The first century of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) may be symbolized by the presentation of the Great Mace in 1920 and by the place of the Great Mace in the College’s subsequent history. From the time it was presented as a gift of goodwill from 61 British surgeons who worked alongside American surgeons in World War I, to its annual place in the procession at the Convocation Ceremony of the ACS Clinical Congress, the Great Mace carries a hefty symbolism in the tradition of the College.
A daunting object made of hammered, chased, and cast sterling silver, the original Mace has been replicated to ensure the original remains safely vaulted away, while the duplicate can be used at ACS events and displayed daily in the lobby of the College’s Chicago headquarters building. When the original Mace was appraised, the report noted that it measured 47-1/16 inches long and contains 136.7 troy ounces of sterling silver (partly gilded).1
Far more than a beautiful object worthy of display, the Mace as a symbol of the College itself has captured the attention of ACS presidents and members alike. Former ACS president LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., MD, FACS, wrote in his presidential address, “For me to give this address and not speak about the Great Mace would be an act of rank impertinence…I feel a certain filial gratitude toward it and a furtive sympathy for those who have yearned to clasp it—even for a moment.”2
Among the engravings on the Mace is the inscription within the crown reading, “From the Consulting Surgeons of the British Armies to the American College of Surgeons in memory of mutual work and good Fellowship in the great War 1914-1918.” There is also a scrolled display shield that carries the incised lettering, “Philip Sing Physick 1768-1837 Father of American Surgery.”
The replication of the original Mace posed no easy feat. The original contained as part of its construction an internal wooden rod that was taken from an oak tree over 1,000 years old in Wytham, Berkshire. Because Omar Ramsden, the producer of the original Mace, used a method of hammering and chasing the metal to ensure the most intricacy and detail, the reconstruction of a replica was made even more difficult. However, the Chicago metalsmith William Frederick succeeded in capturing the essence of the original by using molds to make castings of the individual parts of the Mace he would then assemble. He called this project one of the most unusual challenges of his career.3
Many of the documents in the ACS Archives that reference the Great Mace refer back to an article from the December 1920 edition of Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics, written shortly after the presentation of the Great Mace which took place during the 10th Annual Meeting of the ACS in Montreal, October 1920. In the article, then-president of the ACS George E. Armstrong, MD, FACS, is quoted upon receiving the Mace saying, “We shall endeavor on this Western Hemisphere to keep the sacred flame of science burning not less brightly than did our forebears in Great Britain.”4
As the Great Mace has held the place as a symbol of fellowship since it was given from the British surgeons to the ACS in 1920, it has now taken on new life having remained a part of the ACS for more than 90 years of the College’s 100 years of history.
ACS Archives Highlights is a series showcasing the vibrant history of the American College of Surgeons, its members, and the history of surgery. For further information on our featured highlights, search the Archives Catalog or contact the ACS Archivist.