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Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Iowa's Masonic Library & Museums' Book Restoration Project


The Grand Lodge of Iowa A.F.&A.M.'s incredible Masonic Library and Museums complex in Cedar Rapids has one of the largest Masonic collections of books and manuscripts in the world. Assistant Librarian Bill Kreuger now reports in the March 2020 issue of the Grand Lodge of Iowa Bulletin that Grand Master William R. Crawford has selected as one of his major fundraising projects the restoration and re-binding of books from their Rare Book collection. 

The first Iowa Masonic Library in Cedar Rapids in 1884

It's depressingly uncommon for a grand lodge to support their own library and museum as enthusiastically as Iowa does, and they have reason to brag. In 1884 Iowa opened the first Masonic library building anywhere in the world in Cedar Rapids. In 1952, the inadequate 19th-century library was demolished, and the current marble, Mid-Century Modern building opened on the same site in 1955. Today, the library houses over 250,000 volumes of both rare and circulating Masonic books. 

Iowa's Masonic Library and Museum is also home to several noteworthy specialized collections, including the A.E. Waite Collection of esoteric and occult science, and the Joseph A. Walkes Collection of Prince Hall Masonry. (If you're serious about researching African-American and Prince Hall-derived Freemasonry, Iowa absolutely needs to be on your itinerary. They have numerous volumes that don't exist anywhere else, including many sets of annual proceedings dating into the mid-1800s from the earliest predecessors of what we refer to as 'Prince Hall Masonry' today.)



The basis of Iowa's Library came about in the 1882 after the death of Brother Robert Franklin Bower, who was reputed to have owned one of the largest and most valuable Masonic book collections in the world at the time. Born in Philadelphia, Bower was first made a Mason in 1850 at Madison, Indiana (the Ohio River town that was the location of the founding of the Grand Lodge of Indiana in 1818). He moved to Iowa 20 years later, and he became General Grand High Priest of the Grand Chapter of the Royal Arch in 1880. Upon his death, the Grand Lodge of Iowa purchased his vast Masonic book collection from his estate. 






Many of the volumes in Bower's famed collection were quite rare, even for the late 19th century. The passage of 140 years has made them even rarer and more valuable than ever. And more fragile. Between environmental conditions, the original materials, decades of use by researchers, and the ravages of time itself, some of the rarest books have fallen into disrepair.

Recently conserved books include: Benjamin Franklin's American publication of Anderson's Constitutions (1734); an Ahimon Rezon (1817); and an 1840 manuscript by Mormon founder Joseph Smith. 



The books currently being restored include Anderson's Constitutions of Free-Masons (1723), and The Freemasons Monitor (1797). There are also several extremely rare, bound volumes of late-1700s Masonic magazines: Freemasons Magazine (1797-98); Sentimental and Masonic Magazine (1793-94); and American Museum or Universal Magazine (1790).

Conservation of these delicate works is not an inexpensive proposition — the estimated cost of re-binding and repairing a year's volume of the fragile, two century-old bound magazine sets is approximately $500. The restoration and re-binding work is an ongoing project being done by Brother James Twomey, a Mason and proprietor of the Book Restoration Company over in LaFarge, Wisconsin. 





Iowa's vast Masonic Library collection listing can be accessed online HERE.

To donate to Iowa's book restoration project or the Library & Museums, contact Associate Librarian Bill Kreuger at librarian@gl-iowa.org

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