Hidden gems from the Library and Archives

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever seen in a museum? Spanning centuries, the unexpected treasures on display in our beautiful Art Deco library include hand-drawn illustrations, curious texts and beguiling bindings. Brought together for the first time, the curated selection you see today follows the previous rotation on display in 2020.

Why not delve into our collections to discover your own treasures? Anyone can join as a reader for free.

Preserved within the pages
Minute book of Lodge of Harmony, No. 288, 1875
A fragile, yet remarkably well-preserved, sprig of acacia was unearthed recently. It was placed carefully within the pages recording the funeral of Edward Lord in 1875. Years ago, it was common for such sprigs to be placed on the coffin of a freemason.

Spring of acacia found in pages of Lodge of Harmony Minute book for 1875

A lavish badge of jewels
‘Aaron’s Breastplate’, 1735
The Stukeley manuscripts provide a window into the world of an eighteenth-century gentleman. A keen antiquarian, William Stukeley was made a freemason in 1721. His carefully illustrated manuscripts, reflecting his interests in archaeology, history and religion, were presented to the Museum in 1924.

Illustration of Aaron's breastplate, showing twelve jewels to represent the twelve tribes of Israel

Charting the unknown
Royal Arch certificate signed by William Finch, 1811
Charts in our collections are full of mysterious codes, many of which have never been deciphered. William Finch, a tailor from Canterbury, produced a series of engravings to illustrate his lectures on masonic ritual. This example has been converted into a certificate and issued by Finch himself.

Chart containing masonic symbolism drawn by William Finch and converted into a certificate

A watercolour treasure trove
Precis des Huits Premiers Grades, French Royal Arch ritual, c. 1760
Ritual books from overseas lodges can reveal surprisingly detailed and rich illustrations. They provide a rare glimpse into the lodge room – a central part of masonic life. Although our library has many ritual books, only a handful are decorated in this way.

Watercolour illustration of a lodge room from a french book of masonic ceremonies

Diplomat, freemason, soldier, spy
The Chevalier D’Eon
The transgender former spy and diplomat gave fencing demonstrations in front of royalty as a means of earning an income after she declared herself a woman in 1777. In her former life, D’Eon was a French soldier and London freemason.

Engraving of Chavalier d'Eon giving fencing demonstrations in front of royalty