"Keepers of the tradition, there seems to be an unwritten rule among stonemasons to respect the past and leave a piece of history for the future."
The tradition of placing coins in stonework that's under construction goes way back, but I came upon it in the late 1990's. A stonemason from England had found my business online. I guess European Stone Masonry sounded like a good bet for employment. I couldn't offer him work, but I told him to look me up if he ever made it to North Carolina.
A few weeks later, we were able to meet in person when he stopped by for a brew! I showed him some of my work around Raleigh, and he asked me if we threw coins into our stonework here. He said it was an old tradition dating back to Roman times. As superstitious as he was, I don't recall my Italian grandfather throwing anything into his masonry work. My cousins and I spent some memorable summers working for him as teenagers in Pennsylvania.
There's a long and interesting history of including offerings, such as grain, wine, animals and yes, even human sacrifices, in building projects. In modern times, coins have thankfully become an easy way for stonemasons to leave their mark.
Recently, there were a couple of news stories about finding old coins in stonework. The BBC reported that two Georgian coins dated 1804 were discovered during a church restoration in Worcestershire, England. They had been carefully placed in a buttress eighty feet up in the church tower. The church plans to display the old silver coins and will replace them with new 2011 coins. What's the exact location of the new coins? Well, that's the stonemason's secret.
"I usually throw in whatever I have in my pocket for good luck. I enjoy history, and my customers and their kids have fun with it too."
In Washington, DC, stonemasons found coins while repairing damage to the National Cathedral after the August earthquake. They discovered them in the mortar between sections of stone. Joe Alonso, head stonemason, said that the coins were saved and will be put back into the mortar when the stonework is reattached to the towers.
I usually throw whatever I have in my pocket into my work for good luck. I enjoy history, and my customers and their kids have fun with it too. One customer decided a quarter wasn't enough and ran into the house for a Sacagawea dollar. Occasionally, a euro or other currency garnered from traveling gets tossed in as well.
There is timeless appeal in being part of an ancient custom. Everyone wants to leave something of himself behind. Imagine someone's delight, centuries later, upon discovering your pocket change. Keepers of the tradition, there seems to be an unwritten rule among stonemasons to respect the past and leave a piece of history for the future. I love that idea.
If you place coins or anything else in your stonework, tell us about it below.
Originally posted November 23, 2011