Fort McCoy ArtiFACT — Masonic coin
A Masonic coin found at an archaeological dig at Fort McCoy, Wis., in 1991 is shown April 8, 2022. Archaeology work has been ongoing at Fort McCoy for decades and tens of thousands of artifacts are saved. (Contributed photo) (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

People have long been fascinated with societies such as the Freemasons. Movies such as “National Treasure” and TV shows like “The Curse of Oak Island” capitalize on this interest in Freemasonry and lure individuals in with tales of buried treasure and the secret society of the Freemasons.

The Freemasons are one of the oldest fraternal (men-only) organizations in the world. During the Middle Ages they were a guild of skilled builders.

Today, they are a social and philanthropic organization. The Free and Accepted Masons are an oath-bound society devoted to fellowship, moral discipline, and mutual assistance. They conceal some of their rituals, customs, or activities from the public, but overall are not as secretive as they are made out to be on TV.

Fort McCoy archaeologists recovered a “chapter” or “mark” coin in 1991, which is one of three categories for Masonic coins. A “chapter” or “mark” masonic coin (or penny) signified a pivotal part of a Mason’s initiation.

A second type of Masonic coin is the “initiation token,” which shows when a Brother was initiated, passed, and raised into the Brotherhood.

The third type is a token which celebrates a particular mason, lodge, or event.

The Masonic chapter “penny” symbolizes the “mark” of participation received by a member of the Free and Accepted Masons and is used as a system of identification for members. It is also used as a reminder to Masons of the fundamental ideals of Freemasonry. A new brother would be presented their penny at initiation, and it represented their acceptance and participation in the Masonic brotherhood. Today, they use membership cards along with passwords and signs to prove Masonic affiliation. Coins are still in use, but typically reserved for lodge events.

The pennies were custom-made for each lodge. The coin is referred to as a penny because it is usually the size of a U.S. penny. The pennies were struck from copper, bronze, or silver.

The design of the coins varied, sometimes as simple as including a keystone with the letters “HTWSSTKS” and identifying information of the local lodge, other times more artistic and with complicated designs.

The artifact from Fort McCoy is a standard example of the mark penny design. One side of the coin has a keystone with the letters “HTWSSTKS,” a chisel, and a mallet. The letters “HTWSSTKS” represent the mark of the Ancient Grand Master and stand for “Hiram, Tyrian, Widow’s Son, Sent To King Solomon” which signifies loyalty in Masonic teachings. The chisel and mallet symbolize “tools of action” and are central to the Masonic order. The chisel embodies discipline and education, while the mallet signifies authority and executive power.

These are symbols of the higher masters and are similar to the gavel used by judges.

The other side of the coin states “Sparta Chapter No. 19 R.A.M. Sparta, Wisc.,” “Chartered Feb. 3, 1860,” and “one penny.” The letters “R.A.M.” denote “Royal Arch Mason,” which is a part of the York Rite. A rite has a series of progressive degrees including the Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, Council of Royal & Select Masters, and the Commandery of Knights Templar. To follow the path of the York Rite, all masons must go through the first three degrees of Freemasonry (Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason).

The Masonic coin is similar in significance to a Challenge coin used by units in the U.S. military. Both coins are used as a symbol of membership or to mark special events, and have been rightfully earned by the member. The coins are highly cherished and not generally parted with during the coin holder’s lifetime.

The Masons organized in Sparta in 1854. The Sparta Masonic Temple was constructed in 1923. In 1987, the historic building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and purchased by the Monroe County Historical Society. Today it houses the Monroe County Local History Room & Museum and the Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bicycle Museum.

All archaeological work conducted at Fort McCoy was sponsored by the Directorate of Public Works, Environmental Division, Natural Resources Branch.

Visitors and employees are reminded they should not collect artifacts on Fort McCoy or other government lands and leave the digging to the professionals.

Any individual who excavates, removes, damages, or otherwise alters or defaces any historic or prehistoric site, artifact, or object of antiquity on Fort McCoy is in violation of federal law.

The discovery of any archaeological artifact should be reported to the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch.

(Article prepared by the Fort McCoy Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch and the Colorado State University Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands under agreement with Fort McCoy.)