Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State

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Web Property of the U.S. Department of State

Object Details

ca. 1790
China, for export
ceramic; porcelain with overglaze enamels
Overall: 6 1/2 in x 15 3/4 in; 16.51 cm x 40.005 cm
Painted near the outside of the rim, "RICHARD GRIDILY" [sic]; Richard Gridley (American, 1710/11-1796)
Credit Line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James O. Keene
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number

Object Essay

Freemasonry was one of the common threads that drew prominent colonists together to forge the Revolution and the New Nation. The Boston Tea Party, for example, was organized in Paul Revere’s lodge; thirty-two of the fifty-five delegates to the Constitutional Convention were members of the Masonic order.1The Masonic historian F.M. Hunter is quoted in Gowans, 174. The tenets of Freemasonry offered an ordered and rational way in which to see and live in the world.2Ibid., 172–75, describes the way in which Freemasonry was part of everyday life for its members and how the ideas of the Society affected material culture. For explanations of Masonic symbolism, see Masonic, 47–52.

Few, if any, Masonic objects from before 1750 are known today, although the Grand Lodge of London was founded in 1717.3Howard and Ayers 1978, 1: 322. Before the mid-18th century, most lodges convened in coffee houses; therefore, the proliferation of objects bearing Masonic symbols coincides with the greater emphasis after mid-century on meeting in halls and accumulating convivial accoutrements, especially vessels for serving and drinking beverages. In American China-Trade porcelains, Masonic symbols appear most frequently on covered jugs, mugs in several sizes, and large punch bowls for use within the lodge hall and, perhaps, in private homes where friends and colleagues could share the bowl and the brotherhood.4For a group that shows a variety of Masonic decorations on China-Trade porcelains, see Lee 1984, 207–9. Lee describes another Masonic punch bowl bearing the name of the owner, Adam Eckfeldt; ibid., 139.

The English fashion for punch is also closely identified with the 18th century when punch-making was considered a social accomplishment.5For information on punch, see Belden 1983, 237–39 and 276–77. Various concoctions could be made from the basic ingredients of lemons and oranges with rinds, sugar, wine, rum and/or brandy, and water as desired. Punch was served hot or cold depending on the season. Smaller punch bowls were drunk from directly, but larger ones were reservoirs from which portions were ladled.

Richard Gridley (1710/1711–1796) of Massachusetts, whose name appears on this Masonic punch bowl, was a surveyor and civil engineer who specialized in battlements and fortifications.6DAB, s.v. “Richard Gridley.” Under the British, he contributed significantly to both sieges of Louisburg (1745 and 1758), the building of Fort Western and Fort Halifax in 1752, and of Fort William Henry in 1755, among other achievements. In April 1775, Gridley was named Chief Engineer of the Continental Army, and from 1777 to 1780 was Engineer General of the Eastern Department. Gridley was wounded during the battle of Bunker Hill (June 1775). At his furnace in Sharon, Massachusetts, he made mortars and howitzers during 1776 and 1777.

Ellen Paul Denker and Bert R. Denker

Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.