Vol. XXIII No. 4 — April 1945

Past Master’s Jewel

The practice of a past master wearing a jewel to designate his position is very old, but not of “time immemorial.” It must have developed after the invention of the idea of wearing jewels by officers of lodges. Neither the Master or past master of an Operative lodge had a badge or jewel; they had, however, certain working tools which their rank in the Craft allowed them to use.

The earliest portrait of Past Grand Master Anthony Sayer — the first grand master of the first grand lodge (England, 1717) — shows him wearing an apron, but no jewel.

From Minutes of the mother grand lodge, dated June 24th, 1727, we learn:

Resolved, Nem. Con. that in all private lodges’ and Quarterly Communications and general meetings, Master and Wardens do wear the jewels of Masonry hanging to a white ribbon (viz) that the Master wear the Square, the Senr. Warden the Levell, the Junr. Warden the Plumb Rule.

In an article on "The lodge at the Goose and Gridiron” (which was one of the four old lodges forming the mother grand lodge in England) appearing in Ars Quat- uor Coronatorum, 1912, it is stated:

The Past Master, or, as we should now call him, the immediate past master, is first mentioned on the 5th February 1745, although the lodge had been in possession of a past master’s jewel since 1739, an early date for that badge of office, and the past master had certain stated duties. It was seldom that any Brother who had passed the Chair was distinguished by the initials ‘P.M.’: only the official, if he can be called such, being termed the ‘Past Master.’ We have one instance of a ‘P.M. pro. tem.,’ the member so acting not having served a mastership.

1739, 7 Nov. The Rt. Worshipful Master, Mr. John Figes, presented this evening to this lodge a past Master’s Jewel, his health was drank in due form for that kind present.

It was not until the year 1777, that we find the usual past master’s jewel was voted and presented for having served as a term as Master.

1777, 17 Dec. The usual compliments being paid to Bro. William Preston, Rt. W. past M: Bro. Donaldson moved that as an acknowledgement for his past Services and steady Conduct in supporting the Antient Rights and privileges of this lodge during his Presidency, he be presented with a jewel at the Expense of this lodge. . . . Resolved That five Guineas be allowed for the said Jewel.

In English lodges the immediate past master is a very important figure, the guide, philosopher and close friend and helper of the reigning Master. By this arrangement the lodge receives the benefit of his wisdom and experience, and there is no loss or confusion to the Craft. The very fact that a man has been honored by his brethren with the mastership of the lodge lays upon him an abiding obligation to put his experience at the service of the Craft.

When the office of past master became a well-acknowledged position in Speculative Masonry it became necessary to find a suitable badge. In England for at least 130 years the 47th Proposition has been added to the Master’s square, which the past master already had the right to wear.

The jewel of the past master in Scotland consists of the Square, the Compasses, and an arc of a circle. In Ireland, it is the Square and Compasses with the “G” in the center.

In the United States, generally speaking, the past masters jewel is a pair of compasses, open 60° on a quadrant, with the blazing sun in the center, but not always. Few grand lodges have legislated upon the design; among those that have, several variations from the generally accepted form are found.

In the Grand Lodge of Connecticut 1931, it was voted:

That the proper jewel for the past master of a constituent lodge of this grand jurisdiction shall be a blazing sun within the square and compasses, the points extended on a quadrant and the whole constructed of either gold or silver.

The Book of Constitutions, Grand Lodge of Kentucky states:

The jewel of a past master shall be of gold, plain, or ornamented with chasings or gems, and consist of a pair of compasses whose points are extended to about sixty degrees upon a graduated segment of a circle, between which the effulgent sun is represented. Its size and hangings, and whether the jewel be worn as a charm or a badge, are optional, but no addition of any circle or wreath or other device are to be made to this design.

Massachusetts, describing particular lodge jewels, says:

Past masters, the blazing sun within the square and compasses extended on a quadrant.

The Masonic Code of Minnesota reads:

A past master shall be entitled to wear a silver jewel, consisting of a square extended upon a quadrant of a circle, with a blazing sun in the center.

The Masonic Code of Oregon sets forth:

The Jewel of a past master shall be a pair of golden Compasses extended to 60 degrees on a Quadrant and enclosing a Blazing Sun.

Pennsylvania prescribes the past masters jewel by illustrating what is official in her Ahiman Rezon (book of the law). From a square with arms of unequal length is pendant a square frame on which is delineated the Forty-Seventh Problem of Euclid. The law states “The past master’s jewel is of silver and may be suspended by a blue ribbon, to be worn on the left lapel of the coat”

Rhode Island’s law is:

The jewel of a past master shall be a pair of golden compasses extended to 6o° on a quadrant and enclosing a blazing sun.

