Online access to thousands of books pertaining to Freemasonry.
View our large collection of items used by Masons through the centuries and around the world.
Emblems of Innocence and Honor: The Masonic Apron
The Masonic apron is arguably one of the most recognizable of Masonic symbols. Revered as an emblem of innocence and honor, its evolution has been long and varied: from rough swaths of leathered hides to protect the clothing to richly decorated works of ceremonial folk art. The tradition of decorated aprons began around the 1730s - adorned both by professional engravers and embroiders, and by family members such as daughters and wives. After 1760, printed and engraved aprons became vogue and displayed popular Speculative symbols such as the all-seeing eye, the square and compasses, and columns. In the United States, lecturers of Masonic ritual such as Jeremy Ladd Cross, or scholar/artists like Giles Fonda Yates, were to have a lasting and profound impact upon future generations with their visual codification and depiction of Masonic symbols as represented by the Preston-Webb work, or, American (York) Rite. Following the American Civil War, a massive popularity with fraternal organizations gave rise to a very lucrative industry in the manufacture and sale of Masonic and fraternal regalia.
Early examples of speculative Masonic aprons resembled those of their operative cousins—roughly cut, with the length to the feet , and often retaining the shape of the lamb from which the skin was sheared,. The fall, or flap, was attached to the breast with a looped cord, and remained a popular style for masons of each of the three degrees. The waist was cinched in the front with leather ties. While the operatives wore their aprons over their clothing, Speculative masons found it fashionable to wear theirs either over or under their dress coats. The practice of tying in the front and letting the cords dangle continued after the use of string or ribbon was introduced. It is from this practice that the design of the side tabs on British-influenced aprons became popular.
The tradition of decorated aprons began around the 1730s. After 1760, printed and engraved aprons became vogue and displayed popular Speculative symbols such as the all-seeing eye, the square and compasses, and columns. In the United States, lecturers of Masonic ritual such as Jeremy Ladd Cross, or scholar/artists like Giles Fonda Yates, were to have a lasting and profound impact upon future generations with their visual codification and depiction of Masonic symbols as represented by the Preston-Webb work, or, American (York) Rite. Following the American Civil War, a massive popularity with fraternal organizations gave rise to a very lucrative industry in the manufacture and sale of Masonic and fraternal regalia.
While the popularity of custom decorated aprons continued in the United States with a few exceptions throughout the 19th century, with the English, after the 1813 formation of the United Grand Lodge of England, the standardization of the apron became desirable. However, this standardization was not an innovation. The restrictions on colors and gilt dated as far back as the early 1720s with the Grand Lodge of England,
"None but the Grand Master, his Deputy and Wardens shall wear their Jewels in Gold or gilt pendant to Blue Ribbons about their Necks, and White Leather aprons with Blue Silk ; which Sort of Aprons may also be worn by former Grand Officers."
…and in 1772 with the Antients, or Atholl, Grand Lodge:
"It having been represented to the G.L. that several Brethren have lately appeared in public, with gold lace and fringe, together with many devices on their aprons, &c., which was thought inconsistent with the dignity, propriety and ancient custom of the Craft, Resolved and Ordered That for the future, no Brethren, Grand Officers excepted, shall appear with gold lace, gold fringe, gold embroidery, or anything resembling gold, on their Masonic clothing or ornaments." (Ahiman Rezon, 1807, pp. 90-91.)
After the formation in 1813 of the United Grand Lodge of England, the aprons commonly seen today as “British-style”, came into vogue. These are shorter in length than their predecessors, bordered in watered blue silk ribbon, with white for the Entered Apprentice; two rosettes denoting the rank of Fellowcraft; and for the Master Mason, three. Uniformity and regularity in the material, design, form and decorations of the apron were proposed in March of 1814, and by May of the same year an order for general uniformity was issued by the United Grand Lodge:
Entered Apprentice,— A plain white lamb skin 14 to 16 inches wide, 12 to 14 inches deep, square at bottom, and without ornament; white strings.
Fellow Craft,— A plain white lamb skin, similar to the, entered apprentice, with the addition only of two sky-blue rosettes at the bottom.
Master Mason,— The same, with sky-blue lining and edging, 1 1/2 inch deep, and an additional rosette on the fall or flap.-No other colour or ornament shall be allowed except to officers and past officers of the lodges, who, may have the emblems of their offices in silver or white in the centre of the apron.
Conversely, in the United States a variety of shapes continued to dominate the Masonic regalia industry: badge-shaped, square, and rounded are some of the most popular. Toward the final decades of the 19th century, American aprons began to be represented with the square body and triangular flap already popular in Britain and parts of Europe as jurisdictions on this side of the Atlantic began issuing standard requirements for their members’ aprons for the same reason as the Europeans: the variety of materials and decoration was considered at worst to be gaudy and ostentatious, and confusing at the very least. Also, the square shape afforded ease with manufacture as there was less material waste, and square and triangular shapes are the easiest to measure and cut. Nevertheless, throughout the world a tradition of diversity exists in design, although these different styles—while foreign to the English and North Americans—were standardized to varying circumstances and customs within their respective jurisdictions. Examples include Scotland and those grand lodges practicing a variety of rites such as the Swedish Rite, French Rite, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Ancient & Primitive Rite, etc.