Members of the Masonic fraternity wore ceremonial society swords during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These swords became known as Knights Templar swords, named for the historic connection between Masons and the medieval Knights Templar. Collectors most often mean the modern ceremonial swords when speaking of Masonic sword identification.
The Knights Templar was a military order of monks during the Crusades, beginning in 1118 and ending some two centuries later. Templar rules forbade ornamentation on weapons so all fighting swords looked the same. The original Templar sword design evolved from ancient Viking sword production, used advanced metallurgy and utilised pattern welding - iron alloys of different carbon content forged together and hammered into a blade - which produced hard blades with surface discolourations. Masonic Templar swords only vaguely resemble these original swords.
Masonic Society Swords
From about 1880 to 1920, members of the Fraternal Order of Masons wore society swords with elaborate markings during various ceremonies. Various manufacturers produced society swords, and the Masonic swords bear certain similarities with those of other so-called secret societies, such as the Knights of Pythias. Other markings are unique to the Masonic Knights Templar swords.
Nearly all sword manufacturers produced pommels -- the knobs on the hilt end - depicting a knight's head, regardless of the fraternity. Therefore, the presence of a knight's head pommel does not identify a sword as uniquely Masonic.
Grip and Hilt
The black or ivory sword grip of a Templar sword typically depicts a Masonic cross and crown emblem with the owner's initials engraved on the grip. Some swords have stylised crosses and some a triangle with a cross. The term "cross guard" derives from references to the Knights Templar swords' cross-shaped hilt. Its weight gives balance to the blade. The symbols of the knight's order, the year it was forged and the smith's mark appear on the hilt.
Templar sword knuckle guards may differ. Some depict the Masonic cross and crown, while others show a knight's head. These differences typically reflect manufacturers, rather than the owner or order.
Blade and Sheath
Ceremonial sword blade markings ornately depict crusader scenes and lily work. Lilies are part of the ornamentation of Solomon's Temple porch, denoting purity and peace. Nearly all Templar swords manufactured in recent centuries bear the owner's name engraved in the blade. The sheath denotes rank. The nickel-plated sheaths belonged to Sir Knights, while gold-plated sheaths denoted the rank of Commander in the United States or Preceptor in Canada. Ornate sheath markings differ from maker to maker.
Manufacturing and Value
Collectors base sword values on the sword's age and its history. While varying from collector to collector, swords from orders no longer existing tend to have higher values.