Volume LVIMAY/JUNE 2009Number 2

From Basement to Museum:
The Conservation & Exhibition Efforts
for a Forgotten National Treasure

The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania, which is currently celebrating the centennial year of its official founding by Bro. John Wanamaker, possesses many extraordinary pieces, representing both Masonic and American history, within its collection of 30,000 objects. Among the most important and remarkable entities within this National Historic Landmark is the circa 1803 "Support, Our Constitution" flag which was quietly displayed for many decades on the lower level. More than two years ago, the flag's prominence as one of fewer than three dozen remaining from the early years of the American Republic was brought to the forefront by several members. A major effort was begun by the museum's professional staff to conserve and exhibit this national banner (as it properly should be called) to insure its preservation for countless future generations.

The banner is a magnificent example of the symbols representing the beginning days of this country's proud history. Depicted on it is a beautiful early version of the great Federal Eagle with 17 stars and elements of America's Great Seal emblazoned with the words "Support, Our Constitution" beneath the emblem. The banner was originally owned by Bro. William Fulton, who donated it to Washington Lodge No. 59, Philadelphia, which in turn generously gave it to the Masonic Temple in 1885. Last year, Bro. Fulton's descendants made a special visit to see their ancestor's banner. Since 2006, when efforts were formulated for the banner, more than $65,000 has been raised from many benevolent sources from both within and outside of the Masonic fraternity. These funds are supporting the preservation and stabilization of the banner by the respected textile conservator Nancy Love; the construction of a specially-made, environmentally-secure display case by Dean Kahn, who built the prominent display piece for the Bro. George Washington Masonic apron; and the implementation of the exhibition's plan by Cornerstone Spatial Design & Production and the J.J. Deluca Company. Coordinating these efforts, and crafting the exhibition's design, is the local Philadelphia firm of Steve Feldman Designs, selected following careful consideration.

While the physical aspects of the exhibition were being formulated, great effort was placed into learning more background information on the "Support, Our Constitution" banner which would prove to be of tremendous assistance to Van Buren & Associates, a professional firm charged with writing the exhibition text. It was first believed that the banner was carried in the American Revolution, but that was quickly dismissed when its fabric and symbolism were studied. One of the most important details was the fact that the banner had 17 stars and the same number of leaves in the olive branch. With the assistance of history professors Simon Newman, of the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and David Waldstreicher, from Philadelphia's Temple University, it was concluded that this number signified the entry of Ohio into the Union as the 17th state. With this fact, the banner's creation could be pinpointed as between the years 1803-1812, as Louisiana became the 18th state in 1812. Although officially the United States had a 15-star, 15-stripe flag until 1818, privately issued flags and banners tended to reflect a general agreement that all states should be represented in some way. It was also suggested by David Borodin, of Frisk & Borodin Appraisers, that this banner was probably made in Philadelphia for political purposes, such as local rallies and parades, by the Federalist Party, which espoused the views that several of President Thomas Jefferson's actions, such as the Louisiana Purchase, were unconstitutional. More than two centuries later, it is interesting that scholars are still studying and learning from this extraordinary piece of America's heritage.

Photographs by Bro. Dennis Buttleman, Curator

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