In ancient times, stonemasons placed an identifying symbol upon their work. This symbol was known as their “Mark”. Wheter this practice was utilized during the building of the Great Temple in Jerusalem in accordance with Masonic allegory is uncertain. However, “Operative” Masons in England and on the continent of Europe have left their “Marks” on stonework dating from the dark ages.
The Marks were normally inscribed upon the work with an engravers chisel and mallet and therefore consisted primarily of a combination of straight lines.
The Mason’s Mark served several purposes; to identify the work of each craftsman, and to serve as signature in a period when most people were illiterate. While the mark had no symbolic meaning in operative craft, the workman was classed by the quality of his work. Therefore, most of the stonemasons strove to do their best work prior to identifying the piece by placing their mark upon it.
The medieval lodges of Freemasons maintained a Book of Marks wherein were registered the “Marks” of their members. Several of these volumes have survived to the present day. This practice has been carried over into our speculative craft and each American Chapter maintains a Book of Marks of its members.
At a meeting of the operative Lodge of Edinburgh, Scotland, on June 8, 1600, the presiding Master and the members present certified the minutes by placing their marks upon them.
The first reference to the conferral of a Mark degree is found in the minutes of Phoenix Royal Arch Chapter, working with Friendship Lodge at Portsmouth, England, on September 1, 1769. In that account,Thomas Dunckerley, the Pro Grand Master of the “Modern” Grand Lodge delivered the Warrant to the Chapter and “he made the brethren ‘Mark Masons’ and ‘Mark Masters’, and each chose their Mark”. So, in this first reference, we encounter two degrees concerning the Mark. As written rituals did not exist in those days, we do not know of what those degrees consisted. However, we can well assume that these degrees had existed prior to that date. The Mark Mason degree was conferred in Fellowcraft lodges and the Mark Master in Master Masons lodges.
The ritual of the Mark Master degree very impressively illustrates the inherent values found in honest employment and charitable activity.Excerpted from: A History and Handbook, The York Rite of Freemasonry, by Frederic G. Speidel