World War II Propaganda Posters

Value (2006) | $6,000 Auction$8,200 Auction

They belonged to my great-grandmother. She worked for the Department of War and Department of Labor. And she was a pack rat. I mean, she just... she loved to collect things.

How many of them are there?

I'm guessing about 50.

Do you know anything about them? What they represent? What they're promoting?

Just from maybe what I learned in history class. That's about it.

Well, I pulled out a couple of very specific and interesting pieces to talk to you about. The ones on either end are a very famous mythological figure in American World War II history. It's Rosie the Riveter. And one of the reasons why I love these posters so much is that she is such a popular character, and her image is so well-known, but you actually very seldomly see the posters. Now, these are advertising the Woman Ordnance Worker program, where women were making shells in factories while the men were away, and, in fact, the one that's closest to you actually says, "The girl he left behind is still behind him." It's a really strong, powerful women's empowering, women's lib kind of image. Very, very popular, and surprisingly really rare in the world of World War II posters. Now, very differently is the poster that's in the middle here. Now, this poster is by a very famous artist whose name is Ben Shahn, and his name appears on the poster, and the story behind this poster is a page right out of your history class. In 1942, the Czechoslovakian Resistance assassinated Heydrich, who was one of the high commandants in the Nazi army in Czechoslovakia. And, in retaliation, the Germans liquidated an entire village in Czechoslovakia. They killed all of the men and deported all of the women and children to concentration camps. The town was called Lidice, and this poster is so somber and so grim of a shackled man with his head in a bag up against a brick wall, and it's meant to look sort of like a radio dispatch saying what happened. It was meant to... truly inspire hatred in the American public. Now, another image is this image up front, and it seems like a very simple poster. It says, "Give it your best!" It was meant to increase production in factories. The poster is not signed, but we know that it's by a very famous artist named Charles Coiner. And this poster, because of its clear and obvious patriotism, is actually also very desirable on the market.

So where did they put them, though?

They would have hung in factories, the would have hung in schools, they would have hung in post offices, they would have hung in shop windows. Finally, I want to show you something that I've never seen before, and this is a group of posters for something called the O.P.A. And the O.P.A. is the Office of Price Administration which existed during the war specifically to keep black marketeers from profiting on gasoline, on rent, and these are a very creative, very modern series. They don't seem like they're from 1945. They seem much more recent. I've never, never seen them before, and in fact, only just today when I went online to do some research, learned what the O.P.A. was. I'd never heard of the Office of Price Administration. So I think these are very exceptional. Now, you see that all the posters are folded up. This isn't a condition issue. These posters are folded as issued. They were mailed out around the country. And they're always folded like this so they could fit into envelopes. If I had these posters at auction, I would appraise them in the following way. The two posters of Rosie the Riveter, each by Adolph Treidler, by the way, a very famous artist, I would estimate each one separately at $1,500 to $2,000.

Okay. APPRAISER The Ben Shahn poster for "This Is Nazi Brutality," I would estimate at $800 to $1,200. The Charles Coiner, "Give It Your Best," the American flag, I would estimate at $700 to a thousand dollars. And all of these posters for the Office of Price Administration, as a group, I would estimate this group alone at $1,500 to $2,000.

Oh, cool, okay.

So together now, with these posters, we're looking at between $6,000 and $8,200, and that's just for the ones we're looking at, not for the other ones that are in the pile.


How does that sound for a piece of history?

That sounds great. I had no idea. I thought they were maybe, I don't know, five bucks a pop. That's it.

Appraisal Details

Swann Auction Galleries
New York, NY
Appraised value (2006)
$6,000 Auction$8,200 Auction
Tucson, AZ (June 17, 2006)
May 18, 2009: In this segment, appraiser Nicholas Lowry discusses two "Rosie the Riveter" World War II propaganda posters, at one point referring to Rosie as a "very famous mythological figure in American World War II history." After the appraisal aired, a viewer wrote in to clarify that Rosie was no myth; in fact, the viewer said “Rose” was once her next-door neighbor. In hindsight, Lowry acknowledges that he might have chosen a better word than "mythological," and says he did not intend to suggest Rosie was fictitious, but rather that she became a legendary character in the history of the U.S. war effort. Rosie's image represented the ideal citizen of that era — one who was productive, strong, tough, and patriotic. Rosie the Riveter's real name was Rose Will Monroe. She died in 1997 at the age of 77.

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