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Cigar Box with Masonic Symbols
ca. 1790
Japan: Nagasaki
Tin; lacquer; mother of pearl
overall: 1 x 5 3/8 x 3 9/16 in.; 2.54 x 13.6525 x 9.0488 cm
Special Acquisitions Fund

Rectangular dark lacquer cigar box. Tin box with clipped corners; cover decorated with Masonic symbols in gold lacquer and inlaid with thin striping of abalone shell; sides decorated with diagonal bands of gold haze in "Nashiji" style lacquer and sprigs of gingko, chrysanthemum, and lotus blossoms. The arrangement of Masonic symbols on the top includes an all-seeing eye, columns, sun, moon, square and compasses, temple, gloves, three candlestands, crossed quills and level.

At the end of the 18th century, Holland came under Napoleonic rule, and as a result, British warships in East Indian waters began preying on Dutch merchantmen. The Netherlands-Indies authorities were forced to use neutral ships for their annual trading voyages between Java and Japan. From 1797 to 1809, eight American ships were chartered for these voyages. In 1799, the trading voyage from Batavia, Java, (present-day Jakarta) to Nagasaki, Japan, was made by the 200-ton merchantman FRANKLIN of Boston, flying Dutch colors, with James Devereux as Master. The vessel arrived at Batavia from Boston on April 28, 1799, and returned there from Nagasaki on December 18, 1799. In addition to the Dutch East India Company's cargo, Captain Devereux had with him trading material of his own. This box is believed to have been among the many articles obtained by Devereux on that voyage. The "Namban" (southern barbarian) Masonic design was copied by Japanese artisans directly from the frontispiece to Jachin & Boaz (London 1776), drawn by James Baynes (w.1766-1837) and engraved by Isaac Taylor (1730-1780?). This box was to have been presented by George Washington to General Ebenezer Stevens (1752-1823) of New York, who had served as one of Washington's chief artillerists. Washington died on December 14th, before the FRANKLIN returned to Boston with its cargo, but Stevens eventually came into possession of the box. Sometime after Washington's death, Stevens presented the box to General John Winslow of Boston. In 1819, Winslow gave it to Benjamin Whitman, who in turn passed it on to his son, George Henry Whitman [formerly John Winslow Whitman], in 1835.