One of the most common categories of antiques experts see at public speaking and appraisal venues are items having to do with the Christian faith: bibles, rosary beads & scapulars, crèches, needlework pictures depicting "The Last Supper," christening dresses, crosses & crucifixes, a large variety of statuary, holy water fonts, etc.

 Most of the articles have been preserved with great devotion, and a number will be high quality – costly when they were purchased years ago. "This was my grandmother's favorite piece," someone will say, showing me a cast sculpture of an Apostle or framed print depicting Jesus and his disciples or some other item. "We've always been told it's very valuable!"

Now comes the hard part. The appraiser has to disappoint the family and explain to them that their sacred heirloom is worth only a fraction of what they've been led to believe. "It's precious from a sentimental standpoint," They will say. "However, as to what I think it might sell for at an auction or at a dealer's shop, it's realistic market value would be around …"

Then the appraiser shoots out a price that hits people in the gut like a bullet.

"I don't understand," a family member will say. "You say it's an authentic high quality antique. Now you're telling us it's only worth around $50?  You couldn't have it made today for five times that amount!  I've been looking at piece after piece this evening. Some of the things I wouldn't have in my house are worth a small fortune. Everything except our piece!  Why is that?"

Generally, antiques of a highly religious nature, especially Catholic and other Christian articles, have a much lower value than articles with similar attributes having no religious attachment. For instance:

  • While a circa 1910 Santa Claus postcard with strong graphics and pristine condition with might bring $5 to $10, a postcard of equal quality depicting angels and holy Christmas prayers will usually fetch less than a dollar.
  • While a late 18th or early 19th century American schoolgirl needlework "sampler" picture with a schoolhouse, grazing sheep and other interesting elements might fetch in excess of $15,000, a sampler of similar inventiveness and age depicting a biblical scene will usually fetch under $1500.
  • While an 18th century book on surgical procedures or astronomy or global explorations might fetch $1000 or more, an 18th century bible will frequently sell for less than $150.
  • While a pair of 18th century English or French brass candlesticks used to grace a table will often fetch in excess of $2500, a comparable pair of candlesticks used to grace a church will typically fetch only half as much.
  • While an authentic medium sized Currier & Ives print of "John L Sullivan, Champion Pugilist (boxer) of the World" lists for $360 in McClain's "Value Guide to Currier & Ives" a similarly sized print of "Jesus Blessing Little Children" lists for only $50.

"So what's the story?" you might be thinking. "Why do a large majority of religious antiques seem to fall flat at auctions and other selling venues?

Here are a few possible answers:

  • Religious antiques, especially Victorian Period and early 20th century examples do not "decorate" well.
  • Articles having to do with religion are generally more numerous than their cousins in other venues because they have not been discarded. For instance, how many people have ever disposed of a box of beat up out-of-date childhood schoolbooks?  Most of us, right?  Now, how many people have taken a dilapidated old bible that's be supplanted by a brand new copy and tossed it in the trashcan?  Almost no one! I joke at my antique lectures; "God will send you right to Hades for that!"
  • There is a little bit of "scariness" associated with religious antiques. This may stem from the aura imposed by very strict parochial schools of yesteryear, as well as the lingering sense of earlier ages that restricted art to religious subjects only.
  • Because religious antiques have not performed well historically, they are not performing well today: Antique valuation is ruled by the snowball-effect track record prices play in determining future prices.
  • Just as people are careful not to bring up the subjects of "politics and religion" in conversation, they are apprehensive about collecting and displaying historical objects relating to their faith.

Now that you are persuaded you not to invest in any antique related to Catholicism and other faiths, here is something else to consider: Be a contrarion and consider collecting such objects!

Here is the premise:  The phenomenal success of "The Da Vinci Code" and the "The Passion of the Christ" has inspired people to start talking about religion again. Including people who do not describe themselves as "religious."

Lynn Garrett, religion editor at Publisher's Weekly, suggests that the publics taste for religious subjects did not begin with the Gibson movie. "Publicity surrounding the movie has certainly given sales a bump," Ms. Garret said, "but this is a trend (an interest in religious subjects) that has been growing steadily for at least 10 years."

Now that religion is "in" again, look for antiques dedicated to the subject to ascend in price. Titanic associated antiques like ship artifacts and ephemera skyrocketed soon after the 1997 blockbuster movie was released. They are still red hot today!

They key toward success in collecting and dealing in antiques is to acquire objects you are passionate about. If would enjoy collecting antiques related to your faith, start pursuing them now! Look for aesthetically pleasing, quality articles. Uniqueness, inspiration in design and rarity are also positive attributes to insist on.

"Buy now, while the prices are low," is one strong argument. An even stronger argument is that we are, by and large, a people devoted to our faiths.

With such inspiration in mind, beautiful "religious" works of art and craftsmanship have been produced and cherished for many years - antiques that will add grace your home or business.

Now, about those tables Jesus made while working as a carpenter …

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