I am drawn to items that have religious significance for people, particularly those in the Christian and Judaic traditions. But I’ll admit my knowledge is limited. And there’s the big question: what resonates with folks today?? I do know that some decades ago there was a strong interest in items from defunct churches: stained glass windows, candlesticks, statuary, communion goblets, etc. And crucifixes and madonnas always have some popularity as do menorahs and kiddush cups. One way I research is by looking at home decor magazines. Are religious pieces showing up in photos? I also look at online stores that focus solely on religious items. How are they doing and what are they selling?
My Buying Criteria
In general I look at six basic criteria. The same criteria I use for most of my items. Though to be honest, when I’m out sourcing I rely a lot on my intuition for religious items.
Sidebar: Pricing is particularly challenging for me in this category. For example, how do you price a one-of-a-kind unsigned carved cross? I tackle this problem by spending a lot of time looking at solds on Worthpoint and current listings across many platforms, as well as evaluating its craftsmanship and appeal. Like much of vintage/antique selling, it’s not an exact science, but I take into account a handful of variables to set what I believe is a fair price.
Things I’ve Bought and Sold Over the Years
Here is a sampling of religious items I’ve bought and sold in my Etsy store over the years. These are not valuable things, or rare things, though some are unique. Most sold for under $100. But they are all items that ticked several of my criteria checkboxes and I was happy to have them in my store.
Small, but heavy, primitive carved cross (possibly African).
Small carved Madonna santos. It had a bit damage and was overlooked by everybody at the sale, including me for a time!
Tomov icon of St. Catherine of the Wheel. Part decoupage and part hand painted, this signed piece was stunning.
Carved folk art light-weight wood crucifix. I just knew someone would like this.
Chippy, worn brass Jewish dreidel/top thingy! This item really appealed to me and I kept it on my coffee table for a time. Kinda sad I sold it.
Black Virgin/Madonna of Montserrat terracotta statue from Spain. I thought she was striking and one I’d never seen before.
1969 Hand-Painted Signed Tile of the Madonna from Kruzlowa, Poland. This lovely rendition of a Madonna appears to have been painted on a terracotta roofing tile. She was displayed in my home for a time before I listed her. I miss her!
Handmade silverplate and enamel replica icon from Poland. I thought this piece was lovely and it had a label on the back for “Metaloplastyka.” Turns out it’s the company name for a former engineer who is/was making these. This piece was bought by a parish to honor their priest’s years of service. I couldn’t think of a better home for it.
German bronze icon/medal for Dominikus (St. Dominic de Guzman), patron saint of astronomers. I recognized this style of icon as a quality piece from German maker and knew there was meat on the bone.
Vintage brass Lion of David menorah. Just a nice, well used, classy piece.
What’s Available in My Store
I adore these vintage Belgian Bible prints. I’ve a group of five with different scenes, all in vivid paint on cloth, nicely sized at 14.5″ by 11.6″. (This is a scarce grouping by Billaux-Grosse, Editeur, Bruxelles.)
I think there is something very touching about this primitive hand-painted virgin Mary and child wood icon.
What I’m Buying these Days
I bought this small 18th century bronze crucifix from a seller in France. This would have been used on a home altar. Why did I buy this? In part because of its age and lovely patination.
I’ve also dipped my toe into the antique Russian icon market by buying two lots of miniature travel icons (approx. 1.5″ wide) fronted in 87.5 percent silver (marked 84). The seller specializes in Russian icons, medals and such, though oddly he didn’t share any details such as maker or city of origin on these tiny pieces which are hallmarked.
While I think they have a small profit left in them, I got them because I wanted to learn from them–to research the marks and the artistry–and I may keep one or two! (I did look at sold data on Worthpoint beforehand and noted that this seller has been been bundling these in lots of three for a few years with sold auction prices ranging $53-$135.)
Sidebar: The icon seller accidentally sent me someone else’s order. I let him know and sent it back to him. As a thank you for being honest he sent me two additional antique travel icons. I was blown away by his generosity as these were likely more valuable than the ones I originally bought from him!
Here’s one of my “freebies.” This little beauty is marked in Cyrillic “HE3” which stands for silver maker “Israel Eseevich Zakhoder” active in Moscow in 1908-1926. (I’m researching them using: https://www.925-1000.com)
One like it sold last November for $95, though the seller claimed it had incredible powers: “It will be you angel that will keep your home safety as well will save your soul, from sins, spoilage, deterioration health, curses, corruption and other evils.” Oh boy!! I’ll make no such claims for mine.
What I Would Love to Buy and What I’m Avoiding
I have my own eye out for:
- Antique vestments or embroidered altar cloths (even remnants of really old pieces are desirable)
- Old sterling silver kiddush cups
- Quirky church bits (like wood donation boxes)
I’m NOT buying:
- “Collectible” religious figurines. Okay I know there is a market for these and many figurines like this Precious Moments one would sell, but it just doesn’t appeal to me and I’d rather leave these type of things to those who enjoy selling them.
- Modern made-in-China items (not my thing)
- Religious books, unless they are outstanding in some way (sometimes old hymnals sway me!)
There is so much more I want to say, but I’ll close for now hoping I’ve whet your appetite.
As always, happy hunting,