Monday, April 21, 2014


SAN JOSE IS NOW ON FACEBOOK. An antique ivory San Jose found for sale on a facebook group, bought and restored to its full 25" glory, with embroidered vestments, gold-plated metal accessories, and a new gilt base. Personal Collection.

 The social networking site, Facebook, is perhaps the strangest place to find an antique treasure, an ivory santo to be specific. Sure there are facebook groups devoted to processional santos and other religious imageries, but to find an antique ivory San Jose for sale in the site is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

 But thank God for a facebook group called Pinoy Pickers Online—an association of like-minded individuals who like showing off, and selling their thrift shop and second hand store picks. A motley assemblage of stuff are peddled here—mostly refuse from old homes, odds and ends that include Coca Cola items, vintage jewelry to appliance junk, vinyl records, toys and, if one is lucky, old devotional art such as the one I discovered here.

 A Seller had posted a picture of old religious items grouped together, but sold individually. Everyone, it seems, was asking about the Santo Nino, the Virgin Mary and the collectible Bible prominently featured in the foreground. Nobody was paying attention to a rather squat-looking San Jose behind these wooden statuaries.

One look and I knew the face of the midget San Jose, originally described by the Seller as carved from deer horn, was in fact, made of ivory—and that was all that mattered to me.

I quickly contacted the Seller and was glad to learn that the San Jose was available. Upon my request, he sent additional information and photos—which confirmed that, indeed, the head was of whole ivory.

Unfortunately, the hands were wooden, but this did not bother me at all, as the heft and size of the ivory head (2.5 inches) more than made up for its flaws—which also include a disproportionately short wooden body, wire armature arms, a wig made of wiry abaca, and a halo fashioned from a twisted copper wire.

 The image was wearing its original green satin vestment that was beyond repair, and it stood on an ordinary box base stained to simulate wood grain. In all, the image stood only 16 inches, inclusive of the base. After a few phone calls, a deal was sealed between us and the image was mine!

The Seller was kind enough to make a bus trip from Laguna to Makati, just so he could personally deliver the antique ivory San Jose to me. The face of San Jose was beautifully carved, and the details of the facial features were outstanding. I lost no time in contracting the services of my santero for the repair and restoration of this fine San Jose.

 Major restoration began with elongating the manikin body of the saint through wooden augmentations done on both the torso and the leg area.

 A tall lotus base, gilded in gold, was commissioned separately to replace the boxy platform on where the image originally was mounted. Also, a new pair of ivory hands were ordered in lieu of the wooden ones that visibly didn’t fit the proportion of the image.

As for the vestment, my instructions were for a more elaborate design, which would entail more gold embroidery.

This would up the cost of restoration, but I think the quality of this San Jose warranted a bit more of extravagance!

 I had my first view of the almost-completed santo through a series of texted photos on my phone. 

Completing the ensemble was a jusi wig and the metalworks: a small brass halo and a flowering staff plated in gold, a familiar attribute of San Jose.

The resulting restoration was very dramatic: from 16 inches, San Jose now stands 25 inches, from the tip of the halo to the bottom of the base.

 I have a number of ivory San Joses in my collection, but none as impressive-looking as this latest find. In fact, even my santo restorer asked me to give him priority should I decide to unload it in the near future.

One thing for sure, that is not bound to happen soon! I never had so many “Likes” for an antique ivory santo!

 But that is bound to happen to an ivory treasure that I amazingly, incredibly found—not in an antique shop –but on Facebook! Now that’s what I call santo networking!


  1. Hi there! Who is the santero who does restoration work for you? Does he also do encarna? I am currently looking for an encarnador who can do work on our antique Dolorosa's head and hands. Thanks in advance!

  2. Dr. Raffy Lopez does my restoration. He and his staff does complete restoration work--from encarna to dressing up the image.