Wednesday, May 29, 2013


 Medal collectors abound in the Philippines, judging from the number of medals and medallions offered at the regular Bayanihan Collector auctions in Manila. Few, however, collect religious medals, as they are not exactly on top of the list of medal collectibles--military medals, historical medals and commemorative medals are way up there. Now that's good news for religious medal collectors! Not only are prices stable and affordable, vintage medals of the sacred kind are also plentiful. They come in all sorts--made of cheap plastic, aluminum, brass, silver, and even gold.

Most common religious medals are those that mark feast days and anniversaries of saints (Virgen de La Naval, 400 years of Sto. Nino of Cebu), important religious events (e.g. National Eucharistic Congress). There are also souvenir medals from pilgrim sites (Shrine of our Lady of Lourdes, Fatima) and also celebrate the sacraments (Communion medals). Perhaps, the most well-known medal in the Philippines is Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, the design of which was based on a vision by the French saint, Catherine Laboure.

Considered as sacramentals, religious medals are staples of Manila thrift shops and are regular offerings at the Greenhills Antique and Collectible shows. For the lazy shopper, there are local dealers on ebay Philippines that sell such medals too. The most sought after are the old medals showing the likenesses of Virgen de La Naval, or Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, patroness of the Philippines. Medals of the Nazareno and the Virgen de Antipolo are also prized. Medals, which contain relics, command higher prizes, as well as medals of gold and silver, as in the silver medals struck for the 1937 International Eucharistic Congress held in the Philippines.

Medals are best displayed in shadow boxes, or kept in plastic cases. I chose to show off mine in a tin glass-panelled urna inspired by those antique Mexican retablo cases. I hope I get a medal for creativity!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

262. LITTLE DRUMMER BOY: A 1920s Mechanical Toy

I found this little drummer boy in one of those collectible shops along Tomas Morato in Q. C. . The bisque headed drummer has a wooden framework boy, covered with cloth, now frayed with age. He stands on a base made of thin plywood. He holds drumsticks on both hands; there is a lever at his back, which, when pulled down, caused the drumsticks to beat on a cardboard drum.
Toys, like this example, were cheaply produced in Europe. Bisque (unglazed ceramic) heads in all sizes were mass produced from the 18th to the 20th c. and were used to make dolls, automatons and mechanical toys. This drummer boy found its way here, perhaps, sold in one of the department stores or bazaars along Escolta in the 1920s. Such toys were comparatively expensive when sold here,  which probably was the reason why this toy survived--it was lovingly kept in a curio cabinet, only to be taken out and played with when a child got sick.

Monday, May 6, 2013


 The most affordable antique ephemera are perhaps, those small, mass-produced devotional pictures we call "estampitas", or holy cards. In our Christian tradition, estampitas were meant for the use of the faithful, and they typically depict images of saints or religious scenes. The reverse may contain a prayer, some of which promise an indulgence for its recitation. The circulation of these cards is an important part of the visual folk culture of Roman Catholics.
An important part of the visual folk culture of Filipino Roman Catholics, estampitas were used as iconographic guides in the carving of saints. Early cards were just black and white engravings on parchment, sometimes hand-tinted, until the advent of color lithography and newer printing techniques.
The more desirable estampitas are the pierced paper examples that simulate lace. In the center, a colored religious picture is imprinted. Because of their delicate cut-outs, these cards are rarely survived without tears and missing parts, so they remain on top of the list of holy card collectors.
Other estampita variants include Vocation Cards, given out by priests and nuns to celebrate milestones ion their religious life like ordination, profession and sacerdotal anniversraies. There are also Memorial Cards. Sacramental Cards (to mark Baptism, Communion, etc.) and Souvenir Cards from places of pilgrimage.
Since hundreds of thousands are still available, judicious collectors often collect by visual themes (Angels, Saints, Holy Week Scenes, Infant Jesus, Virgin Mary) or categories (Holy Communion Cards, Prayer Cards, Lace Cards, Local Cards). The estampitas shown here, numbering over 200 pieces all came in an album, sold by a private collector though a dealer. Reasonable priced, they are the most appealing paper collectibles one can find today.