Collecting Religious Medals

Over the last few years, I’ve started collecting religious medals. Why? Well, I like them and as someone who likes to dabble in making jewelry and prayer beads old medals and reproductions can be useful. I don’t collect them for their value. While there are certainly medals that are worth more than others and some have considerable value, it is very difficult to judge. There are many reproductions out there, generated in part I think because of the low artistic value of most modern medals.

Many of the older medals are really works of art. The medal making industry seems to have taken quite a blow around the time of World War II. The height of artistic medal making seems to have focused in France and Belgium around the time of World War I.  This parallels with a period of artistic secular medal working. If you browse through the medals on eBay you will see quite a few attractive secular medals from around the time of World War I, many specially commissioned as prizes for competitions or to commemorate a variety of anniversaries. Most of these secular medals are in the art nouveau style. Some of these artists were also commissioned to do religious medals especially to commemorate anniversaries. Its not uncommon to find medals from around World War I that are signed by the artist.

There are many medals out there to choose from. Today there are about 900 listed on eBay. Where do they come from? Many are new; some come from estates. There are several dealers who have 20-40 medals online at any one time. Its not unusual to see medals and other items to be listed as formerly belonging to a nun. Some convents sell things directly on eBay but most seem to sell to dealers who then take them to eBay or I suppose shops.

Tips for collecting religious medals:

  1. Become familiar with modern medal styles.
  2. If it is stamped with “Italy” then it modern, at least post-World War II. It may be still being sold new.
  3. Medals come in gold, silver, silver plated, bronze, a few steel and many are base metal. Base metal has a bright finish when new but this can wear off. Vintage silver plated will have worn spots. Steel medals are rare, but I have one (19th century?) medal from Bavaria.
  4. There are hundreds to thousands of medals on eBay at any one time, if you don’t see what you want just wait.
  5. Worn base metal medals are often passed off on eBay as vintage when the same style can still be bought new today for less than $1.
  6. Collect what you like because it may never be worth more than you pay (if that).
  7. Specialize in a particular saint or type of medal.
  8. Medals of the most popular saints, like Joan of Arc, are often reproductions. This can be fine for me, just be aware of what you are buying.
  9. Dates are good but be aware that it may not be the date it was made. Miraculous medals are often dated 1830 because that is the date of the vision that inspired the medal. Some anniversary medals like the Jubilee Medal of Monticassino commissioned in 1880 are still very popular and thousands are made every year today. (The Jubliee Medal of Monticassino is the most popular style of St Benedict medal.)
  10. There are very rarely some real antique medals out there found in archaeological digs, mostly from the Americas (16-18th century). My only suggestion is to be very careful that they are legal first and what they claim to be second. Places like the Rosary Workshop sell reproductions of many of these early medals.
  11. If you want it for a chain or similar use, make sure the bail is ok. There are pocket tokens, brooches (often broken), medals with broken bails, and buttons that are listed under medals and medallions on eBay.
  12. Beware of the size. Religious medals come in all sizes from practically too small to see to huge.

Updated 12/12/2009.


20 thoughts on “Collecting Religious Medals

  1. Interesting article. Helpful, as this sort of collecting, and making rosaries, has recently become a hobby (work of hands, prayer, offering, meditation?). Very enjoyable, and a lot to learn about.
    Thanks for posting this.
    I’m really surprised there isn’t a great deal of detailed information about religious medals, like the kinds of books and guides they have for coins and stamps.
    Maybe that makes it more fun.
    But if you know of any resources I should look into……
    Peace and goodness,
    Br. David (Order of St. Francis, but the Anglican kind :-))

  2. It is surprising that there are no guidebooks that I’m aware of. This may be a hobby born of eBay.

    In the US, perhaps Catholics are spread too thin, mostly in a few large cities, and not all Anglicans would use them. The biggest reason may be that the overwhelming majority of religious medals are base metal and very cheap. Its really just the antique silver and bronze that survive well. The base metal and silver plate ones loose their finish and detail and the gold ones are probably sold to be melted down. Oh well, its probably good that there aren’t too many good ones out there.

  3. thanks for a great article. i was looking for an answer to why miraculous medals are stamped 1830/1930? and there it is in your post. I have started making jewelry with the medals since i survived breast cancer. I love it.

  4. Hi,
    I’m going to Romae again in a couple of weeks. I am now a holy medal collector and keen to top up my collection with authentic medals from Rome. Just cannot remember where is that street that has shop after shop full of holy medals? Can you help me? My internet search is not helpful. Where to buy holy medals in Rome, Italy?
    thank you

    1. are you interested in a st benedict medal that I purchased in Rome while I was on vacation in 2003?

  5. About 48 years ago I found a Joan of Arc button in my grandpas bean field. This was in a French settled area in Iowa. This button is old and made of siver with Jehanne across the top date birth and death on each side of Joan it also has crosses all over the face. The back has a screw receptical. It about the size of an american qaurter can you tell me what it is It now has a brown petina but it is silver. Appreciate any info

  6. My grandfather who recently passed had a gold religious medal. It was the size / shape of a dime and on the front it had the sacred heart of jesusand real small say’s ITALY. On the back was “Our Lady Of Olives – Protect Us Against Storms and Floods”. It was something that was lost and I am trying to find out what it is . Is it a protection medal, meraculous medal, patron medal ? I want to find out how I can get one just like it. I know this. He was an electrician on the U.S.S. Dobbin Ad-3 destroyer tender ship while in service during wwII. I have posted photo’s on ( New York , Buffalo ) under Items Wanted. Can some one give me some idea’s to finding this particular medallion. I have reason to believe it was bought in Italy between rome and Bari.

    1. The sacred heart of Jesus is a common image on medals. Our Lady of Olives probably is fairly common. It will be finding the combination that might be tough. So you just want to find one rather than learn how old it is, etc. Many Catholic medals are made in Italy so he didn’t necessarily get it in Italy. Probably most medals sold today are made in Italy.

      I would try ebay, search for religious medals or scared heart or our lady of olives. A miraculous medal is a particular type of Marian medal, not Our Lady of Olives. Our Lady is patron of many professions but I don’t know about Our Lady of Olives in particular.

  7. Do you have medals of St.John the Babtist, St.Sebastian, St. Joseph are they Italian and what is stamped on the back? What vintage are they? Thanks, Dennis

  8. I just read this article and loved it. How wonderful to find others that appreciate and know the value of the miraculous medals. ~A lover of Miracles

  9. Hello, here is a medal I believe to date to the late 1700ds or early 1800ds. What do you think.

    The piece is solid silver but not marked and a little larger than a half dollar.


    Crude drilled teardrop loop.


    Hand filed edge.


  10. Hello,
    Congratulations on your very interesting blog! By the way, do you know of any safe method to remove the hard dirt from excavated medals without destroying the patina? Thank you.

  11. I have a church of england working mens society meddallion
    and was wondering if any one could advise me of a website that
    give you approx values of old coins etc

  12. It is a nice topic. Thanks for your interesting remarks. What would you say about these old-fashioned medals: ? I am the manufacturer and would like to hear some opinion of people who know this sort of things. Thanks in advance and all the best to you.

  13. I’m looking for a Miraculous medal in gold on onyx and that on a gold plate outlined in 30 plus marcasites. Friend likes mine from the 1940s and I’d like to get her one. Thank you.

  14. I am looking for a company that would produce a medal of St. Scholastica for our Sesquicentennial celebration. Are you aware of resources or designers that I might contact to help me with this? thank you

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