Friday, March 18, 2011

Demystifying military rosaries (Part 1)

For some time, I have been researching and seeking credible information about so-called military rosaries.  My goal has been to educate myself and confidently provide more accurate information to my buyers.

There is an abundance of misinformation on the web and I have read some outlandish stories describing particular military rosaries at auction. I believe some of this is intentional and driven by greed, which is very sad when you're dealing with devotional items.  Other sellers simply parrot what someone else has written without validating the information.  Like playing "telephone," the information gets more distorted as it proliferates and when it is repeated often enough, it is assumed to be true.

I have contacted the Army through their website several times, but never received a response. Recently a devoted customer and friend sent me a link to some information he found on an eBay seller's "Me" page.  After several e-mails between us, I discovered a kindred spirit with direct, personal experience who shares my zeal for dispelling the myths surrounding military rosaries. Here is his story...

"I'm a retired Contracting Officer for the U.S. government.  Many years ago during my training and internship they used different examples in an effort to teach us our jobs. The Soldiers Rosary was just one of many of those examples. We had to learn the laws and the differences used in the specifications and the resulting end product(s). After training I also had access to very old contracts and references that we often used as templates for similar items. Since retirement and with the invent of the Internet, I have searched many different sources both true and false and created my Me page in an effort to correct, educate and explain the differences. Of course my religion led me in different directions and well, you have read the results."

The pull chain rosaries we all know and love are the real thing... commissioned and procured by the U.S. government and issued by the military, upon request, to soldiers serving in World War I. When describing these rosaries, it is appropriate to refer to them as genuine WW I government-issue rosaries intended for soldiers.

That is NOT the same as a chain rosary that belonged to or was perhaps carried by a soldier. The Internet is full of mid-century, non-military, traditional sterling silver rosaries being sold as soldier or Chaplain rosaries.  Even if a rosary's provenance can be traced to a specific individual, it is simply a rosary that belonged to a soldier.  It is not and should not be described as a military rosary and certainly not one issued by the U.S. government or a military Chaplain.

One other note of caution. Military and sterling rosaries are sometimes sold with other religious items that may or may not have been acquired with the rosary and that are implied to have belonged to a soldier. In some cases this may be true; in others, it is a tactic to add authenticity to the item being sold and enhance its perceived value by patriotic and devotional collectors. Look closely at the photographs when considering such an item. The gentleman sharing his expertise with us tells of one Catholic rosary that was being sold with a Protestant bible!

Two other notes of interest...

"For all intents and purposes, there were very few Issued Rosaries in the Second World War.  Only a few were issued until June of '42 and they were warehoused "unissued leftovers" from the First World War and all were made around 1916. There were some stainless “prototype rosaries” produced just prior to WW II but not many at all (maybe only a few hundred and I don't believe that any were issued) as the military decided to discontinue the rosary issue altogether. Some of the stainless rosaries did end up in use through Army/Navy surplus sales after the War."

"Not every Catholic soldier or sailor got a rosary... they had to ASK for one from the Chaplain. Not all Chaplains were Catholic priests, so some didn't carry many rosaries with them and they especially didn't "push" the GI's or ask if they wanted one. The Catholic Chaplains would have asked so in those units, Catholic GI's would have had more rosaries than other units."

More to follow about the construction of these government-issue rosaries and insights into Chaplain rosaries.

Note: In addition to the information provided in our e-mail correspondence, you can also click here to read the eBay "Me" page about military rosaries and a ton of other great information.

1 comment:

  1. As always, thank you, Donna, for this very interesting (and accurate) information!

    The more I learn about Military Rosaries, the more I love them, and the more I appreciate their uniqueness.

    The beautiful Military Rosary that I recently bought from you, shall have an interesting story to tell me every day, and I would like to take this opportunity to encourage your other buyers to acquire these fascinating treasures from you, a person I really trust!

    Miguel L Rodríguez