There are several design elements and materials that signal a rosary might be an antique.
There are several design elements and materials that signal a rosary might be an antique.

The use of rosaries is about as old as the religious rites associated with them. But because these religious items are based on a common design, dating an antique rosary or determining how old a rosary is can be a difficult task. However, collectors and history buffs can look for a few telltale signs that the rosary is an antique.

Examine the rosary's beads. While you cannot pinpoint an exact date based on the material from which the beads are made, you can narrow down the date of the rosary. Rosaries made from gutta percha, a synthetic wood made from a rubber-like material, date back to 1843 or so when the material was introduced. Many rosaries were made from this material until modern plastic became commonly used.

Look at any center pieces or medals that link the strands of rosary beads. Heart-shaped medals were common in the mid-1860s. Rosaries with medals showing the sacred heart of Christ or Mary, or the letter M, often date to the late 19th century.

Check the picture of the Virgin Mary if the rosary has one. The look of the Virgin Mary has changed depending on time period. A picture of Mary depicting a mature woman likely dates before the 1950s or 1960s. Pictures of a younger Mary were likely made after this time.

Examine the cross on the rosary. Composite crosses, those made from wood wrapped with metal, date to the Victorian era. Victorian era rosaries were often stamped with an image of Christ on one side and Mary on the other.

Check for other indicators of age. Many rosaries carry inscriptions that give clues as to the date of the item. Brass rosaries with military or patriotic pictures on them were commonly distributed to soldiers in the first and second world wars. Rosaries with the inscription “I am a Catholic. Please call a priest” or something similar likely date to the middle of the 20th century or before, when this inscription was common.