The Saint Isidore Catholic Sales Guild was convened at the start of 2005 in response to the need for greater ethical standards in the arena of Catholic artifact internet sales. The following overview primarily addresses the market conditions for objects that fall under the classification “vintage” ‘ or “antique.” While, in principle, these concepts apply equally products offered by larger Catholic supply distributors, it is not practical for such large , but it is equally applicable to the products offered by larger Catholic supply distributors.
A Brief Historic Overview of Catholic Merchandise
Fueled by a burgeoning market in Catholic antiquities, the landscape of Catholic devotional sales rapidly transformed in the brief period of two or three years. What was recently considered an obscure niche market has now blossomed into a viable subset of the antiques mainstream.
From the Victorian era through the mid-1950s, manufacturers of Catholic furnishings, personal devotional items and artwork enjoyed brisk sales. Universally, Catholic Churches embraced the need for ornate sacred decor, architectural appointments, and luxurious vestments and altar linens. Similarly, both Catholic and secular publishers with significant Catholic portfolios, like Sheed and Ward and the early corporate incarnations of Doubleday, found a fruitful marketplace. The material culture of Catholicism was widespread with product exposure in drugstores and five-and-dimes for an array of costume jewelry, chapel veils and other purchases for domestic use.
In the late 1960s through mid-1970s, the tone of “material Catholicism” took on a distinctly secular flavor. The grandeur and ornamentation once so prevalent began to fade and began to reflect the living culture of the Catholicism of the era. As the culture of the Church rapidly progressed towards a more laicized orientation, the display of traditional Catholic devotional objects and iconography, both in Churches and Catholic homes, fell to the wayside.
A magnificent main Altar of Sacrifice.
Will it be returned to its original use?
Or will it become an elaborate service bar?
One just like it is now in a casino in Las Vegas.
Supply and Demand in the Catholic Marketplace
In the years leading up to Third Millennium of Catholicism, a subculture of Traditional Catholicism began to flourish in response to the yearning for a more majestic and reverent expression of Faith. The demand for traditional Catholic sacramentals and liturgical publications grew into a significant niche market. Coupled with the circumstances leading to an abundance of Catholic artifacts available to savvy resellers, the field of Catholic resale began to attract attention.
Two primary factors influenced the availability of these antiquities.
First, the last generation of Catholics who embraced the material culture of Catholicism, e.g. the prominent domestic display of statuary, artwork and devotional objects, reached the end of their natural life cycle. This generation, born at the turn of the last century, were inclined to preserve the devotional objects that once belonged to their parents and grandparents, even those in severely deteriorated condition because they had been blessed. Heirs to these estates exhibit very little interest in preserving or displaying older devotional objects, and consequently many are discarded or made available through estate sales at relatively low cost. These items are sought by Catholics re-sellers, who often offer them in refurbished condition.
Most re-sellers are Catholics for whom business is as much about evangelization as it is about selling objects. They are knowledgeable about their wares and cautious about handling lots which often contain first and second class relics, and sometimes sick call sets and pyxes that may contain traces of the Precious Body and Blood of Christ.
Others, who have heard that they can turn “trash to cash” on eBay and other venues, are uneducated in this area and can be indiscriminate and indiscrete about their offerings. Under this heading also are sales ranging from the ridiculous to the sacrilegious: a toasted cheese sandwich allegedly bearing the image of the Blessed Mother, and the sale of the Eucharist.
The second factor is directly related to the closing of many parishes throughout the nation as dioceses are forced to liquidate their holdings to settle high stakes lawsuits or simply because attendance has dwindled. Significant pieces of statuary and desacralized Church furnishings are available to dealers with sufficient funding, ample storage, and the ability to safely move large pieces that may even include altars, stained glass windows and other architectural pieces of importance. These individuals are able to access an exceptionally lucrative worldwide market eager to acquire older pieces.
For the most part, this group of re-sellers are professionals who are more focused on profit than faith, although, like the large mainstream retailers, they provide a much needed service. A small, but significant, number of these, however, fraudulently represent themselves as apostolates for the purpose of acquiring Church furnishings and vestments, claiming to send them to needy third world parishes. Others, thankfully smaller in number, acquire these sacred objects for illicit use in renegade “churches” and for use by practitioners of the black arts. This is an area of grave concern. Still another subset sells objects once used for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as casual furnishings. An ornate pre-Vatican II marble altar might end up as a high-end sideboard in a Las Vegas casino.
Wholesale profiteering from our rich Catholic heritage is, unfortunately, not a rare occurrence.
Both Catholic resellers and buyers alike have reason for concern. It is the goal of the Saint Isidore Catholic Sales Guild to provide education and to raise the bar for ethical standards in the field of Catholic devotional sale.