Mason was born in Kidderminster, the son of a carpet-weaver. He began life as a street hawker of cakes, fruits and vegetables. After trying his hand in his native town at shoemaking, baking, carpentering, blacksmithing, house-painting and carpet-weaving, he moved in 1814 to Birmingham. Here he found employment in the gilt-toy trade. In 1824 he set up on his own account as a manufacturer of split-rings by machinery, to which he subsequently added the making of steel pens. Owing to the circumstance of his pens being supplied through James Perry, the London stationer whose name they bore, he was less well known than Joseph Gillott and other makers, although he was really the largest producer in England. In 1874 the business was converted into a limited liability company. Besides his steel-pen trade Mason carried on for many years the business of electro-plating, copper-smelting, and india-rubber ring making, in conjunction with George Elkington.
Mason was almost entirely self-educated, having taught himself to write when a shoemaker's apprentice, and in later life he felt his deficiencies keenly. It was this which led him in 1860 to establish his great orphanage at Erdington, near Birmingham. Upon it he expended about £300,000, and for this munificent endowment he was knighted in 1872. He had previously given a dispensary to his native town and an almshouse to Erdington. In 1880 Mason College, since incorporated in the University of Birmingham, was opened, the total value of the endowment being about £250,000.