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Large, Handsome Antique Gutta Percha Rosary – Wonderful Energy!
This is one of those special Catholic rosaries imbued with the energy of active prayer. I acquired it from a man selling his grandfather's possessions, who told me it was last used in the 1940s. Based on its construction, I believe it dates from 1900-1910.
Generously sized overall, the large black beads have a rounded, elongated shape that is cut straight at the ends. They are very comfortable for prayer, and the entire rosary is nicely sized for larger hands. There are slight variations in width and length, yet they feel soothingly uniform in your hands. Each bead is mounted on a steel pin and surrounding the paters are twisted copper figure-8 links with great patina and spots of verdigris.
At the center is a silvered brass scapular medal that at first seemed too small for the rosary but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in beauty. The wording is in Latin, which is unusual on a rosary medal and the details are more beautiful than most, especially under magnification. The images of Jesus and Mary are kind and loving and reassuring, which adds to the unique energy of this rosary: wise, grounded, purposeful and comforting.
The nicely-weighted, inlaid crucifix is of chromed brass. Although it was likely mass produced, there are grinding marks along the sides that are not apparent because of the finish. Where the brass has worn through, its patina is dark and creamy, adding an earthy feel to the crucifix. Like the beads, I believe the black inlay is gutta percha and it is in fine condition.
Which brings us back to the beads. It is through process of elimination that I believe the beads are made of gutta percha. I am not an expert, so I am relying on research and my familiarity with early plastics and other wood substitutes. There is a pleasing matte texture on the surface and some areas of dryness that may be rejuvenated with skin oils when this devotional returns to active service. The scent is also indicative of gutta percha... slightly sweet, definitely not celluloid or Bakelite.
Gutta percha is made from the gum of a South East Asian tree and was used as a thermoplastic in that it was softened and then molded or extruded before cooling and returning to its solid form. It was used from the 1840s through the 1950s for many decorative and functional objects, from tubes, machinery belts and cable insulation to chessmen, animal figures and mourning jewelry.
This lovely religious heirloom is in excellent antique condition and is waiting for a special person to be inspired by the prayers of its previous owner and imbue it with another century of new life. Comes boxed and ready for gift-giving.
Weight – 36 grams
Length – 24-3/8 inches total; 8-1/8 inch drop
Beads – Average 7 x 8 mm
Cross – 2-1/8 x 1-1/8 inches
Medal – ½ inches
Suitable for wearing
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Donna Marie Guardino, Cleveland, OH
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