The nucleus of the Masonic collection was formed from the archives and library holdings of the Supreme Council, whose library was formally brought together and cataloged in the 1930s. These collections were greatly enhanced by the acquisition of the William L. Cummings collection of approximately 5,800 items to which were added the William G. Peacher collection of nearly 8,000 volumes on Freemasonry. The Cummings collection contained a number of important anti-Masonic titles, as well as an important collection of approximately 2,800 different rituals of various Masonic degrees. Special strengths of the Peacher collection include many classic rare books on Freemasonry, publications from American and foreign Masonic research lodges, and early Masonic periodicals. The Masonic collection also includes books on Masonic history, symbols and ideas, as well as proceedings, transactions and directories of Masonic and allied organizations.
The Melvin L. Pfankuche collection added 3,000 additional books, pamphlets and serialized magazines to the Masonic holdings, which have been enriched by a number of works on Masonic ritual, philosophy, symbolism, and history from the collection of Alphonse Cerza. The Grand Lodge of New Hampshire contributed nearly 5,000 volumes of proceedings of various Grand Lodges in the United States and abroad. Today the library's holdings on Freemasonry total approximately 45,000 volumes. The collection also includes strong holdings on anti-Masonry and early Masonic exposés.
Titles of rare Masonic books include the first edition of the first Masonic book published, The Constitutions of Freemasons by James Anderson, printed by William Hunter in London in 1723 and the first American edition printed by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia in 1734; several editions of Ahiman Rezon: Or a Help to a Brother, by Laurence Dermott, including the first edition printed in London by James Bedford in 1756, and an abridged and digested version by William Smith, published by the Grand Lodge of Philadelphia in 1783; early editions of Jeremy Cross's The True Masonic Chart or Hieroglyphic Monitor, compiled by Amos Doolittle and printed in New Haven, Connecticut in 1820; and printed copies of various 18th-century Masonic orations, including those delivered by Isaiah Thomas and Thaddeus Mason Harris.
We also hold an extensive collection of anti-Masonic material. Anti-Masonic material is collected to cover the breadth of topics related to Freemasonry, but specifically because, as the Masonic scholar William L. Cummings states in the introduction to A Bibliography of Anti-Masonry, "the events which followed the abduction of and mysterious disappearance of of William Morgan in September, 1826, form an important chapter in American history, not alone on account of their effect upon the Masonic Institution, but also because of their inclufence upon the social, political and religious affairs of a large part of the country, some of these effects existing own to the present day."
Anti-Masonic books, pamphlets, newspapers, and sermons in our collection include John Quincy Adams's Letters on the Entered Apprentice's Oath (Boston: Young Men's Antimasonic Association for the Diffusion of Truth, 1833), Letters on Freemasonry (Hartford, CT: Joseph Hurlburt, 1833), and Letters on the Masonic Institution (Boston: Press of T.R. Marvin, 1847). In addition, numerous early editions of William Morgan's exposé, Illustrations of Masonry, first published in 1826, as well as several early years of Edward Giddins's The New England Anti-Masonic Almanac, published in Boston beginning in 1829; and a collection of anti-Masonic newspapers, including 227 issues of The Banner and the Anti-Masonic Champion, published in New York State in the years 1829 - 1833, as well as a number of individual anti-Masonic newspapers, published around 1831, in New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, illustrating the geographical spread of anti-Masonry during this period. This era culminated in the nomination of the first "third party" candidate in a United States presidential election, William Wirt of the Anti-Masonic Party.
Fraternal (non-Masonic) Collections
Serving to illustrate the growth of fraternal organizations that parallel Freemasonry, but which are not directly connected, the fraternal holdings include a growing collection of histories, proceedings, rituals, and secondary scholarly resources about organizations such as The Knights of Columbus, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, Improved Order of Red Men, Knights of the Maccabees, as well as various temperance societies and mutual benefit societies.
Secondary Sources on Freemasonry and Fraternalism
The Library actively collects English-language material on topics related to Freemasonry and fraternalism. This includes PhD dissertations, books from university presses, and other well-researched resources.
American History Collections
The scope and diversity of the general American history collection amounts to approximately 15,000 books. It was expanded by acquisition of the Lloyd Brinkman collection of approximately 900 volumes on New York State history, and the Carl Wahlstrom collection of 3,500 books focusing on U.S. Presidents and other American leaders of the 20th century. These gifts provided a nucleus for the American history collection that includes fundamental reference books on the decorative arts and technology. In 1977 the library acquired the Sidney L. De Love collection of approximately 1,500 books on American history, with an emphasis on the Civil War. The Willis R. Michael collection, which accompanied an important gift of clocks to the Museum's collection, added many rare books on clocks, watches and time-keeping to the library's collections.
Some of the notable rare books from the American History and Decorative Arts collection are the first London edition (1787) of Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, the first American edition of the Koran, printed by Isaiah Thomas in 1806, and Charles Eastlake's Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and Other Details, published in 1869. The collection also contains a number of books on the decorative arts, from topics such as early timepieces to textiles and silver. General history books include a small collection of genealogical volumes related to Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Ohio.
The Library seeks to maintain current secondary sources pertaining to research topics related to the Museum's object collection. These areas include, but are not limited to, decorative arts, material culture, and public history.
The Library & Archives collection holds approximately 100 maps documenting the exploration and growth of North America as well as the development of the colonies. These maps were primarily acquired by Clement Silvestro, the Museum's first Executive Director. Among these holdings are a number of Revolutionary War battle maps, traveler's aids published during the period of westward migration, and maps that delineate roads, waterways, and mineral resources. The earliest map in the collection is Nicholas Sanson's map Le Nouveau Mexique et La Floride, published in Paris in 1656. A catalog from a 1985 exhibition highlighting this collection, A Decade of Collecting: Maps, by Clement M. and Betty M. Silvestro, serves to document a selection of the important maps in the collection.
Serials and Dealer Catalogs
The serials collection consists of more than 1500 titles related to Freemasonry, fraternalism, American history, and the decorative arts. Some titles are represented by a single issue, while other titles represent a complete run. The newsletters and newspaper holdings contain material from Masonic and fraternal organizations, professional associations, historical societies, and other museums. Within the serial collection are more than 500 titles of dealer and sale catalogs from auction houses such as Christie's, Skinner, Swann, and Sotheby's.
The Library's sheet music collection comprises over 1,000 individual pieces of 18th, 19th, and 20th century sheet music. Topics focus on Masonic, fraternal, and general American sheet music, with an emphasis on songs related to American history. Two recent gifts have significantly increased the coverage of sheet music from the early 20th century.
Wallace M. Gage Collection
The Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives also maintains a small circulating collection of approximately 700 volumes about Freemasonry. This collection was donated in 2001 by 33° Scottish Rite Freemason Wallace M. Gage of Tenants Harbor, Maine. The books in this donation duplicate those found in the permanent collection. Because of this, it was decided that these books should be made available for circulation "for a period of one month to current card-carrying Masons living or visiting in the New England area or within a couple of hours of driving distance to the Museum."