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Value of World War II Posters Marches On

September 17, 1987|RONALD L. SOBLE | Times Staff Writer

Question: Among the posters in my collection are what I call "security posters" from World War II, several of them colorful pieces of artwork warning Americans not to accidentally leak information to the enemy. I've been told they're fairly rare and that their collectible value has risen steadily over the years. Is that so? --D.P.

Answer: The value of World War II posters--all kinds, including recruiting, security and patriotic--has indeed risen in recent years, according to collectors. For example, some recent prices in dealer catalogues show a range of $70 to $120 for full-color posters urging national security measures and cautioning against careless talk. Such prices are about twice what they were at the beginning of this decade, collectors said.

A common theme in these posters were either symbols of war, such as ammunition belts or pieces of uniforms against battle backgrounds, or wounded or dead American servicemen. The message was usually blunt in large letters warning that "careless talk" can be fatal for GIs on the firing lines.

Not surprisingly, early recruiting posters dating back a century or more have three- and four-figure value because of their rarity. In the late 1880s, the U.S. Marines produced such colorful posters stressing the glamour and excitement of joining the corps and seeing the world.

But it was World War I that was the vehicle for mass production of such posters, particularly of the recruiting variety. They were executed by well-known artists of that time, such as James Montgomery Flagg, Hamilton Fisher and Howard Chandler Cristy. A famous Cristy poster showed a shapely young woman in a sailor's uniform declaring: "I wish I were a man, I'd join the Navy, Navy Reserve or Coast Guard."

Flagg, of course, is best known for perhaps the most famous of all war posters, showing a serious Uncle Sam pointing his finger at the viewer and declaring: "I Want You for the U.S. Army. Enlist Now." Some historians think this was a variation of a British recruiting poster of the same period.

Collectors add that American military posters produced between world wars I and II were distributed in such large numbers that their value is not nearly at the level of the posters produced during the war periods.

Additionally, recruiting posters generated by the Korean and Vietnam wars, which used a variety of messages including travel and education, have also been rising in value, they said.

War-related posters also are popular with collectors, including those with savings bonds (called liberty bonds during World War I) and Red Cross themes.

Q: I have a pretty good collection of advertising trade cards dating into the 1880s. But I'm having trouble finding any cards that were printed after 1900. Do they exist?--W.T.

A: Actually, these colorful bits of 19th-Century nostalgia appear to have dried up after the turn of the century. Perhaps widespread newspaper and magazine advertising, just beginning to come into its own at that time, contributed to the demise of the advertising card.

The cards--not too unlike baseball cards, but sometimes a little larger--bore the merits of a product and usually the name of a local merchant. The advent of lithographic printing techniques gave these cards a colorful quality that has made them popular among collectors.

Many of these products were advertised in sets, which are considered highly collectible. Unfortunately, few cards of that period were dated, so collectors have to estimate the years of production based on the product advertised and the message.

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