Resucing, Restoring, Recirculating
ATLANTA – Rick Lair is a man on a mission. He drives 100,000 miles a year, buying, selling and delivering religious artifacts, in his quest to make sure they find the appropriate new home.
For more than a decade, his business, King Richard’s Religious Artifacts, has helped churches, schools, convents, hospitals and monasteries in all 50 states, Australia and Canada. His passion for his work is palpable.
“Other dealers might sell these items to nightclubs or antique malls; we would do that,” says Mr. Lair. “You’ll never find a confessional in a tavern from our company.”
He has become such a trusted resource, some clergy have offered him items free, to ensure they are used in the appropriate area.
Mr. Lair has built a rock-solid reputation with his customers. He and his staff work with liturgical consultants, architects and church committees of all denominations to help them enrich their environments with high-quality religious antiques and hand-selected new items.
“People rely on our opinions,” says Mr. Lair, explaining how he assists customers with selection, by understanding setting in which the item will be displayed. “Will it be a contemporary or traditional environment? We have the expertise to make solid recommendations.”
Good thing, too, because at any given time, King Richard’s has thousands of items available for view on their website – the largest of its kin din the world. Featuring more than 5,000 photos, it’s a great place to research the depth and breadth of the market. “The website is unequalled,” says Mr. Lair, “and helps us properly represent our inventory.” From $50 chalices (one of the most common items they sell) to exquisite, three-story altars that sell for $200,000, King Richard’s Religious Artifacts has it all. Over the years, they have rescued and repatriated thousands of items.
“There’s just no comparison,” says Mr. Lair, when asked to compare religious antiques to new religious items. “The workmanship just isn’t there today. When you buy an antique, you get better quality and a better price. For example, a set of antique stained glass windows might cost you $200,000, whereas a new set may run as much as $1 million.”
Antiques are often deeply gratifying to parishioners, he continues, and although churches are not looking for an investment in the purchase of religious artifacts, antiques do appreciate in value. “Antiques provide a sense of history and continuity; they warm a church for generations to come.”
“The website is a terrible temptation,” says a laughing Father Maximillian, who found King Richard’s through an Internet search. “Everything is so beautiful.”
Father Maximilian acquired six beautiful, 1924 Gothic stained-glass windows that King Richard’s saved from a church in Nebraska. He plans to build a small chapel, incorporating the windows and two antique statues he purchased. “The windows are a part of our Franciscan history; they are a once-in-a-lifetime find. It’s a mutual blessing that they were saved and we found them.”
The church’s architect said new windows would easily cost $15,000 to $20,000 each; Father Maximilian paid $6,000 each. But it’s the workmanship that moved him. “We want our chapel to inspire devotion, so that when you walk into it, your heart will be lifted up. The artistry of these pieces makes you feel like someone has been praying here for a century.”
Still, to provide the greatest selection to their loyal clients, King Richard’s has begun importing a full line of new altar ware from Europe, exclusive products that meet their high stands. They have also begun selling new European marble statues. “They are ornate, high quality and affordable,” Mr. Lair says.
Mr. Lair emphasizes King Richard’s is not an antique dealer (you’ll never find your sacred items on eBay) or an auction house. The company is also a source for churches that are planning additions, providing artifacts that closely match or complement existing items. Mr. Lair say those who are building new churches often want historical or superior quality altars, windows, statuary and altar ware.
King Richard’s has not shied away from big jobs either, which is another advantage of working with a company versus an individual when sourcing religious artifacts. “We are a turnkey operation. We can mobilize a crew and safely pull out 40-foot windows when a building is about to be demolished.”
Millie Harmon is the liturgical coordinator for St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Columbus, Indiana. When they were closing their beloved old church, they called King Richard’s after obtaining the company’s name from the Indianapolis Archdiocese. “We heard that his company takes good care of things that are dear to us and disposes of them in the proper way. Rick has a deep appreciation, reverence and respect for these things and we had a very good working relationship. We trusted him, he was nice and honest and communicated with us over a year and a half, even telling us where our altar and candlesticks ended up,” she said.
Taste and decor change – even in churches. That offers an opportunity for religious officials to sell excess movable items that are no longer in use, or in storage or surplus, even if the church is still fully operational. “Most of the artifacts that come to us are nearly forgotten,” says Mr. Lair. “Things like old lights, chalices, statues and stained glass can be sold to someone else who will appreciate them and give them new life. It’s a way to modify your collection and raise a few dollars,” he said.