Union Lodge No. 121 Export Porcelain Punch Bowl


Many of the 18th and 19th century Chinese items produced for trade were created specifically with the Western market in mind; many porcelains depicted biblical scenes, landscapes, and copies of popular Western engravings.  If a patron was wealthy, he could have his porcelain designed to suit his individual taste.  Such designs often featured personal coats of arms and the surname of the patron, as well as the symbols of a particular group with whom the patron was affiliated.  A wonderful example of this type of export porcelain is the Union Lodge punch bowl.

 The Union Lodge punch bowl, measuring 9 ˝” in height with a diameter of 21 ˝”, was presented to Union Lodge No. 121 in 1812 as a gift of gratitude from Brothers Caleb Ash and Henry Toland, Jr.  Apparently Brothers Ash and Toland had been instrumental in the creation of Union Lodge No. 121, but were called abroad before they could sign the petition to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in November of 1810, when Union Lodge No. 121 was established.  Upon their return to Pennsylvania in 1812, Brothers Ash and Toland petitioned Union Lodge No. 121 to admit them as foundation members.  Their request was granted, and to show their appreciation, the two men presented the Lodge with a “large handsome China bowl.” (excerpt from Lodge minutes dated April 16, 1812)

The punch bowl is intricately decorated with Masonic symbols in shades of pink, green, blue, purple, sepia, orange, and black enamel and gilding.  The interior of the bowl has an all-seeing eye at the center.  Around the rim of the interior is a band of shells, seaweed, and coral, from which hang beaded festoons terminating in coral clusters.  On the exterior of the bowl are two opposed six-sided stars inscribed Union Lodge No. 121.  Between the two stars on opposite sides are Masonic symbols surmounted by an all-seeing eye.  Most of the symbols are easily identified, such as the square and compass, level, coffin, and the three candles representing the three lesser lights.  It is interesting to note how the Chinese artist interpreted certain Masonic symbols; the mosaic tiles, traditionally rendered in colors of black and white, are aesthetically pleasing in sepia tones.  The sprig of acacia resembles trees often found in Chinese landscape paintings, and the children at Charity’s lap only illustrate how strange Western features must have appeared to the Chinese artist.


A special "Thank You" to Laura Libert for submitting the pictures and description of this wonderful piece of export porcelain.    (Click Here) to visit the Library and Museum of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania.

Laura Libert, the new Curator of the Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania, is a 2001 graduate of Ursinus College, with a Bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies and Art History.  She worked as a student assistant at the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art, Collegeville, for two years.  For her Summer Fellowship (2000), Laura curated the exhibit “Pure Like Water: Japanese and Chinese Scrolls from the Berman Collection.”  She looks forward to helping usher the Masonic Library and Museum into the 21st century with innovative ideas and new exhibits.




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