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There are three copies of the Old Constitutions which bear this name. All of them were found in the British Museum among the heterogeneous collection of papers which were once the property of Sir Hans Sloane.
The first Sloane Manuscript, which is known in the Museum as No. 3848, is one of the most complete of the copies extant of the Old Constitutions. At the end of it, the date is certified by the following subscription: finis p. me Eduardu Sankey decimo sexto die Octobris Anno Domini 1646. It was published for the first time, from an exact transcript of the original, by Brother Hughan in his Old Charges of the British Freemasons.
The second Sloane Manuscript is known in the British Museum as No. 3323. It is in a large folio volume of three hundred and twenty-eight leaves, on the fly-leaf of which Sir Hans Sloane has written "Loose papers of mine Concerning Curiosities." There are many manuscripts by different hands. The Masonic one is subscribed thus with the date and name of the writer, Haec scripta fuerunt p. me Thomam Martin, 1659, and this fixes the date. It consists of three leaves of paper six inches by seven and a half, is written in a small, neat hand, and endorsed Free Masonry. It was first published, in 1871, by Brother Hughan in his Masonic Sketches and Reprints.
The Rev. Brother A. F. A. Woodford thinks this an "indifferent copy of the former one." But this seems unlikely. The entire omission of the Legend of the Craft from the time of Lamech to the building of the Temple, including the important Legend of Euclid, all of which is given in full in the other manuscript, No. 3848, together with a great many verbal discrepancies, and a total difference in the eighteenth charge, would lead one to suppose that the former manuscript never was seen; or at least copied, by the writer of the latter. On the whole, it is, from this very omission, one of the least valuable of the copies of the Old Constitutions.
The third Sloane Manuscript is really one of the most interesting and valuable of those that have beers heretofore discovered. A portion of it, a small portion, was inserted by Findel in his History of Freemasonry; but the whole has been since published in the Voice of Masonry, a periodical printed at Chicago in 1872. The number of the manuscript in the British Museum is 3329, and Brother Hughan places its date at from 1640-1700; but he says that Messrs. Bond and Sims, of the British Museum, agree in stating that it is "probably of the beginning of the eighteenth century." But the Rev. Brother Woodford mentions great authority, Wallbran, on manuscripts who declares it to be "previous to the middle of the seventeenth century." Findel thinks it originated at the end of the seventeenth century, and "that it was found among the papers which Doctor Plot left behind him on his death, and was one of the Sources whence his communications on Freemasonry were derived." It is not a copy of the Old Constitutions, in which respect it differs from all the other manuscripts, but is a description of the ritual of the Society of Free Operative Masons at the period when it was written.
This it is that makes it so valuable a contribution to the history of Freemasonry, and renders t so important that its precise date should be fixed.
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