The Sestercentennial and the College Mace

Introduction

It is common for an academic institution to possess among its “crown jewels” a big ceremonial mace (Wikipedia) that is carried at the head of the Commencement procession and might rest in a special spot during the times when the board of trustees is in session. Dartmouth does not have a mace per se, but the College Usher leads the Commencement procession with Lord Dartmouth’s Cup (visible at the right side of this college Flickr photo), a tall 1848 silver vessel that certainly serves the purpose of a mace.

The mace in the U.S.

The college received the cup until 1969 and did not start using it in processions until 1983. Dartmouth does not seem to have had a mace before that time. Why not? It is not clear. It might be that the academic mace is mostly a recent phenomenon in this country. Here is a list of some notable North American college maces:

A future mace

It would not be surprising if some alumnus or organization were to come up with the idea of presenting the college with a mace on the occasion of its 250th anniversary in 2019. (That time is not too far off: the 250th anniversary class is already in college.) The mace would not only commemorate the granting of the charter but also would symbolize the independence of the institution from the state, with 2019 being the bicentennial of the Dartmouth College Case.

At best, this old-style mace would be fashioned by New England craftspeople,1In addition, the Medallic Art Company has available a selection of maces, mostly with wooden staffs, and Thomas Fattorini Ltd. of England (pdf) makes metal maces. but it need not follow the traditional mace form. Why not have it refer to to a Cabin & Trail splitting maul; a woodsman’s cant hook or peavey; a Mountaineering Club ice axe; or an Organic Farm timber-framer’s mallet?

Perhaps the mace could encapsulate within it some historic implement, such as a cane or cane-head that belonged to Daniel Webster; a nineteenth-century axe used in the Second College Grant; a Boston Post Cane from a defunct New Hampshire town with some connection to the college; an ice axe used on a Himalayan expedition during the 1960s; a broom handle used by John Kemeny to prop open the cabinet of an overheating computer; or a hatchet that Robert Frost used in his woodlot. What about a nineteenth-century canoe paddle?

Any of these venerable tools would be sheathed in a protective silver capsule before being gilded, covered in worked sheets of precious metals, engraved, and decorated with jewels. The encrusting might include polished fragments of the Old Pine, the granite front step of Dartmouth Hall,2That step is located at the entrance to Dick’s House. or a piece of wood or stone from the original building of Moor’s Charity School in Connecticut. Parts of the weathered head and handle of the enclosed cane or axe might be left uncovered, and other parts, perhaps the sharp ones, might be made visible through small crystal windows.

So that a person would be available to carry this new ceremonial mace, the board might have to create the office of Quartomillenial Beadle or Semiquincentennial Macebearer.3The charter office of College Usher, currently conferred upon the Treasurer, now imposes upon its occupant the task of carrying Lord Dartmouth’s Cup in processions. The charter office of College Steward might be available, although one might expect its occupant to be the head of DDS and to carry, say, a giant silver repoussé ladle engraved with the word “COMMONS.”

[Update 12.06.2015: Three broken links fixed.]

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Notes   [ + ]

1. In addition, the Medallic Art Company has available a selection of maces, mostly with wooden staffs, and Thomas Fattorini Ltd. of England (pdf) makes metal maces.
2. That step is located at the entrance to Dick’s House.
3. The charter office of College Usher, currently conferred upon the Treasurer, now imposes upon its occupant the task of carrying Lord Dartmouth’s Cup in processions. The charter office of College Steward might be available, although one might expect its occupant to be the head of DDS and to carry, say, a giant silver repoussé ladle engraved with the word “COMMONS.”

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