The events and battles of World War II played out on every continent of the planet. Tens of millions lost their lives between 1939 and 1945, and countless millions more were left to pick up the pieces. One of the many challenges for those who survived was to figure out how to retain a connection to that epic struggle in a way that honored the memories of those who fought so bravely under such dire conditions and on so many fronts.

For U.S. collectors of World War II objects, there are at least two directions to pursue. The first is to focus on the militaria, which includes captured Japanese swords and German helmets, field gear such as canteens and mess kits, and tools such as shovels and mattocks. There are also ammo belts, military wristwatches, and medals and badges of all sorts. The other tack is to explore the wide range of advertising materials, pieces of sweetheart jewelry, and movie posters that were produced to keep the public’s enthusiasm and support for the war as pitched as possible.

Medals are one of the most appealing areas for collectors of vintage World War II militaria. Medals are small so they are easy to store, their designs are often quite handsome, and in some cases the original recipient’s name can be tracked down, which brings the history that preceded the medal to life. One of the biggest problems for medal collectors, though, are the large number of reproductions on the market, especially when it comes to medals bearing symbols of Germany’s Third Reich.

For U.S. medals, the highest awards that can be collected are the numerous Distinguished Service medals, some bearing crosses or stars, some numbered. Only the Medal of Honor is higher, but it is illegal in the U.S. to buy or sell one—only 433 were awarded during World War II compared to more than 1,500 during the Civil War. Both the Army and Navy awarded Silver and Bronze Stars, Flying Crosses, and Purple Hearts, while all branches handed out Good Conduct medals.

For similar reasons, vintage World War II badges are fairly popular. The U.S. military awarded badges to its soldiers and officers when they had achieved certain skills, from medical ability to marksmanship. Wings awarded by the Army and Air Force are perhaps the best known World War II badges, with special badges for Gunners, Bombardiers, Navigators, and, of course, Pilots.

Uniforms that have seen action and still have their sewed-on chevrons and other insignia are also of interest. While coats and jackets are probably the most sought-after items, one type of jacket in particular commands the most attention. That would be the leather A-2 flight jacket, especially one that has been hand painted or retains its original embroidered patches. Fleece-lined jackets, as well as those with fur collars, are also very desirable.

Headgear ranges from wool visor caps to leather flight helmets to white Navy sailor’s hats. Flak helmets, usually colored olive drab, had protective coverings for the ears, while combat helmets with fixed bails for the chinstraps can be found with painted insignia on them—if the helmet has a nice, crisp decal on it, or if the paint looks too good to be true, then you are probably looking at a fake...

The other broad areas of vintage World War II collecting covers the so-called ‘homefront collectibles’. After Pearl Harbor was attacked in December of 1941, people snatched up everything from salt-and-pepper shakers to buttons to glassware bearing the words “Remember Pearl Harbor.” Sweetheart jewelry, including compacts, was worn by women whose loved ones were fighting overseas. Many of these pins and brooches were shaped like the letter “V” for “Victory.”

Advertisers of the period found that the best way to sell soda pop or beer was to encourage the purchase of War Bonds on their products’ labels. Similarly, magazines ran cover stories about war heroes, from grunts in the trenches to generals. Hollywood did its part by producing patriotic films such as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.” Movie posters and lobby cards for such films are staples for collectors, as are comics in which superheroes such as Superman made short work of Axis bad guys. And then there were the ceramic ashtrays, which encouraged smokers to put out their cigarette butts in the open mouths of Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

myArmoury.com

myArmoury.com

This resource for historic arms and armour collectors provides exhaustive information on modern reproductions (cust… [read review or visit site]

The Civil War

The Civil War

Paul McWhorter’s amazing reference site tells the story of the Civil War through high resolution scans of Harpers… [read review or visit site]

