Heritage USA

Church closures see pulpits flood the US market

But similar material is disappearing in Europe

NEW YORK. An unprecedented number of church interiors, liturgical artefacts and period furnishings are for sale in the US while similar material is disappearing in Europe. Many of the objects come from churches that are closing due to declining memberships, an aging population and a shortage of new priests.

Henninger's, a Cleveland store specialising in religious goods, is currently selling the contents of six early 20th-century churches for Roman Catholic dioceses. Mark Cousineau, the manager of Henninger's, says these closures are “a sensitive subject”.

“There is an enormous glut of vintage pieces on the market and prices are falling,” said Annie Dixon, owner of the Dixon Studio in Staunton, Virginia, which specialises in liturgical design and restoration.

“In the past eight years, the amount of material we are getting has risen 40% with prices going down,” said Don Riggott of D.C. Riggott Architectural & Liturgical Artifacts in Afton, Minnesota. “Eight years ago, a church wanted 12 Munich stained-glass windows dating from 1860 to 1920 and there was only a set or two around in the country,” said Riggott. They sold for $200,000. “Now there are 20 sets but prices have dropped to $60,000,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Europe, church materials are being repurposed for domestic use. “Clients are turning pulpits into kitchen islands,” said Kate Jerrold, the managing director of Bristol-based Robert Mills Ltd. Pulpits sell for £800 to £4,000. Two years ago, they had double that inventory. “Styles change and the recession has had an impact,” said Paul Nash, the company’s manager.

While much of the material on the market is not of major historical significance, many preservation experts see sales as threatening. “Windows, pulpits, statues and architectural elements may not be by LaFarge or Tiffany, but they are representative of an aesthetic of its time,” said Andrew Dolkart, director of Columbia University’s historic preservation programme. “Other examples that may be important can fall through the cracks and then they are gone forever—a lost chapter of culture,” he said.

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