"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Friday, September 15, 2023

Minnesota Lodge Restores Historic 1857 Charter

1857 Charter of Mankato Lodge No. 12 in Minnesota
(CNHI News Service)

by Christopher Hodapp

In 1857, the just-formed Grand Lodge of Minnesota AF&AM issued a charter for that state's twelfth Masonic lodge – Mankato Lodge No. 12. The lodge was first organized in 1856, the year before statehood was granted to Minnesota. A century and a half after it was issued, Mankato Lodge has taken steps to carefully restore and preserve their original, fragile document. 

Mankato's charter (or warrant) was printed on animal skin parchment, most likely vellum, a specially treated piece of calfskin or lambskin, which was often used to create significant documents in the past. It's why academic diplomas used to be nicknamed 'sheepskins.' Vellum is an unusual material, but if it is well cared for, it can last for centuries – there are extant documents on parchment and vellum from over a thousand years ago. Unfortunately, if it's NOT well cared for, subjected to high heat, moisture or humidity, animal skin parchment and vellum can quite literally begin to pucker and shrivel up over time. 

At the Masonic Library & Museum of Indiana we have received many lodge charters or Masonic degree diplomas from the early to mid-1800s made of vellum that look like badly wadded linen handkerchiefs. Rescuing them from that condition is not always successful and requires very special treatment to accomplish.

WB Mark Robbins, PM of Mankato Lodge and longtime member and officer at the Masonic Society, passed this story along to me.

Mark G. Robbins of the Masonic Lodge talks to paper 
conservationist Amanda Malkin about her work on Masonic 
Lodge 12’s historical document, its warrant. (CNHI News Service)
Current members of Lodge 12 raised concerns about the continued safety of its 1857 official approval by the then-grand master of all Masons.

“We’ve known where it was and what it was ... it’s valuable to us,” said Mark G. Robbins, a Lodge 12 former master.

He feared, however, that someone unfamiliar with the lodge’s history could accidentally throw away the tube and its contents.
Robbins was tasked with the safekeeping of the document Masons referred to as a warrant. He turned Lodge 12’s precious parchment with ink calligraphy over to a St. Peter woman who specializes in preserving works on paper.
“I found Amanda’s business, PaperLovesConservation, on the internet. I thought we would have to send the warrant off to the East Coast, but she’s local so we didn’t have to insure it or ship it,” Robbins said.

Amanda Malkin not only conserves club and organization charters similar to the local Freemasons’ document, she has the skills necessary to repair maps, art prints and watercolors works.

A professional associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Malkin founded her business in 2016. She has a master’s degree in the conservation of fine art. Before moving to Minnesota, she held positions in Washington, D.C., at a Smithsonian art gallery and a museum.

Malkin returned the warrant to Lodge 12 early Tuesday evening. Masons gathered to see the restored document and to hear her PowerPoint presentation about the process.

She had mounted the cleaned warrant on an acid-free background, then placed the document in a frame behind clear Plexiglas designed to filter out harmful ultraviolet light.

She found the piece of parchment to be in surprisingly good shape. The warrant showed no damage from the brown ink used to write and draw on its surface.

“Back then, scribes made their own ink and it could be highly acidic. Sometimes, the ink used on a document will eat holes in it.”

“The warrant is in great condition. Still, it should not be out on display for too long,” Malkin advised the Masons.

Robbins plans to store the document in a safe at the Masons’ brick two-story building at the corner of Second and Hickory streets.

Animal skin vellum has mostly been replaced these days by cotton-based paper vellum (you can find it in most well-stocked art supply stores). But the authentic stuff is still made with animal hides and used today to create archival copies of Acts of the English Parliament, and for printing Torah scrolls.

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