Thus four of these grand lodges authorize the square as a part of the past master’s jewel, and one of them will have naught of the compasses or the sun. One prescribes silver, one states the jewel may be either gold or silver.

In general, however, the past master’s jewel in America is of gold, delineating the compasses open 60° on a quadrant, and inclosing the blazing sun.

In a number of grand lodges which have not legislated about the form of the jewel, past master’s jewels are found in which the square is included with the compasses on the quadrant.

There is deep significance in the 60° opening of the compasses, which is wholly concerned with the erection of a square.

The square is preeminently the working tool of the master. But it is the past master who is supposed to have the greater experience and the mathematical knowledge by which a square is constructed. Hence his jewel is both symbolic of that knowledge and admonitory that it be so used, the blazing or effulgent sun signifying that from the past master comes light.

To understand the symbolism of the usual American form of past master’s jewel, it is necessary for the non-mathematically minded reader to know just what a “degree” is.

Ancient mathematicians had not discovered the decimal system. They used the number 60, or some power or division of 60, as a denominator for fractions, probably because it is divisible by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, and 30, a greater number of divisors than is possessed by any other number less than 60.

We still keep their system in our familiar time — 60 seconds making a minute, 60 minutes making an hour. And in spite of the decimal system, mathematicians calculate 60 seconds to the minute, 60 minutes to the degree, 60 degrees to the sixth of a circle, the whole circumference of which is 360 degrees. Mariners use these in seconds, minutes and degrees of latitude and longitude and astronomers employ them in denominating ascension and declination.

Sixty then; is an important number to mathematicians; it was vitally important to the ancients, who had no decimal system. It was of paramount interest to the builder, because by the use of the number 60 he could most easily, rapidly and accurately erect a true square, or angle of 90° or the fourth of a circle.

Herewith is a sketch. A line, A–B, is laid off, of any desired length. With the compasses open to the length of A–B, using B as a center, a circle is described. With the compasses open the same amount, using A as the center, an intersecting arc is described at C and D.

If a straight line is drawn connecting C and D, the result, at E, is a right angle.

This same “erection” of a square can of course be accomplished with the compasses open at any amount greater than A–C. But if C–B and D–B be projected, it will be found that the circle is divided into six parts, and, therefore, that the distance A–B, which is also the distance A–C and A–D is one-sixth of the circle or 60°

Circle with Right Angle

Therefore, by use of the compasses open at 60° — which can be taken from the quadrant — the past master can erect a right angle and “try the square” of the master.

Circle with Compass

Look now at the second diagram, which shows how the compasses, open 60° on a quadrant, is developed from the method of erecting a square shown in the first sketch. With both of these diagrams in mind, it is easy to understand how the familiar symbol which forms the majority of American past masters’ jewels was developed. It is because the compasses open to the arc of a circle of 60° on a quadrant is symbolic of the method by which the past master most easily may divide a circle into six parts and erect a right angle, it is thought by some students of symbolism that the inclusion of the square with the compasses in the past master’s jewel to some extent detracts from the meaning. Their thought is that if the compasses, open at 60°, are to suggest the erection of a square, the square already present seems to make the use of the compasses unnecessary.

Other symbolists hold the contrary opinion, based on the argument that the square as part of the past master’s jewel indicates not only the method and tools of erection of a geometrical angle, but shows what that angle is — a right angle or the fourth of a circle.

It will be noted that all past master’s jewels, including the English and the Pennsylvania jewel, stress the square; the common American jewel by suggesting the tool for and method of its erection; the English and Pennsylvanian by showing the square and the Forty-Seventh Problem, which of course is based on the right angle, or square.

All, therefore, attempt to put forward the thought that the vocation of the past master is the supervision of and the making of the square.

Changing the operative thinking to speculative, the teaching is obvious; the past master, in whom is supposed to be the ultimate Masonic wisdom, is in his lodge and among his fellows in general, the officers of his lodge in particular, to supervise the inculcation of those truths, mental and moral, which are themselves suggested by the square.

In England the immediate past master has certain important lodge duties. In this country, unless the past master receives an appointment to some office in lodge not in the progressive line, such as, in some lodges, master of ceremonies or assistant chaplain, the new wearer of a past master’s jewel may be lost after stepping down from the east because he has nothing to do.

If such is the case, however, the difficulty should be looked for in the man and not the system, in the individual, not the practice. Any brother who successfully has served as Master has a perspective view of his lodge and its problems not given to brethren or even to officers in the line. As no other man may, he “knows what it is all about.” He can be of the greatest possible help to his successor and thus to his lodge.

Happy the past master to whom his jewel means continued labor; contented that lodge in which the new Master turns to his predecessor for assistance, and, in difficulties, points to the jewel so proudly worn by his predecessor, asking for advice by saying: “Erect me a square!”

The Masonic Service Association of North America