With Pope Benedict XVI set to Resign, Here’s a Look at Collecting Papal Memorabilia

Among the most common papal memorabilia collected are the rosary and the scapular (right). Rosaries can be made of everything, from plastic to precious metal.

Scapulars—two pieces of cloth religious images held together with a string and placed around the shoulders—can be silk-screened or hand-embroider. These items are often received as gifts and have more sentimental or spiritual value than the $10 to $40 received at auction, especially ones received and blessed by the pope directly from the Vatican

The recent announcement of the upcoming resignation of Pope Benedict XVI will be felt in many significant ways. He is spiritual leader of about one billion Catholics worldwide, is the head of state of Vatican City—a country of about 110 acres—and is Bishop of Rome, where he shepherds the spiritual lives of his own congregation as a parish priest.

As Benedict XVI becomes Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once again, the new 266th pontiff since St. Peter will be elected among the College of Cardinals in early March of this year. When that occurs, the transition of popes will, for the first time, not include memorial items such as the traditional prayer cards and funeral programs. But what other items are available for the faithful to remember the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI and that of his predecessors?

One of the distinguishing characteristics of papal memorabilia is that any item can have a more personal connection once it has been blessed. With the blessing, by word or by touch, comes the personal connection with the pope, and through him, a more spiritual connection as well.

A signed photograph of Pope Benedict XVI brought as much as $400 in an eBay auction in 2008.

Other popes have signed photographs, blessings or benediction documents. This is Pope Pius XII.

The items most connected with the blessing are the rosary, the scapular (two pieces of cloth religious images held together with a string and placed around the shoulders) and the missal. Other than design, there are as many variations of each as there can be from plastic to precious metal for the rosary, from silk-screen to hand-embroider for the scapular. Most, though, are received as gifts and have more sentimental or spiritual value than the $10 to $40 received at auction, especially ones received and blessed by the pope directly from the Vatican.

Many Catholic homes have photographs of the pontiff (meaning bridge builder in Latin, by the way), in a prominent place. Today, the photos are in color and sometimes less formal, but more available at $10 to $20, compared to the black-and-white images of earlier popes from the late 19th century to about 1950 or so, which can reach up to $50. Signed photos can range from $200 to $500, but care must be taken that the signature is not secretarial, printed or autopenned by machine if they are to be considered as a collectible and not just spiritual. A signed photo of Benedict XVI brought as much as $400 in an eBay auction in 2008.

This baseball with a black-ink signature that reads “Paulus P P. VI” is an example of an unusual piece of papal memorabilia. The ball was sold as is and without a PSA Letter of Authenticity due to the fact that the company will not authenticate these papal signed baseball. Still, it realized $2,784 in a 2008 auction.

Sometimes, the item that was autographed raised the value, simply because it is not something you would expect a pope to sign. For example, a baseball signed by Paul VI, though, is really an unusual item not usually associated with a pope and was auctioned off for $2,784.

The oldest item relating to the pope was an opinion known as a papal bull (an official decree) that allowed the Order of Poor Clares—a strict religious order of women—wine and pottage except on Fridays. Handwritten on vellum in 1245 and signed by Pope Innocent IV, it was auctioned for $4,626. Papal bulls are available from the $100 to $500 range, complete with ribbons and large bronze or wax seals.

Additional papal items include a replica of the papal ring worn by Benedict XVI and John Paul II, which features a high bas relief of Jesus on the cross with the two others crucified with him created in silver and gold plate with a collectable value of $400 to $600. The silver Bishop’s ring with the seal of Paul VI was given to bishops as a commemorative at the Second Vatican Council in 1965 and one sold at auction for $375 in 2011. There are also replicas available.

The oldest item relating to the pope found in the Worthopedia was this papal bull (an official decree) that allowed the Order of Poor Clares—a strict religious order of women—wine and pottage except on Fridays. Handwritten on vellum in 1245 and signed by Pope Innocent IV, it was auctioned for $4,626.

When a pope travels, the excitement is created through signs and banners, such as the one during the visit of Benedict XVI to Washington, D.C., in 2008 that was auctioned for $200, along with tickets to attend the Mass, the programs, the hand-held Vatican City flags and other ephemera that complete the visit, will continue to be collectible within the $10 to $30 range.

In the end, the reign of a pope tells a great history of faith, of community, and of a special spiritual bond. The collectibles associated with each pope tells only the story on a temporal realm. It is the spiritual realm that the faith is built upon, like the rock of Peter.

Tom Carrier is a general Worthologist, with an expertise in a wide variety of subjects, including vexillology, or the study of flags.

 

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2 Comments

  1. I saw a large carved shell cameo brooch of Pope Pius XII at the Renninger’s Antique Market last Sunday. It was large too. You never know what you will find at that place.