Volume LIVMay 2007Number 2

The Masonic Temple's Own Support Our Constitution Flag
by Andrew A. Zellers-Frederick, Executive Director,The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania

On Flag Day last year, the prestigious auction house Sotheby's in New York City, sold four rare American Revolutionary War battle flags for a record-setting $17,392,000. These flags, with unquestionable provenance, had been originally captured from American Patriot forces by British Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton, who held the infamous title of "Bloody Ban" among his adversaries because of his displays of cruelty. They had been taken back to Great Britain following the British surrender at Yorktown where they remained in Tarleton's family for 225 years until they were offered to Sotheby's to sell at auction. It is documented that "Revolutionary War flags are extremely rare," with only about 30 or so of this era currently existing within the United States.

The significance of this auction and the focus placed on American flags of the late 18th century era did not go unnoticed. Brothers Frank Bell and Michael G. Comfort of St. Alban Lodge No. 529 approached Bro. Dennis Buttleman, curator for the Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania, about a flag currently on display on the lower floor of the Masonic Temple and its well-known need for stabilization, preservation and conservation. The beautiful 4' x 6' white silk flag has the painted image of the early American federal eagle with 17 eight-pointed stars spaced around its top and sides. Symbolically emblazoned across the flag are the inspirational words Support Our Constitution which help to indicate that the flag is from the early days of the American Federal Republic. Brothers Bell and Comfort thought it would be a wonderful project for St. Alban Lodge to support these efforts for the flag.

Recognizing that the Support Our Constitution flag is important both to our institution and the nation, Bro. Buttleman researched more of the flag's history and obtained an estimate for the cost of its needed work. The respected firm of Philadelphia Textile & Object Conservation, under conservator Nancy K. Love, was commissioned to analyze the flag and prepare a detailed report outlining the careful treatment it requires. In addition, Dean Kahn, a renowned conservator whose firm also has previously accomplished projects for our museum, was consulted about creating a handsome new case, to protect and properly display the flag for enjoyment by current and future generations.

Our records indicate that the flag was donated to the Masonic Temple by Washington Lodge No. 59 in 1885. It had been a gift to the lodge, along with a musket of the same era, bequeathed by Bro. William J. Fulton. In a letter dated 12 December 1885, it was stated the flag was carried throughout the American Revolution and later the War of 1812. However, the report provided by Nancy Love indicated the flag's date was closer to around 1790-1800 and the various physical items depicted on it identify the period immediately following the 1787 adoption of the U.S. Constitution.

We researched other existing late 18th century flags owned by organizations and institutions throughout the country to learn the methods these flags received for conservation and exhibition. Surprisingly, many of the surviving flags of this era are available for public viewing in various institutions with the majority on the east coast. We contacted the various owners of these flags and, in addition to information on their flags, each owner has sent The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania a letter of support that may be included with grant applications requesting funds for the needed work on our flag.

To help match the funds offered by St. Alban Lodge and those of possible government grants, patriotic and historical organizations throughout the nation have been contacted for financial support. Already, generous donations have been received from five local chapters of the National Society- Daughters of the American Revolution. The entire project carries a total estimated price tag of nearly $30,000. When all is completed, a site has been selected for the placement of the conserved Support Our Constitution flag within its new climate-controlled display case near the Benjamin Franklin Room on the National Historic Landmark Masonic Temple's first floor. The flag will then be in place near other historically important and irreplaceable objects such as Bro. George Washington's Masonic Apron and Masonic items belonging to Bro. Benjamin Franklin.

If any lodge, individual or organization wishes to offer financial support at any level, please contact Executive Director Andrew Zellers-Frederick at (215) 988-1909. For information about the flag and its treatment, please call Bro. Buttleman at (215) 988-1485.

This project is what we hope will be one of many such efforts to preserve objects from throughout the Masonic Temple and place them on improved public display. If you or your lodge have any suggestions or recommendations for any objects, such as paintings, sculpture, china, furnishings, archival materials, books or maps, and wish to be part of an effort to conserve these irreplaceable items, contact either the executive director or the curator of the Masonic Temple. Your support will be most welcome and appreciated. All contributions, from any individual, group or institution to the flag will receive proper recognition at a future re-dedication ceremony.

Table of Contents | Index of Issues | Home