Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
A Pictorial Catalog of
Commemorative Flagholders & Plaques
 of Organizations & Military
Knights of Pythias
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Commemorative Plaques & Flagholders
 of Military and Organizations
as Photographed by Joyce M. Tice 

Knights of Pythias

See Also Pythian Sisters

  Knights of Pythias was a fraternal organization founded in 1864 in Washington,DC. This rusted sword flagholder with the KP initials may be one of their commemorative signatures. An international non-sectarian fraternal organization engaging in benevolent activities. This is still in existence. In New York State, markers are uncommon, but in Maine they are very common along with markers for the siter organizztion - Pythian Sisters. I have obtained a turn of the century Pythian Book published for one of its Pennsylvania Conventions. I will be including some of that information at a later date. The 1968 reprint of the 1897 Sears Roebuck Catalog icludes both watch and bracelet charms and emblematic pins for this and other organizations.

The F. C. B. on this K of P flagholder signifies
Friendship, Charity, and Benevolence
Following my September 2000 trip through New 
England, I found myselloaded to the ears with variations
of Pythian flagholders. Examples of several types
are included here. 

Here is a response from the organization about a question I asked them in identifying the sword marker. I have since found a second but the initial response is helpful in identifying that one, too.

Your picture does indeed show a Knights of Pythias grave marker.  They are rarely used now-a-days but we do use a small Pythian grave flag that is put on graves during memorial periods.

I have sent you an attachment which explains the markings on a typical Pythian sword.  Many of the same markings can be seen on the grave-marker and it will help you understand the history and heritage of the Pythian Order.

Please contact me again if you have any further questions.


Alfred A. Saltzman, Supreme Secretary

Mr. Saltzman also sent an explanation of the sword's symbolism.

Before I explain the markings on your particular sword, let me give you a brief history of the Pythian Order.  You will see how it ties in with the various scenes that are usually found on swords:

The Order Knights of Pythias was founded in Washington DC on February 19, 1864 by Justus H. Rathbone.  It is based upon the story of Damon and Pythias, two very close friends during the time of ancient Greek history.  Damon was sentenced to death by the tyrant king, Dionysius, and his friend, Pythias, offered to stay as a hostage for four hours so that Damon could visit his family one last time.  No one expected Damon to return and face his fate, but at the very last moment, Damon, true to his word and his friend, appeared at the place of execution.  The king was so amazed at this show of loyalty and trust that he freed both men.  In those days, most men wore helmets, shields, swords, and a variety of weapons.  That is why they are so predominant on the swords.

No two swords are alike.  The inscriptions and designs vary.  The only requirement is that they meet certain dimensions.  The long narrow sword is used for parades and drills because it is easy to handle.  The short stubby type is used whenever one has to be placed in a semi-permanent position, such as on the open Bible which is present at all Pythian gatherings.  (We are a non-sectarian fraternity but we ask that all members believe in some form of Supreme Being.  We do not specify any particular religion or denomination).

Swords are still used in our rituals and ceremonies but they are mainly owned by the subordinate lodges.  In former times, many Pythians prided themselves in their ability to do “floor work” as we call performing during the rituals and ceremonies.  The swords were individually designed and inscribed, and presented as tokens of esteem by friends and family, much as we would give an inscribed gavel, a plaque or some other expensive gift.

The following markings are those that are commonly found on swords:

The man in the helmet with the lion on top signifies the highest rank (Knighthood).  There were three steps to reach full Knighthood – Page, Esquire, and Knight.  It is the same in reaching full Knighthood in our fraternity as well.  The lion means leadership.

 - 2 –

“FCB” stands for FRIENDSHIP, CHARITY, and BENEVOLENCE- the three cardinal principles of the Order to which we adhere very strongly, even today.  You will see it wherever Pythianism is mentioned

On some swords. the letters “U R” (not V R) stand for Uniformed Rank.  Just after the fraternity was founded, a very elite group of Pythians fashioned themselves into a militaristic type of organization.  They had their own military uniforms, they referred to their lodges as military units, they called themselves by military titles, they went to “encampments” instead of conventions, and they even had their own set of rules and regulations.  They excelled in marching and in drills, but the group became very disruptive to the Order and the last unit was finally disbanded in the 1950’s.  The Uniformed Rank used the Lily as its official flora but the Knights use the sprig of myrtle, which signifies love and victory.  It is placed on the casket of a brother to show that he was loved by his fellow Pythians.  The Knights picture a falcon which signifies vigilance, whereas the U R used the dove as its official bird.

The child, man and woman in some scenes are Damon and his family saying farewell for the last time.  The scene with the man looking out of a building, and the group of people exemplifies the site of the execution and the throng that was waiting for the event to start.

The man pulling down the pillars of a building is Samson of the Bible.  He is mentioned in our teachings as representing strength.

There are many types of weapons shown on the different swords.  The jewels and pendants
which our officers wear around their necks during meetings show a particular weapon or combination thereof, and each officer’s rank is represented by a different weapon.  The other decorations and designs have no special significance.

In most cases the value of a sword is more sentimental than actual.  It is priceless as a family heirloom but not very valuable on the open market.  They can be found in the internet for around $150.  A brand new one from the factory, with no markings at all, will now cost about $275.00

If you have any further questions about the sword or the Order, please contact me.


Alfred A. Saltzman, Supreme Secretary
Knights of Pythias

Introduction on Flagholder Section Warning on Sale of Cemetery Memorabilia Obtaining Present Day Flagholders

Published On Tri-Counties Site On 06/05/2003
By Joyce M. Tice

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