re-established, but transferred from oral tradition to a written document, so that there might be no defense or palliation of a disobedience or infringement of them.
3. As we find this system of marks prevailing in Germany, in France, in England, and in Scotland, as well as in many other places, we have a right to infer that as the marks were often of the same form, the same system of regulations prevailed in all those countries.
4. The marks were not arbitrarily selected, and liable to be changed at the fancy or caprice of the owner, but were only obtained after laborious study of the principles of the Gothic art and adequate proofs of skill; and having been bestowed with some formal ceremony, however brief, the proprietor was not permitted at any time or for any cause to change the form or character of the mark, but was obliged always after its acceptance to retain it and to affix it to all stones which he fabricated with superior skill and care.
5. These marks were sometimes monogrammatic, sometimes geometrical, and sometimes symbolic, but, notwithstanding some few writers have entertained a contrary opinion, there is no authentic evidence that the choice of the character of the mark was governed by any rules which bestowed the marks with either of these characteristics upon different classes or ranks of the workmen. Yet it is not improbable that some such rules may have prevailed, though there is no documentary evidence extant of their existence. It must, however, be confessed that the fact that in Germany Apprentices were permitted, under certain circumstances, to employ the marks of their Masters, would seem to indicate that there could not have been any difference in the character of the marks used by different ranks of Masons.
6. In some cases proprietary marks were hereditary, and there are instances known where the son or the grandson has assumed the mark of his father or grandfather. But there does not seem to have been any law making such hereditary transmission obligatory. If the son adopted the mark of his father it was because he chose to do so, and he might with perfect propriety, and most frequently did, select a different mark.
All Statutes and Ordinances are silent on the subject.
Very intimately connected with this subject of proprietary marks is that of the Mark degree, which, whatever was the date and the place of its origin, was undoubtedly founded on and to be traced to the usages of the Operative Masons.
The fact of the existence of this degree, which continues the usage of marks in modem rituals, is another important link in the chain which connects the Operative Masonry of the Middle Ages with the Speculative Masonry of the present day.
As such it is entitled to due investigation, and it will therefore be made the subject of the succeeding chapter, though the continuity of our researches into the progress of medieval Masonry will, by this course, be to some extent interrupted.
But I know no better plan than to let the history of Speculative Mark Masonry immediately and continuously follow that of Operative Mark Masonry. It is but the transfer from the treatment of a cause to that of its effect.

An edited version of this chapter can be found in Chapter xlviii New Revised Enlarged Mackey’s History of Freemasonry by Robert Ingham Clegg with the co-operation of many eminent authorities including William James Hughan. vol. 3 The Masonic History Company, Chicago, New York, London. 1921. [663-]1016p. 27 cm x 21 cm pp. 835-859. Footnotes renumbered and placed on a separate page: freemasonry.bcy.ca/history/marks/marksnotes.html.


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