Discover Vintage America - MAY 2015

WWII posters kept the war effort alive on the homefront

Q: I have a vast collection of WWII propaganda and recruiting posters that my grandmother kept in a box to be handed down through the family. What can you tell me about these posters and are they worth anything today?

A: I have seen your amazing collection of war posters that your grandmother saved and it is very impressive. Thank you for sharing a few with our readers. I know that all of your posters are from WWII so that will be my focus even though recruitment and propaganda posters have been used during war-time for over 100 years and by many countries.

During WWII, propaganda war posters were created in large numbers by the U.S. government, contractors and even food manufacturers. Some were used as recruitment tools, others were intended to promote the sale of war bonds and they also served to get the American people behind the war effort through rationing.

Several tactics were used to deliver the messages. There were posters with scary imagery, posters showing the "boys" fighting the war, some patriotic themed and some that elicited guilt in those who were reluctant to sign-up.

There are quite a few propaganda posters which are pretty ominous such as the one showing the children playing with toys in a flowered field with the shadow of a swastika surrounding them. The look on their faces depicts the fear everyone at the time should have felt toward the German Nazi Party. Little did we know what true monsters Himmler and the SS really were. These posters were usually created by an artist hired by a contractor so they had the freedom to be very graphic in their imagery.

The caption beneath the image is "Don't Let That Shadow Touch Them: Buy War Bonds." This particular poster was created by Lawrence Beall Smith in 1942.

You then have a very nice poster showing a flag waving majestically in the breeze and a sidebar quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt with a small image of the Concord Minute Man statue. FDR's message to America was; "We Can We Must." The U.S. Treasury Dept. had this poster created urging Americans to buy war bonds and stamps in 1942.

We then move to the smiling face of a handsome soldier holding a tin cup. He is message to the public; "Do With Less, So They'll Have Enough! Rationing Gives You Your Fair Share." It is the work of the U.S. Office of War Information, Division of Public Inquiries created in 1943.

Whatever the message, the intent behind each poster was the same, to get the public to take action. They were eye-catching and each had a message that got the patriotic blood pumping.
Everyone could contribute in one way or another and the posters encouraged these actions.

As to value, these are small works of art and also an important piece of American history but the volume of posters produced was vast. America actually produced more propaganda and recruiting posters than any other wartime nation. There are several factors that come in to play when pricing WWII posters; condition, subject matter, artist behind the creation and size. I know that all of these are in pristine condition.

The poster showing the swastika shadow over the children has a value of $300-$400, the patriotic poster with the FDR quote is very common but would still bring $75-$100 and finally the smiling soldier ration poster is pretty large and would sell for $150-$200.

FOOTNOTE: WWII was an expensive war. The U.S. spent $300 billion to wage war (4 trillion dollars in today's money). The American public could purchase war bonds to help fuel the war coffers. You could purchase a $25 War Bond for $18.75. The government would take that money to help pay for tanks, planes, ships, uniforms, weapons, medicine, food, and everything else the military needed to fight and win. That's the investment in your country.

Ten years from the time you purchased your War Bond you could redeem it and get $25. That's the investment you made in your own financial future. Now, $6.25 may not sound like a lot, but most Americans bought more than just $18.75 worth of War Bonds.


Note: All prices given are for sale in a private sale, antique shop or other resale outlet. Price is also dependent upon the geographic area in which you are selling. Auction value, selling to a dealer or pawnshop prices are about half or less of resale value.

Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade. Send questions with photos to Michelle to publisher@discoverypub.com. Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to www.michelleknowsantiques.com for a one-on-one appraisal.