Accurate information about Freemasonry is absolutely
essential to anyone seriously interested in the subject Coil's
Masonic Encyclopedia is one of the best sources of information available to anyone doing research on Masonic topics.
The MSA thanks Allen E. Roberts, a well-known Masonic
author, for preparing this Short Talk on the history of
Masonic encyclopedias and th
We at MSA strongly support the project of revising Coil 's
Masonic Encyclopedia and urge all Freemasons to encourage
and provide input to Allen Roberts.
Suggestions for change may be sent to Allen E. Roberts,
PO Pox 70, Highland Springs, VA 23075; FAX 804/328-2386.
THE SOURCE OF MASONIC KNOWLEDGE
by Allen E. Roberts
The Masonic Service Association recognized
the need for a current Masonic encyclopedia in
1925. Frederick W. Hamilton, Grand Secretary
of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, was engaged as the Editor-in-chief for the project. But
the job was never completed.
It didn't take long for all concerned to realize
compiling an encyclopedia isn't an every day task.
The vast amount of knowledge required about
an uncountable number of topics is stupendous.
It takes a special breed of writer, historian and,
literally, slave to bring such a project to
This job is even more difficult where
Freemasonry is concerned. The Craft's history
goes back to antiquity. There are millions of
facts, legends and myths floating around.
Thousands of books and an uncountable number
of articles have been written on or about
Freemasonry. Most can be charitably termed
imaginative. An encyclopedia is no place for fiction, fabrications, fanciful prose, poetry and
This is what far too many of the histories, articles, speeches and early reference books of the
Then came encyclopedias, or what purported
to be encyclopedias.
About 1870 Robert Macoy (1816-1895) published A General History, Cyclopedia, and
Dictionary of Freemasonry. It served its purpose
for a time and went through several editions.
The history of the longest active and best
known American Masonic encyclopedia is indeed
interesting. Albert G. Mackey (1807-1881) and
Moss & Co. held the first copyrights of 1873 and
1878. Subsequent copyrights were held by L.H.
Everts & Co. (1884-1906); The Masonic History
Company (1909-1946); Macoy Publishing &
Masonic Supply Co., Inc., bought the latter company and with it its copyrights. Macoy continued
to reprint Mackey's revised work.
In 1929 a "New Edition--revised and En-
larged" of Mackey's work received a copyright.
The revising and enlarging was done by Robert
I. Clegg, a professional reviser of several works
of history. His able helpers were William J.
Hughan and Edward L. Hawkins, both members
of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, London,
The work was again "Revised and Enlarged"
(for the last time) and a new copyright obtained
in 1946. The reviser was Harry Leroy Haywood.
Mackey, in his original preface, said he had
found "the character of the Institution was
elevated in every one's opinion just in proportion
to the amount of knowledge that he had acquired
of its symbolism, philosophy, and history."
Books were expensive so he wanted to produce
one book that would serve the purpose of many.
Consequently Mackey furnished the Masonic
world with an encyclopedia. And he made it clear
that he had written every word himself.
Silas Shepherd said Mackey had succeeded: "If
a Mason would have one book on Masonry, this
would be the most useful one to choose." Other
reviewers and critics agreed. But as the years went
by the compliments decreased. Clegg's revisions
eased the criticism for a time, but again objec-
tions surfaced. The next revision didn't fare well.
Critics universally condemned it. Noted one
critic: "The less said about Volume III...the
E.L. Hawkins' A Concise Cyclopedia of
Freemasonry was published in London, England,
in 1908. Lewis B. Blakewood liked it, but he and
others felt the subject matter was too limited.
Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942) published in
London what is now called the New Encyclopedia
of Freemasonry. He was one of the leading occultists of his day, and this came through in his
work. The Masonic critics were unanimous in
condemning it. Today it can be purchased on the
remainder market at an absurdly high price.
The Freemasons' Pocket Reference Book by
Fred L. Pick and G. Norman Knight isn't an
encyclopedia, but it's close. It was first published
in 1953. Revisions were made with each edition.
In 1966 Pick died and Frederick Smyth was called
on to take his place. This little book is a valuable
addition to the American Mason's library as well
as it is for our English Brethren.
Robert Freke Gould's mammoth The History
of Freemasonry is an indispensable companion
for any encyclopedia. It expands on the many
facets of the Craft that an encyclopedia, of
necessity, can merely touch upon. It was published in three volumes between 1882 and 1887.
The last revision was made by Herbert Poole and
contained four volumes.
Also not an encyclopedia, but certainly
mandatory for the Masonic writer, author,
historian and researcher is 10,000 Famous
Freemasons. This four volume publication was
the creation of William R. Denslow and published originally in the late 1950s and early 60s
by the Missouri Lodge of Research. It is now
published by Macoy. Denslow's work, as always,
has saved many hours in writing this story. Sad
to say, many writers quote Denslow verbatim and
never mention within their text what they have
done. Denslow's work ends in 1961 and
desperately needs to be updated.
In the late 1940s Vee Hansen, the new owner
of Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co.,
wanted to publish an excellent Masonic encyclopedia. The author for such a project was allimportant, so she turned to Henry Wilson Coil,
a California Freemason and lawyer. He agreed
to use his vast knowledge of Freemasonry and
tackle the job. He also enlisted the aid of three
other Masons who had written extensively about
the Craft. William Moseley Brown of Virginia,
Harold Van Buren Voorhis of New Jersey, and
William Leon Cummings of New York agreed to
work with Coil.
Early in 1961 Macoy proudly made COIL'S
MASONIC ENCYCLOPEDIA available to the
Masonic world. It was acclaimed immediately by
Masonic historians, writers, researchers and individuals. Today, almost 30 years later, it is still
considered the best by far of any Masonic
Harry Carr reviewed Coil's work for the Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge for 1961.
Carr was never overly-generous in his praise of
other authors, however, in this encyclopedia he
liked what he found. Carr said the make-up of
COIL'S MASONIC ENCYCLOPEDIA contained "virtues. . .we are fully entitled to expect in
a well-produced modern book."
Carr continued: "The book claims one
characteristic which would distinguish it from
some of its predecessors. After a brief reference
to'. . .the ancient myths and mysteries. . .' which
have always featured over-strongly in Masonic
history, Bro. Coil says: 'A major endeavor of
the present work has been to refrain from telling
too much, that is, more than is known to be true.
A great deal that has been written about
Freemasonry never happened. ..'
"It must be agreed that Bro. Coil has made
a wholly praiseworthy effort to avoid this pitfall.
Indeed, this is one of the rare cases in which it
may be said that occasionally the author errs on
the side of caution, and that is perhaps a result
of his legal training."
Carr closed his review by writing: "I have
found the work well-written, in a pleasantly
informal style, full of well-presented detail, and
covering an enormous range of subjects in a
workmanlike and interesting fashion."
With this base to work from, and after a year
of contemplation, I agreed to revise Coil's work
of 30 years ago.
Change is all around us. Even as we read this
brief item thousands of changes have taken place.
Communism, for example, when Coil's work was
published controlled much of what had once
been a free world. This situation has changed
dramatically within the past months. The
beneficiaries are those who love freedom, and
especially those Freemasons who believe in the
Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of
Coil enlisted the aid of three men; I'm pleading
for assistance from hundreds of Freemasons.
Each of us knows something no one else knows.
By pooling our knowledge we can build on Coil's
foundation and produce a volume that will stand
the test of time.
Freemasonry deserves the best we have to offer.