Profile of a Rare Book: Ahiman Rezon, Abridged and Digested, William Smith D.D., 1783

                   Before:  How the book arrived at Eidolon House. 

                   Before:  How the book arrived at Eidolon House. 

The Book:  Ahiman Rezon, Abridged and Digested:  As a help to all that are, or would be Free and Accepted Masons.  To which is added, a sermon preached in Christ-Church, Philadelphia, at a general communication, celebrated, agreeable to The constitutions, on Monday, December 28, 1778, as the anniversary of St. John the Evangelist.

Published by the order of The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, by William Smith D.D.

Philadelphia:  Printed by Hall and Sellers, M,DCC,LXXXIII [1783].

Its Story:  "Ahiman Rezon" or "The Book of Constitutions of this Grand Lodge"  was originally written by Laurence Dermott for the Antient Grand Lodge of England, which was formed in 1751.  The phrase Ahiman Rezon has been said to be of Hebrew origin, and has several different interpreted meanings, such as:  "To Help A Brother", "Will of Selected Brethren", "The Secrets of Prepared Brethren", "Royal Builders", and "Brother Secretary".  Ultimately the reason why Laurence Dermott used it as the title, and what it meant to him, is still a mystery.(1)    

Rev. Brother William Smith D.D. was the Grand Secretary of The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and prepared the 1783 Pennsylvania publication of the "Ahiman Rezon".  It's said that it was almost entirely a reprint of Dermott's work, with the addition of a sermon that was given to the Grand Lodge in Philadelphia in 1778.  Smith's prepared copy was approved by Grand Lodge 22 in Novemeber 1781 and finally published in 1783, and dedicated to Brother George Washington.  The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and South Carolina are the only two jurisdictions in the United States that still call their constitutions by the name "Ahiman Rezon".(1)  

Dedication to George Washington found on page 3.

Dedication to George Washington found on page 3.

Dedication to George Washington found on page 148.

Dedication to George Washington found on page 148.

The frontispiece was engraved by Robert Scot, a Mason and very talented engraver who eventually became the Chief Engraver of the United States.  Robert Scot was born in Canongate, Scotland in 1745.  He grew up to learn watchmaking, and trained as a line engraver under Richard Cooper Sr. at the Trustees Academy, with classes at the University of Edinburgh.(2)  

Frontispiece engraved by Robert Scot - The Arms of the Most Ancient & Honorable Fraternity, of Free and Accepted Masons.

Frontispiece engraved by Robert Scot - The Arms of the Most Ancient & Honorable Fraternity, of Free and Accepted Masons.

Scot moved to Fredricksburg Virginia in 1775 where he began engraving plates for Virginia currency, first using the arms of Britain.  In 1780 Scot moved to Richmond Virginia as engraver to the state of Virginia.  Sadly on January 4, 1781 Richmond was burned and destroyed by British troops under the command of General Benedict Arnold at which point Scot moved to Philadelphia.(2)

As mentioned earlier Scot was a Freemason and engraved the frontispiece for the Philadelphia publication of Ahiman Rezon.  In 1793 Scot was commissioned as the Chief Engraver of The United States Mint where he worked until he died in 1823.(3)

Frontispiece engraved by Robert Scot - The Arms of the Operative or Stone Masons. 

Frontispiece engraved by Robert Scot - The Arms of the Operative or Stone Masons. 

Restoration:  We had the pleasure of restoring this copy of Ahiman Rezon.  We dis-bound the book, washed the text block, sewed it back together and gave it a period appropriate binding in calf leather we hand dyed, speckled, tooled, and lightly aged.

The anchor tooled on the front cover is a common Freemason symbol, representing faith.  The lyre we tooled on the spine to represent the Masonic songs found within the text.  

Before & After Period Rebind, by Eidolon House.

Before & After Period Rebind, by Eidolon House.

This is a great book for anyone interested in the history of Freemasonry or the early United States.  It also provides a link to Robert Scot, an engraver of early U.S. currency, which would be great for a collector of legal tender.

Collect. Conserve. Restore.  Become Part of the History.

~~~~~ 

Get your own copy of an original publication:

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Reference links:  (1)  (2)  (3) 

 

 

Collect. Conserve. Restore. Become Part of the History.

As conservationists we have a lot of conversations with our different clients on how to balance conservation and restoration for rare books and ephemera.  While we were educated in institutions regarding conservation and restoration, our experience with a wide variety of clientele has shown us that institutional guidelines are limited by the structure and motivations of the institutions that have created them.  Lines become blurred because the only lines that are publicly available are those published by institutions, and while these rules are perfect for them, that doesn't mean they're useful for individual collectors.  Best practices are constant, however the balance between conservation and restoration shifts depending on the motivation of the collector.  When you think about what drives an individual to collecting and how personal that motivation is, how can private collectors really be expected to adhere to institutional guidelines anyway?  The current philosophy for institutions is to preserve the object without leaving the fingerprint of the current owner, archiving them rather than restoring them.  

Book collecting is different than archiving:  As books leave their marks on the collectors, the collectors leave their marks on the books, for good or for ill.  There is no such thing as standing still; even without human handling books are in a constant state of deterioration.  As a collector you can choose to archive your books or preserve them and become part of their history.  A book tells its history in its structure.  Leaving your mark on the book in a greater or lesser degree will establish provenance, which will be important to future collectors.  Wherever you fall on the spectrum between conservation and restoration, what you do for books is important.  It is impossible to come into contact with a book, whether as an archivist or a private collector, without leaving a bit of yourself behind.  It can be a simple as the choices of which books to gather together, or as intense as completely rebuilding a book.  You're now part of the book's history.  

Have you thought about where you fit into the larger world of book preservation?  What do you want people in the future to know about you and your interaction with your books? We would love to continue this conversation with you:  Comment below.  

We want to see what books you're collecting, conserving, restoring, reading, and making a part of your life.  Post your finds on Instagram and tag them with  #BecomePartoftheHistory; we'd love to feature your treasures on our feed too.