Thursday, March 31, 2005


In modern times, popular mass-produced rosaries are overwhelmingly made from round glass 6mm beads with 16 or more facets covering their surfaces. Occasionally there's some variation -- faceted cones, double cones, ovals. The dominance of these round faceted beads is so taken for granted that just about any other shape on eBay is billed as "unusual," "unique," or "rare" (and I hope everyone knows to take eBay descriptions of this sort with a liberal teaspoonful of salt!).

This particular type of bead seems to have experienced a great surge in popularity somewhere in the early to mid-20th century -- though of course faceted beads have been relatively common and cheap ever since ways to machine-cut them were invented.

As for historical rosaries of faceted beads, 500 Jahre Rosenkranz (many of whose photos are online somewhere at the huge Marburg Foto Index) has one rosary of faceted rock-crystal beads (#B72 in the book, from the Munich Stadtmuseum) on a dark wire chain that it tentatively dates "16th-17th c.", though on what evidence I'm not at all sure.

B72 Bergkristall

The beads are hard to see in the photo, but they look like they're round and have somewhere around 30 to 40 facets. By comparison with the attached reliquary medallion, assuming it's of average reliquary size, they might be somewhere around 8mm to 10mm in size.

Another rosary of the same material (#B75) has oval-shaped faceted gauds with gold caps and round faceted beads that are "squashed" along their vertical axis so they're somewhat disk-shaped rather than perfectly spherical.

B75 Bergkristall

Eight beads at the end of the "drop" or "tail" of the rosary are used to make a "credo cross" (a small equal-armed cross on which the Apostles' Creed is recited).

The terminal cross is missing (there's a loose end of string), but there's a little figure of St. Andrew with his X-shaped cross hanging from somewhere in the string. It's strung on a cord and has a small green tassel. This is dated "17th c.," again with no reason given.

These are probably the closest to the modern type of faceted beads that we're used to seeing.

Everything else that is faceted in the book that I can see from the photos is from the 18th or 19th century. I admit though, that I haven't yet gone through and tabulated all of the 200-plus catalog entries of beads from this exhibit (only about 60 of the 200 pieces have photographs :).