Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Freemason Wisdom: Benjamin Franklin On Immortality

"If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing." 

~ Benjamin Franklin
St. Johns Lodge

Our time on earth is finite, and at some point or another, just about everyone wonders about the legacy they leave behind.  Franklin was known as a man who was seldom idle.  He worked, he wrote, he read, he studied, he explored ideas, he spent a great deal of time in thought.  People confuse work and play, but Franklin seemed to see them as one and the same--everything he did, he did with great passion, and great energy.  He enjoyed his work and his interests just as much as he enjoyed an evening of entertainment.  

He wasn't alone in that philosophy.  Another Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, once said, "It is amazing what can be done when we are always doing."  Both Franklin and Jefferson are examples of what can be accomplished in a lifetime when you value time enough not to waste it.

~Todd E. Creason

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Daily Reminder To Work On The Internal

Masonic ring collectors often get this same look on their face when they find a good one . . .
So I was looking for that one thing I could give up during Lent that would help remind me daily of what it was I wished to accomplish during that time.  I figured out on Tuesday night what I was going to do without over the next six weeks, and was I ever reminded yesterday.  Several times!  I decided not to wear any rings until after Easter.  That's a pretty tough challenge for a Mason--especially one like me that's worn a ring every day since I joined the Fraternity.  I'm without question a bling addict especially when it comes to antique rings.  I've written numerous articles about Masonic rings, including one with Brian Schimian on the Midnight Freemasons that went everywhere-- you can read that one here.  The only thing I enjoy more than running across that rare find in an antique store or flea market, is wearing it.  My wife claims there are two things you rarely see on this Earth--a truthful politician, and me without a Mason ring.

I was reminded when I automatically went to put one on yesterday morning.  I was reminded a dozen times yesterday when suddenly, in a panic, I'd realize my ring was gone.  I feel naked without them, and I'm sure that will be compounded over the next six weeks or so when I attend Masonic events on my calendar without wearing that "uniform" of a Mason that includes the ring--and one of those events is my Valley's Spring Scottish Rite Reunion (and that's one of those events when you pull out all the bling).

But I think it was a good choice--a daily reminder for me to work on the internal rather than what is displayed on the external.  I was thinking about doing without lapel pins as well, but after breaking out in a cold sweat as I contemplated it, I realized that might be a bridge too far.  Baby steps, right?


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fat Tuesday

"We have all the light we need, we just need to put it into practice."

~Albert Pike

I've always liked the idea of Lent.  Lent is not observed in my religious practice the same as it is in others, although I've observed it in my own way.  I believe it's good practice to set a certain time aside each year to work on yourself and your relationship with God.  It's a time of the year when I work on replacing bad habits with good ones, spend a little more time reading and reflecting on the Bible (I usually buy a devotional to study), and I spend more time appreciating the things I have, and giving back to those who have less.  One thing I've found particularly useful is keeping a notebook.  Each night before I go to sleep I record in that little notebook all the things I received that day, all the things I gave to others that day, and all the things I was appreciative of that day. 

I keep it positive, because I find when I spend time beating myself up over the things I've done wrong, I don't see the things I did right as clearly.  And when I do focus on the positive, I find it changes my expectation for the day ahead--I wake each morning looking to receive, looking to give, and looking for things to appreciate around me.  And that's a pretty good way to go through life.  I find as Easter approaches my lists get longer--I record more things I receive, more things I give, and more things I appreciate and am thankful for.  That's because I'm looking for them.  I find them, because I expect to.

As Freemasons we're always supposed to be working on that rough ashlar, and if your a Christian, this is a very good time of the year for self-reflection and improvement. 


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Estate Jewelry: What Was Old Is New Again . . .

This old ring is cleaned and polished and ready for a new life . . .
I love old Masonic rings.  I don't buy many old rings, but I have picked up a few, and a couple years ago I saw one I really liked.  Unfortunately, it wasn't in great shape, and the seller and I couldn't agree on the price, so I let it go finally.

