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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Someone Talked; Henry Koerner; Grinnell Lithographic Company, New York; circa 1943; 34 ¼ inches by 24 inches; sold for $960. Photo courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.
Advertising posters were effective in keeping World War II in the forefront of people’s consciousness. Ironically, war posters from every country have the same basic message.

Our soldiers are the noblest. Our enemies are the evil ones. Our war is the righteous war. If you changed the language, uniforms and symbols, most of these posters would be interchangeable.

It takes powerful propaganda to help get people geared up and ready for battle and that’s what war posters helped accomplish. For those who bought into their message, posters were successful. For those who didn’t buy in, posters weren’t successful.

These posters succeeded in creating a sense of involvement by reminding people that this was their war and they were part of it. Civilians could help defeat the enemy simply by buying bonds, keeping their mouths shut, donating blood, or joining up.

As propaganda, war posters both reflected and distorted the hopes and fears of the era. The values and prejudices were right there on display. Scare tactics and racial stereotyping abound.

“Let’s Give Him Enough and on Time.” This 1942 poster pictures a machine gunner sitting at his machine gun, out of ammunition and scared. It was designed to be displayed in munitions factories. Far removed from the battlefield, it served as a clever link between factory workers and the front lines.

Norman Rockwell borrowed a machine gun from the army just so he could get the exact details for this poster. Far removed from Rockwell’s folksy themes—the poster leaves little to the imagination.

Some companies like those in the automobile industry could point directly to their contributions to the war effort. Their plants were devoted to producing military equipment like tanks, weapons, and ships. Other companies less directly involved in the war found other ways to work war themes into their everyday advertising.

B.F. Goodrich did it by coaxing people to conserve tires. “Hitler Smiles When you Waste Miles” was their theme. Bell Telephone urged people to shy away from long-distance calling so soldier’s calls would go through quickly. “To the Jap Navy—Bottoms Up” was one of Pabst Brewing Company’s mottos.

The longer the war lasted, the longer people needed to be pumped up. It was hard for civilians because foods like sugar, meats and canned goods were rationed. Some people were hungry and simple items like razor blades, bobby pins and small appliances were hard to find.

The war was a huge sacrifice and people needed to be reminded why they were making it. Posters boosted morale. Picturing hungry children and worn out soldiers was hard to ignore.

Nowadays these war posters are historical treasures and highly collectible.

They were created by some of the most famous commercial artists of the 1940s like Rockwell, James Montgomery Flagg and Howard Chandler Christy. These artists were recruited by what was then the newly created Office of Wartime Information.

They’re history as well as art.

On Aug. 2, Swann Auction Galleries, New York, featured a selection of war posters in its Vintage Posters Auction. Here are some current values.

War Posters

Another Notch Chateau Thierry/U.S. Marines; Adolph Treidler; 40 ¼ inches by 30 inches; $540.

When You Ride Alone You Ride With Hitler; Weimer Pursell; U.S. Government Printing Office; 1943; 28 inches by 22 inches; $570.

Someone Talked; Henry Koerner; Grinnell Lithographic Company, New York; circa 1943; 34 ¼ inches by 24 inches; $960.

Keep ‘Em Coming And Coming Right; Weimer Pursell; U.S. Government Printing Office; 1942; 39 7/8 inches by 28 ½ inches; $1,200.

Let’s Give Him Enough And On Time; Norman Rockwell; U.S. Government Printing Office; 1942; 28 inches by 40 inches; $1,440.

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