Signs and Symbols

Man in Royal Arch Regalia

Man in Royal Arch Regalia, 1850-1860

United States

Museum Purchase with the assistance of the Kane Lodge Foundation


Since the formation of organized Freemasonry in the early 1700s, many men have taken pride in their association with it and other fraternal groups. In the 1800s and 1900s, some Masons commissioned portraits of themselves and, in them, chose to be presented as members of the fraternity, wearing jewelry or regalia that identified them as Masons—along with their best and most fashionable clothing. Some of these portraits marked personal achievements, such as election or appointment to a lodge office, while others included more subtle indications that the subject belonged to a fraternal group. 

Jewelry, such as small pins and badges worn as part of everyday dress, provided one clue that the subject of a portrait belonged to a fraternity. Paintings and photographs of Freemasons and Odd Fellows in their regalia—the jewels, aprons, collars, sashes, hats, and other special clothing that they wore to meetings—conveyed more information, especially to fellow members. These items tell the viewer that the subject of a portrait prized his association with a fraternity. Regalia and badges also communicated to others what specific group the subject participated in or what office the man held. In presenting himself as a Freemason or member of another fraternal organization, a portrait’s subject proclaimed his affiliation with the group as a valued part of his self-identity. He also guaranteed that he would be remembered as such for as long as the portrait endured.

Benjamin Coffin

Benjamin Coffin, 1815-1833

Probably Massachusetts

Special Acquisitions Fund, 77.12a

Knight Templar

Knight Templar, 1893

Abraham Edmonds (b. ca. 1851)

New York, New York

Gift of Walter A. Kmiec, 80.58

Caesar R. Blake, Imperial Potentate

Caesar R. Blake, Imperial Potentate, 1919-1931

Carolina Studio

Charlotte, North Carolina

Museum Purchase, 99.044.1

Royal Arch Apron

Royal Arch Apron, 1850-1870

United States

Museum Purchase, 2014.033.9