- Museum number
Polychrome painted (red, black and gold) tankard with Masonic emblems. The Masonic design comprises a five-pointed star, set square, plumb-line and level, flanked by the initials 'E' and 'M'. It is further painted with compasses.
- Production date
- 1755 (circa)
Diameter: 5.90 inches
Height: 15.80 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Harrison-Hall and Krahl 1994:
This design combines the principal emblems of office of the most senior members of a Masonic lodge. Freemasons are members of a non-political, non-religious, semi-secret society whose internal organization involves an elaborate system of symbolic rituals. The origin of this fraternity lies in the practices of medieval stonemasons; moving from place to place in search of building work and therefore unable to form fixed trade guilds, they established lodges wherever needed. Most of the Masonic symbols derive from stonemasons' tools. These emblems are worn individually, like medals, on ribbons around the neck by officials of the lodge during meetings or ceremonies. The compass is the emblem of the Grand Master, the set square that of the Master of a lodge, the level is the emblem of a Senior, the plumb-line that of a Junior Warden. The five-pointed star refers to the seal of the biblical King Solomon, the construction of whose famous temple in Jerusalem provides the basis for much Masonic ritual. The initials 'E' and 'M' probably refer to the owner of this set or possibly to the tavern in which a certain lodge met. Lodges themselves did not have names in the 1750s; instead, groups of Freemasons adopted the names of the taverns where they held their meetings. Liverpool creamware, Staffordshire pottery and English glass are also known with initials incorporated into Masonic designs.
A bowl in the British Museum (BM Franks. 741+) appears to be the earliest dated Chinese piece with Masonic designs and the two pieces are unusual because of the simplicity of their designs. Masonic porcelain was commissioned in China from the mid-18th to the 19th century. Punchbowls and tankards seem to have been the most popular items (for a list of other important Masonic pieces, see Howard and Ayers, 1978, vol. I, p. 328). One of the most impressive Masonic pieces is an unusually large bowl known as the 'True Friendship Punch Bowl' in The Freemasons Hall Museum, London, which is inscribed 'this bowl made by Syng Chong, China Merchant of Canton' and was presented to the Lodge of True Friendship in 1813 by Brother Hugh Adams; it measures 56 cm in diameter and holds eight gallons (36.4 litres) of punch.
- On display (G33/dc39b/s3)
- Exhibition history
1995 27 Jan-26 Mar, London, BM, G91, East Meets West: Chinese Trade Ceramics in the British Museum
- Registration number