coil's masonic encyclopedia, henry wilson coil, review
Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia
by Henry Wilson Coil
remarkable encyclopedia was assembled by Henry Wilson Coil over the course
of twenty-five years and was first printed in 1961. Due to its great value
and long life, Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia was updated in 1995 by
respected Masonic scholar Allen E. Roberts. It continues to be one of the
most popular encyclopedias on Freemasonry in use today, and contains over
1750 articles. These cover the full spectrum of Masonic symbolism,
jurisprudence, history, and practices all over the world. The following
piece on Masonic encyclopedias, and Coil's work in particular, was written
by Allen just before he completed his labors on this volume.
Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia
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.
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
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 unsubstantiated "facts."
is what far too many of the histories, articles, speeches and early
reference books of the Craft contained.
came encyclopedias, or what purported to be encyclopedias.
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.
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.
1929 a "New Edition--revised and Enlarged" 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, England.
work was again "Revised and Enlarged" (for the last time) and a
new copyright obtained in 1946. The reviser was Harry Leroy Haywood.
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
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
objections surfaced. The next revision didn't fare well. Critics
universally condemned it. Noted one critic: "The less said about
Volume III...the better."
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 all-important, 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.
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 encyclopedia.
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."
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. . .'
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."
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
this base to work from, and after a year of contemplation, I agreed to
revise Coil's work of 30 years ago.
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 God.
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.
Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia is available from:
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