Mikes Tanks

Mikes Tanks

Mike Seeber’s extensive collection of over 500 diecast tanks and military vehicles, dating back to WWII. Browse b… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Original Wwii M-1 M1 Helmet, Named To General Harlan Hartness W/ DocumentationOriginal Wwii M-1 M1 Helmet, Mint & Unissued Front Seam, Fixed Bale !!!Estate Found A-2 Jacket With All Insignia 455th Bombardment Group ItalyUs Wwii M-1 Helmet Early Fixed Bales And Westinghouse Liner Painted Rank Usa Ww2German Helmet Ww2 Sd M40 Original U.s. Id'd Wwii Fixed Loop M1 Helmet & Firestone Liner (complete)Wwii German Camo Helmet Q68Wwii 82nd Airborne D-day Grouping D-day Letter From Eisenhower Part Of Large Ww2Wwii Italian Model 1933 Helmet W/ Painted Mvsn Fascist Militia EagleOriginal Wwii M-1 M1 Airborne Paratrooper Helmet, Id'd, Front Seam, Fixed Bale Wwii Us M1 Helmet-fixed Bales Front Seam-w/ Chinstraps & Firestone Liner Rare Post-wwii X-51 Experimental Prototype Helmet, Ex. General Harlan HartnessHanhart 417 Fliegeruhr Pilot's Watch Flyback Two Button Based On Caliber 40Antique Wwii Randall Springfield Model #1 Fighter Fighting Knife W/ Sheath NrWw2 German Luftwaffe Officers Holster .... Rare...not LugerDown With Hitler And His Two Stooges ~ Vintage Wwii License Plate TopperWwii Type A-2 Painted Leather Jacket 555th Bomb Squadron A-26 Invader Very RareUsa Ww2 G.i. M1 Swivel Bale Front Seam Paratrooper HelmetOriginal Ww2 Army Air Forces Painted Art A2 Bomber Jacket-'star Dust'Ww2 Japanese Dog Tag, Pocket Knife, Ammo Pouch, Can Opener Etc...Wwii 82nd Airborne D-day Grouping Armband Paratrooper Part Of A Large GroupingWwii Original German Helmet M-42 Camo Paint & Liner!Ww2 Wwii Era Us Navy Uniform Nxsx Deck Jacket Alpaca Usn Stencilled Vintage N1Japanese Samurai Araoke Family Koto Tanto -boy's Nihonto Sword, Tsuba And KozukaWwii Us M4 M1 Carbine Bayonet Imperial With Original Us M8a1 ScabbardBeautiful Bullion German Made Nuremberg War Crimes Trial Shoulder InsigniaOriginal Vintage Wwii Parachute In Bag,id'd,us Army,usaaf,air Force,camo,seatRare 1943 Marked Us U.s. M3 Pal M1 Carbine Bayonet & Usm8 B.m Co. Scabbard WwiiWw2 Airborne Paratrooper First Aid Kit.Wwii Aviator Goggles An 6530 Military Pilot Flight Green Tint Nice ShapeWwii Italian Mvsn Fascist Militia Officer General Fez Hat Cap-beautiful!-rare!!Vintage Australian Ww2 Army Machete & Scabbard WwiiM1 Helmet Wwii Doctor Red Cross Paramedic Wwii 82nd Airborne D-day Grouping Maps Only Kit Part Of A Large Grouping Ww2Japanese Shin-gunto Sword - Signed: "nagamitsu" - Army Officer MountsImperial Russia Order Medal Badge Japan Russian Crown Cross N 159 Ww1 WwiU.s. Ww2 M-1942 16' M1 Garand/03 Bayonet & Scabbard. Ex. Condition Estate FindWwii U.s. Army M-1 Front Seam Fixed Bale Original Paint, 32 Painted On Front Bs Wwii Mint Us Army Paratrooper Issued Leather Gloves Size 10 1/2 D-day Used Ww2World War Two Japanese Type 96 Machine Gun Scope With Case All Original ExcellenAuthentic Imperial Japanese Army Nco Katana & Matching Number Scabbard Wwii Ww2Wwii Japanese Type 99 Arisaka Rifle Canvas Sling-guaranteed Original-scarce-niceOriginal Ww2 Usaaf Fighter Bomber Squadron Skeleton Patch Mission List PhotoOriginal Minty Wwii M1 M-1 Carbine Bayonet M4 ImperialM-42 German Normandy Camo Helmet. Ww2. Size 66. Complete With Liner.Rare Wwii Japanese Navy Officer's Dirk Or Dagger Samurai Sword Gunto Ww2 Naval Wwii~western~boulder~pat. 1967479~combat Knife W/blued Blade & Leather Sheath~Ww2 Russian Ssh36 Early 'red Army' Combat Helmet Rare -us Marine Corps- Vintage Wwii Fighter Pilot Officer's Mess Dress UniformOriginal Wwii M-1 M1 Helmet W/ Aaao Painted InsigniaWwii U.s.a.f.f. U.s. Army Air Force Type A-14 Demand Oxygen Mask - MediumVintage Knife-case-fixed Blade-military-wwii-survival Knife-hunting Knife-1940`sOriginal Ww2 Japanese Army Shovel Cover Soldier Japan Medal Rare Vtg 40's WwiiU.s. Army Mid Ww2 M1 Carbine Combat Rifleman's Web Set, Nice Orig Gear Package Wwii Us Soldier's Medal Engraved With Recipiant Name On BackOriginal Pre-wwii Us Army Air Corps Named & Ranked Rough Wear A-2 Flight JacketWwii Us M1907 Leather Sling-boyt 44-for 1903 Springfield & M1 GarandStunning Schlueter M-1 Helmet And Liner Vintage Ka-bar Usn Mk 2 Knife W/original Sheath Good Used ConditionOriginal German Wwii M40 Helmet W/ Original Liner & Paint