Sunday, March 13, 2005

The 1830 trap

Once in a while there are people selling rosaries on eBay who aren't very familiar with what they've got. You can get some good bargains, that way . . . or you can, I imagine, get people wondering why their $50 piece doesn't sell (when it's something that's actually worth, say, $10).

For the most part, sellers on eBay are not happy if you tell them something isn't as old or valuable as they think it is. So it's something I rarely do. But there's one particular mistake I see about once a month. That's a seller who thinks they have a rosary from 1830.

The "1830" trap is easy to fall into if you don't know what you're looking at. Here's where you see it:


This is the front of a very popular Catholic medal, called the "Miraculous Medal," which turns up fairly often attached to, or as the centerpiece of, a 20th century rosary. There was a large upsurge of devotion to the Virgin Mary in the second half of the 19th and early 20th century, so there are lots and lots of these medals floating around. The date "1830" appears on all of them.

What "1830" represents is the date of the vision that inspired the medal: an apparition of the Virgin Mary to Sister (now Saint) Catherine Labouré, in the convent at Rue de Bac, Paris.

In a preliminary vision, Mary greeted Catherine familiarly and talked to her for a long time. A later vision showed Mary standing with her hands outspread, exactly as you see on the medal, with glowing letters surrounding her saying "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee." The vision then rotated to show the design for the back of the medal:


A voice told Catherine to have a medal struck after this pattern, and promised that many graces would come to those who wore it. To make a long story short, while Catherine herself remained unknown to the public most of her life, she succeeded in persuading her confessor and superiors to produce and promulgate the medal, which became instantly popular. Reports of miracles soon began to come in, leading to the popular name "miraculous" for the medal. It can be easily identified because the back is always the same "official" design.

The popularity of the medal, then, dates from the mid-19th century, as does (I think) the popularity of this particular pose for the Virgin, with her hands spread and "rays of light" radiating from them, representing graces. By itself, this pose is known as "Our Lady of Grace." Miraculous Medals have been struck with the 1830 date for more than 150 years now, and are still being manufactured today, so the presence of this "1830" medal doesn't mean the medal, or any rosary to which it may be attached, is anywhere near that old.

In point of fact, the vast majority of the "very old" "antique" and "vintage" rosaries on eBay are 20th century. Once in a while one does turn up that's clearly from before 1900, but it's not at all common, even for rosaries owned by someone's grandmother, or rosaries that are heavily worn.

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Anonymous Doris J said...

I have come across a Miraculous Medal, not exactly as shown in your picture. The back of the medal has the base of the cross going through the 'M' and there is no word 'sterling', on it.

11:27 AM  
Blogger Arras said...

I have one that does not say what this one says but there is an 1830 at the bottom and it looks rather old, would you mind taking a look at it?

9:51 PM  
Blogger Chris Laning said...

Certainly. I can be e-mailed through my profile. Send me a photo and I'll see what I can make of it.

It's worth noting that these medals are inscribed in a wide variety of languages: I've seen quite a few French ones, which may say "priez pour nous" or simply "PPN" at the end of the inscription.

If it has the arrangement of two hearts, the M with a cross and the ring of stars that's on the medal featured in my post, however, it's definitely this medal. All of that was part of the original vision that inspired the 1830 medal.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Gins said...

I have a small silver locket with a portrait of St Catherine Laboure picked out in relief on the front and with her name and ppn around the edge. The back has a glass plate and inside I can see a very tiny small black square of something, her name printed on a strip of paper and what looks like a piece of white rope around the edge. I have been told that it is quite old.

Can anyone shed some light on this.


4:13 AM  
Blogger Chris Laning said...

If it describes her as "Saint" Catherine de Labouré, it must date from after July 1947, which is when she was declared a saint. (If it calls her "Blessed" it dates from between 1933 and 1947.)

The scrap of cloth is almost certainly a relic of some kind. Most likely it is a piece of cloth that has been touched to the saint's bones. If the label just has her name or says "ex indumentis" that's probably what it is.

Or it might be a piece of a garment that belonged to her, but those are much more rare, and they usually say something like "ex habitu" or "ex tegumentis."

8:53 AM  
Blogger BooBoo said...

I have located one of these medals. It has some weight and delicate metals. Blue stones. The metals inscription says " o mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to thee. also a little difference in the hearts on the back i think. Your thought one this would be appreciated.

7:29 AM  
Blogger Chris Laning said...