You'll never guess what I found on the table of the estate jewelry guy at the Allied Masonic Degrees meeting in Washington D.C. a couple weeks ago!  Yup!  Pretty much that same ring, in great shape, and with a very small divide between the seller's price, and what I was thinking I'd part with.  We were able to work it out in short order--I got a great deal, and a great ring in good shape.

I took it to my jeweler when I got home, spent less than fifty dollars to have it inspected, repaired, cleaned and sized.  It's like brand new, and ready for another seventy or eighty years (although only a portion of that time will be spent with me unless medicine comes a long way in the next few decades).  As my jeweler says each time I bring him one of these little treasures, "they just don't make jewelry like this anymore."  He loves working on old rings, and I enjoy wearing rings with a little age and history attached to them.

New rings just don't do much for me.  The design of old rings, especially from the 30s and 40s, really appeals to me.  They are simple and elegant in design, and hold up extremely well over time.  Old Masonic rings, for the most part, were made a lot better than the jewelry that you can buy today is.  I promise you that most of the new rings you can buy today will not look as good in 70 or 80 years as many of the 70 and 80 year old rings you'll find in the display case of your local antique store.  And as long as the stone is in good shape, it is amazing what a jeweler can do to bring a very old ring back up to 'like new' condition for a very nominal charge.  I am always pleasantly surprised when I pick up the ring and find it looks better than I'd anticipated.  The best places to find old Masonic rings are in antique stores, pawn shops, and estate sales (check estate sale listings for "masonic items" or something similar)--and there are a few Masonic dealers that specialize in buying and selling Masonic estate jewelry that are easily found with a simple Google search.

But Let The Buyer Beware!

1.)  If you buy from online venues like EBay, there's a good chance you're not going to get what you think.  And you're going to have a heck of a time returning it when you discover the 14K ring you thought you were getting is actually rodium or some cheap alloy thinly plated with a gold-like substance.  Remember if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  And online sellers are really good at taking photos that fail to show the flaws in the items they're listing.  So exercise caution.  I prefer to buy jewelry face-to-face so I can pick it up, touch it, inspect it, and put it on.  That is the safest way to go. 

2.)  Never buy without a guarantee.  Most reputable businesses will let you return an item if it turns out they are not as they were described.  Be sure anyone you're dealing with has that policy on the items they sell.  As a matter of fact, if the merchant finds you trustworthy, they may let you just take the piece with you and have it inspected by a jewelry prior to purchase.  

3.)  Look for old rings in good shape.  It is a amazing what a good jeweler can do, but if the ring is badly bent, warped, deeply scratched, etc., there's only so much even the most gifted artisan will be able to do to refurbish it.  And really look at that stone.  If it's chipped, that can't be fixed, and once the ring is cleaned and polished, that's going to be even more obvious.  If it's got a crack, there's a good chance that one day it's going to split into two pieces, and you're beautiful ring's days will be over--or you'll have to replace it at great expense.  If the stone is encrusted, or embedded with an emblem, look at that very closely to make sure that emblem or encrusted gold is in good shape, seems solid and the stone around that embedded emblem is not chipped or cracked.  Eyeball that ring very, very carefully before you consider buying it.

4.)  Even if you look it over carefully, you're probably not a jeweler.  There's only so much an untrained eye will be able to pick up when looking at an old ring.  If you buy a ring, even if you think it's in good shape, take it to that jeweler and have it inspected, refurbished if needed, and cleaned.  Even better yet, take any ring you're thinking about buying to him in advance, and have it look it over.  It's well worth the small fee he's going to charge you.  A good jeweler friend is a great person to know, and will save you a lot of heartbreak.  He will be able to see in about two seconds problems you may never be able to see.

I'd love to hear a few stories about great ring finds.  Have you found a great old ring recently?  Send me a picture, and perhaps I'll share it.  Be sure you include your name and lodge, and if there's a story that goes along with the ring, be sure to tell it!

~Todd E. Creason
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