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Education Corner: Sherer Publications and M.C. Lilley & Co. Fraternal Materials

By January 21, 2021February 17th, 2021No Comments

In the mid-1800s, as Freemasonry was spreading across America, two Ohio companies were well-known for their fraternal materials. Sherer Publications in Cincinnati was well-known for their Masonic degree carpets and lecture plates, and their creator, John Sherer, produced some interesting works on early Masonry. M.C. Lilley & Co. from Columbus became well-known for their magic lanterns and their hand-painted Magic Lantern glass slides. Grand Master Richard A. Dickerscheid’s theme of this Masonic year is “Use the Tools.” The Sherer carpets and Lilley slides are both significant tools our local lodges use for educational purposes. The images used on those carpets and slides found their way to the photographic slides, filmstrips, and videos still in use today. As lodges embraced new technologies, often the old technologies ended up in storage or forgotten. Your lodge may have one of these hidden gems of Masonry just waiting to be revealed.

A Masonic Carpet designed by Sherer Publicationsdepicting popular symbols in Freemasonry
Masonic carpet by John Sherer; Library of Congress

Sherer Publications

John Sherer was an engraver in Cincinnati, well-known for his Masonic carpets. These carpets contained images that Sherer claimed were compiled from various lodges to create the most complete and accurate degree conferral aids then available. This was a step up from hand-drawn trestle boards and were vital to ensuring the quality and uniformity of Masonry, according to Sherer. The Sherer Publications catalog instructed lodges to write to the company with what they needed in terms of carpets, regalia, or supplies and these would be sent to the lodge, cash-on-delivery, to be negotiated and resolved with the agent who delivered them. A high-quality carpet was $20, or about $630 in today’s money, a significant investment from the lodge.

Besides the carpets, Sherer also published Sherer’s Gems of Masonry (1859), a book in which the symbols of the three Blue Lodge degrees and four of the York Rite degrees are explained, referring to places in the Preston Ritual, Anderson’s Constitutions, Ahimon Rezon, and Holy Scriptures. They were offered with original Sherer images and commentary and poetry of Brother Rob Morris, creator of Order of the Eastern Star who was serving as Grand Master of Kentucky at the time. Sherer’s Masonic Monitor (1867) contains symbols and explanations of the Blue Lodge and York Rite degrees with commentary by MWB Morris, combined with a Preston-Webb Ritual Monitor. Examples of the carpets and copies of Sherer’s fraternal materials are available for free download from the Library of Congress and are incredible resources and guides.

Masonic magic lantern slide depicting Jacob dreaming of angels climbing a ladder by The M.C. Lilley & Co.
Masonic magic lantern slide with “Masonic BL#5 Jacob’s Ladder” handwritten on slide as title by The M.C. Lilley & Co. Slide depicts Jacob dreaming of angels climbing a ladder; Scottish Rite Masonic Museum

M.C. Lilley & Co

Mitchell C. Lilley (1819-1882) founded M.C. Lilley and Co. (1865), providing fraternal regalia. They quickly became known for their Magic Lanterns and slides. These candles, then electric lanterns, could project an image 8-10 feet in diameter from a distance of up to 18 feet. The hand-painted glass slides had vibrant images that enhanced the degree conferral. A lantern was $50-70 and lodges could customize their degree experience by purchasing individual slides for $2 each, again a significant investment from the lodge. Explore the Scottish Rite Museum’s collection of Lilley Slides for reference.

Grand Master Rich Dickerscheid’s theme of this Masonic year is “Use the Tools.” The Sherer carpets and Lilley slides are both significant tools our local lodges use for educational purposes. There is renewed interest in both these fraternal materials, as they are a connection with our past and provide a distinct and unique degree conferral experience. Some lodges have converted their slides into digital images, compiled them into PowerPoint presentations, and started using them with the next generation of Masons. Those looking to learn a lecture have utilized the images of the Sherer carpets as study aids and crafted the lecture experience around these carpets. Explore the presentation on John Sherer by RWB Chad Kopenski from the Grand Master’s Virtual Roadshow. It is quite possible that your local lodge has one of these hidden gems and it would be well worth the time to rediscover their beauty.

Do you believe your local lodge holds a Sherer carpet or Lilley slides? Find us on Twitter or Facebook at @GrandLodgeOhio to share your story!

If you’d like to explore more educational topics related to Ohio Freemasonry, read our blog posts on the history of Freemasonry in Ohio, the traditions of Oyster Lodge and Muskrat Dinner, and the Ritual of the GLOH.