Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What's What: Phi Beta Kappa Key

Professor Childermass has a Phi Beta Kappa key dangling from his gold watch chain [The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt; 83]. He occasionally toys with it when thinking or nervous [The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost; 41,97].

The Phi Beta Kappa Society is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious undergraduate honors organization. It was founded in 1776 by undergraduates at the College of William and Mary and has become one of the most well known of all college honors societies, unique to the College of Arts and Sciences.

The Phi Beta Kappa "key" was originally a small square, gold medallion; a stem was later added, converting it to key used to wind pocket watches. The obverse features a finger pointing to the Greek letters ΦΒΚ and three stars, representing friendship, morality, and learning. On the reverse are the initials "SP", which stand for the Latin words Societas Philosophiae, or "Philosophical Society." Modern-day keys usually include the name of the member and the school and date of the initiation.

Since inception, seventeen United States presidents and thirty-seven United States Supreme Court Justices have been inducted as members. The keys are still available for members, though the society's “secret” handshake fell out of favor decades ago.

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