The design has been re-interpreted by a lot of different artists, so often the details will vary quite a bit. Religious supplies catalogs not infrequently have twenty or thirty medals of this type in different sizes, materials and artistic styles.

12:45 PM  
Blogger PitChiK said...

Since the 1830 is not the real date of the rosary, how do I tell how old my rosary is? I never got to ask my grandma about it before she passed. I never thought it was actually that old since the beads are plastic. I have no intention of selling it as it is the only thing I have left of my grandma, but am just curious as to its age.

9:19 PM  
Blogger Chris Laning said...

PitChiK: it's not easy to tell the date of a rosary. Most "old" rosaries today were made in the 20th century, a few date back to the 1800s. You can try comparing the artistic style of the cross and any medals to those of rosaries or other jewelry that DO have dates, but otherwise it's very difficult to tell, because styles don't change very fast. You might see if this article suggests any further useful tips.

11:24 AM  
Blogger PitChiK said...

Thank you very much for the link to your other post. I think my best bet will be looking at the type and style of bead used on the rosary, as well as the images on the medals. As I've studied archeology, I am aware that wear on metal only shows how much it was actually used and not a good measure of date. I really appreciate your blog and will now follow it. Thank you again!

12:50 AM  
Blogger Laura319 said...

I have been trying to figure out when my Miraculous Medal was made and I cannot find another that is even in the same shape of the medals I have seen, and my mother had said she has no idea how long it has been in the family. I was wondering if I can maybe send you a picture of it and possibly you may have an idea that can put me in the right direction...? I hope to hear from you soon and I will continue to look!

12:13 AM  
Blogger Chris Laning said...

@Laura319: I can be e-mailed through my profile -- certainly you're welcome to send me a photo and I'll tell you what I can. As I said earlier, this design has been re-interpreted by many, many artists and I'm not familiar with all of the variations -- I know more about rosaries from before about 1700 than after.

11:44 AM  
Blogger southernmum said...

My grandfather's rosary has a center medal that has stars arched above Mary's head. There is open space between the stars and Mary's figure. The back of the medal is Miraculous Medal. The crucifix appears to be wooden surrounded by silver medal. A movable INRI is above christ's body, and 1830 is under his body. How old would this rosary be? My grandfather lived from 1879-1969.
Thank you!

10:11 PM  
Blogger Chris Laning said...

@southernmum: I'd have to see photos and even then I'm not sure whether it's possible to tell a late 1800s rosary from a 1900s rosary. I can be e-mailed through my profile on this blog if you have photos to send.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Shirley Jensen said...

I have a small 3 page silver medal almost resembling a has St Anthony Pray for us.. on the inside of the first page..Sacred Heart of Jesus in you I put my trust..with an imprint of Jesus on the front side of the middle page..on the back of has.. Our Lady of Mount Carmel Pray for us..on the front of the back page..It has Mother Mary..and around her it says.. Mary conceived without sin pray for us that have recourse to the bottom of Mother Mary it is dated 1830 and has the same imprint as the Miraculous Medal on the back as well as the imprint of Mary being the same....I have looked and looked and looked for along find out its origin..and or its worth, and have come up with nothing..can you help e-mail address in

5:06 PM  
Blogger Kirsty Williams said...

Hey! I have a miraculous medal from an old lady i looked after who passed away but mine dosent have the 1830 date on what does this mean? is it really old? or is it fake? xxx

11:03 AM  
Blogger Chris Laning said...

Kirsty: I don't think it means anything n particular. This is one of the most popular Catholic religious medals, and there are innumerable variations according to the whim of the designer: different shapes, elaborate frames or no frames, colored enamels and so forth.

The date is usually on the medal to commemorate the original vision, but unlike (for instance) the M and two hearts on the back, apparently the date is not considered a compulsory part of the design.

7:21 PM  
Blogger Cynthia Wiese-Martin said...

Chris, do you know someone who would help me find the value of a special old rosary?

2:22 PM  
Blogger Chris Laning said...

Cynthia, alas no I don't. I know that "the Yankee Lady" used to sell vintage rosaries and so might have some idea, but I don't know whether she's still around. I suggest looking around on eBay and seeing what similar pieces sell for (not the asking price but the final selling price).

4:09 PM  
Blogger Nancy Camarena said...

I have a miraculous medal that has Mary &1830 but nothing on the back, it just has a tiny Little heart with SA carved and made in Italy towards the bottom. What does it mean?

6:53 PM  

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