Saturday, October 10, 2009

Masonic Magazines. Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol".

With the phenomenal success of Dan Brown's latest book "The Lost Symbol", this seems a pretty good time to talk about masonic magazines. Likewise, there is another great magazine connection. With all the intrigue about the clues pertaining to the map of Washington, D.C., it should be noted that the original map of L'Enfant's plan of the capital first appeared in Universal Asylum (a continuation of Columbian Magazine, and a title perhaps appropriate title to house all somewhat insane collectors such as yours truly) in March 1792.
Here's a fragment of the original front wrapper (no hidden symbols!), the title page, the map and the text of the article that appeared in the magazine, one that Washington himself likely read.

Here's some of the present day web material, using the map as a backdrop for the theory of a hidden masonic code.

In fact, if you read the original 1792 article that accompanied the first printing of the map, you will find that the city was indeed laid out on specific geographical meridians. Why?
That's the reality. I'll leave the secret codes to Mr. Brown and his millions of readers to ponder.

Now, as promised, (drum roll, please) THE MASONIC MAGAZINES.
America's first masonic periodical was Freemason's Magazine and General Miscellany, first published in April 1811. After researching it , I was pleased to find a own a bound copy of volume 1 and that, as of 1965, there were only 8 institutions in America that had one, making it quite rare. There is pressently one disbound copy on the web for sale for $500. I can't remember when and where I got mine or what I paid for it.

Here's the prospectus and half-title page from my volume.
There have been scores of Masonic publications throughout the years. Since my collection focuses on first issues and first volumes, I have a pretty fair sampling, such as this very scarce (8 holdings in the Union List) 1820 title. Of course, eight holdings means any issue or volume, so this first issue in original wrappers may very well be the only one in existence.

Probably the most important masonic periodical is The American Quarterly Review of Freemasonry and its Kindred Sciences, published in 1858. I paid $150 for an elegantlty bound first volume (it lasted for only one other volume). Mott (volume 2) calls it "one of the masonic classics ... its list of contributors included the greatest masonic scholars of the times."
Here's a number of other first issues, in original wrappers, that I own. You will surely not see them anywhere else. Western Free Mason, for instance, published in Iowa City in 1857 by John Kennedy, the first mason initiated west of the Mississippi and north of the Missouri line, is the only known copy of this title. All the others are of great rarity.
The Masons were not without controversy or opposition. The Anti-Masonic Review and Monthly Magazine, a monthly edited by Henry Dana Ward was designed to "take note of the origin and history, of the pretensions and character, and the standard works and productions of free masonry... and to prove thats its pillars of wisdom, strength and beauty are no firmer than chalk charoal and clay."
The Masons were only one of a number of fraternal organizations. Early on, most notably were the Odd Fellows, who had many periodicals of their own.

My original 1995 book lists shows that my collection contains at least five magazine published by this order, including a volume of an otherwise unknown literary miscellany, Talisman and Odd Fellows' Magazine, published in Philadelphia in 1846, edited by Theophilus Fisk.
This is all yet another important aspect of American life and culture that can be uniquely observed though the through the medium of magazines.

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