Studying WWI and propaganda posters go hand in hand. Posters played a big role in motivating citizens to support the war. There were a variety of poster subjects and a lot of posters produced, leaving a large inventory of vintage posters available for antique collectors.
WWI and Propaganda Posters
The propaganda poster was an effective way of motivating Americans to support the war effort and to maintain their morale. They were relatively inexpensive to produce and they could be placed just about anywhere. They were displayed wherever large groups of people might gather including schools, factories, libraries and post offices.
Thousands of different poster designs were created by artists who had been hired by government agencies, businesses and private organizations. The emotional images and texts of the posters were a striking reminder to Americans to give more and sacrifice more for the war effort.
Purpose of Propaganda
Propaganda is information that is spoken or written in a way that convinces people into believing something or taking a certain action. Propaganda during wartime can include telling the citizens that the war is almost over as a way to keep them motivated. Wartime propaganda can also include developing a campaign to "sell" people on the benefits of being at war.The United States government developed propaganda posters starting in 1917 when the U.S. entered the war. The posters were designed to increase patriotism and motivate Americans to either enlist or support the war effort. The major issues being faced by the government were kept secret and not included on the posters. Instead, the posters were designed with images and text to motivate citizens to take a specific action. If enough citizens took the action, the major issue would be solved.
Issues and Poster Themes
The U.S. government faced five major issues during WWI and propaganda posters were designed to address those issues. Each poster was designed to motivate the American to take a specific action:
- Military personnel shortages - Enlistment by men was encouraged by the posters. Women were encouraged to enlist to drive transport trucks in Europe. Patriotism was a major theme of the posters. Posters were also designed to reflect the family pride in having someone serving in the military.
- Military injuries - Posters appealed for Americans to contribute cash to the Red Cross and to volunteer in support of the military as nurses and care givers both in the U.S. and in Europe.
- Military equipment shortages - Americans were encouraged to buy savings stamps as well as government bonds called Liberty Bonds in 1917 and 1918 and Victory Loans in 1919. These programs provided the cash to purchase equipment.
- Labor shortages - Women on posters were conveyed as being key to war effort as they drove trucks and ran telephone exchanges.
- Food shortages - Those at home were encouraged to maintain farm food production and to not waste food.
War Posters from Other Counties
Britain had an aggressive poster campaign starting in 1914 when WWI started. Britain only had a professional army and needed to persuade their citizens to become soldiers and support the war effort. Other countries that produced propaganda war posters were:
What to Look For
To achieve maximum value when collecting a vintage poster you should look for:
- Authenticity - Review written histories to make sure the poster image was actually produced during the war years.
- Rarity - War posters were often produced in quantities of 10,000 or more. Posters that were distributed in public places usually are no longer available. The rare, most valuable posters are those that were never hung and, instead, were left over in a printer's warehouse or saved by artists, libraries or museums.
- Condition - Posters are graded from A to D. Look for clear colors that have not faded and intact edges without rips. The condition of the poster can make the difference of thousands of dollars in price.
- Conservation - Unmounted posters are more valuable than posters which have been dry mounted because dry mounting shortens the life of the poster. An authentic poster will still have the original fold marks. It may have been unfolded and stored or hung flat to decrease any pressure on the paper caused by folding.
- Originality - They should look like they could have been printed over 90 years ago. For example, an unfolded poster would not be authentic since war posters were folded after production and then smoothed out after hanging. Avoid posters that look too new. Many of these posters have been reproduced and made available as new posters.
- Pricing - Use collectible price guides and web poster resale sites to research current retail pricing.