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”)

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 Ww1 M18 German "cut-out" Helmet, Reissue In Ww2,ex. SdJapanese Wwii Battle Damage Helmet Us Vet Pacific War Pick Up Japan Ww2 # @ RareWwii Ww2 B-17 Bomber Pilot M-3 Flak Helmet Flying Flight UsaafOriginal Wwii 101st Airborne Hq D-bale Helmet And Inland LinerOriginal Vintage Ww 2 Leather Flight Jacket M-422 A Rare Squadron Patch Xl SizeM1 Carbine Paratrooper Stock Repro/originalWw2 M1 Garand Sniper Rifle Scope M82 TelescopeRare German Ww2 M42 Et66 Possible Kreigsmarine Over Painted In Rough Camo HelmetOriginal Wwii Us M1 Helmet With Complete Msa Liner & Od Buckle Leather ChinstrapJapanese Wwii Original Unissued Helmet Liner Complete And Real Japan Ww2 Nippon100% Original Ww2 British 3rd Airborne Tunic. 1st Div. Spectacular ConditionWwii Cbi A-2 375th B.s. Blood Chits, Squadron Patch GroupWw2 Named D-day Letter Leaflet And Eisenhower Farewell Letter Ike Shaef AirborneItalian Early Model 1933 Helmet Painted Fascist Spanish Eagle Spain Cavalry RareUs Ww2 Garand Long Bayonet Pal And Dated 1943 Maker Marked With ScabbardWw1 Ww2 Medals & Badges. Wia Messines. 38 BnA-2 Jacket, Wwll Leather Jacket, Painted Night Fighter Squadron Patch, P-61Ww2 German Cameo Camouflage Field Helmet Shell Original Sz 66Wwii B-29 Desk Top Model Airplane~art Deco Metal Superfortress Bomber Ashtray~Us Winchester Made Us M.1917 Sword Bayonet & Scabbard Great Conditions Usa KnifeOriginal Vintage Wwii U.s. Navy Foul Weather Flight Deck Coat Jacket Sz 38 German Germany Ww2 HelmetH-31 Japanese Sword Lady's Suicide Tanto Dagger In Mountings, MintWw2 German Helmet Original M42 No DecalA+ Post Wwii Us M4 Bayonet M1 Carbine Camillus W/m8a1 Scb Fighting Knife Us Ww2 Camillus M4 Bayonet For M1 Carbine Leather Handle M8 ScabbardWwii Waffen Ss Cap Skull Pin German Military Officer Deathshield Deschler Nr YqzJapan Order Of The Sacred Treasure Rare StarWw2 Usmc Fixed Bale Helmet With Hawley Liner, NamedWw2 Usmc Named Jacket, Pants & Leather Belt.Rare Wwii Dak Wehrmacht Uniform Cufftitle Afrikakorps Germany Africa InsigniaOriginal Early Wwii U.s.helmet Fixed Loop M1 And Hawley Liner Set Field MarkingsOrig Wwii Cbi Pilot Grouping W/blood Chit, Wings, & 2 Theatre Made Leather PatchChinese Order / Medal Of The Most Brilliant Golden Grain In CaseNamed Wwii Nco Or Japanese Officers Samurai Sword Matching Numbers Gunto Ww2 Original Paratrooper Ww2 U.s. Army 11th Airborne Oval With WingsE-9 Japanese Wwll Naval Officer's Sword Mountings, Ray-skinUs Ww1 M1903 Springfield M1917 Enfield Leather Sling Brass Hardware 1918 Ww2 Navy Kai-gunto Navy Katana " Kanenori 1940 " Japanese Samurai Sword Tsuba Rare Italian Wwii Fascist Desk Ornament Solid Brass Fascio On Marble Base Real !Ww2 Us M1 Garand Bayonet Ufh 1943 Nice 20 1/2" LongVintage U.s. World War 2 Ww Ii Steel Pot Center Seam Fixed Bale Helmet German Ww2 Helmet Camo Original Normandy Dday Paratrooper Ww2 Wwii Italian M33 Helmet Bersaglieri 2nd RegimentOriginal Wwii Aaf An6553/an-j-4 Shearling Winter Flying Jacket - 38 RWw1 Us Winchester Endfield Dated 1917 Bayonet With ScabbardVintage Wwii Elite Dagger Blade Nickel Crossguards Smf Solingen German Brown SaWwii Us Army Fssf 10th Mountain Division Jacket Special Forces RareM1 M1d Garand Rifle Leather Cheek Pad Mrt 1-52 Lot HocGerman Germany Ww2 Wwii Army Wehrmacht Helmet M40M-35 German Helmet. Ww2. Size 62. Complete With Liner. Camo.Us Ww2 Garand Bayonet Ol Maker MarkAntique Japanese Samurai Sword Dragon Carving Handmade Used By Wwii Officer Ww2Ww2 Original 44 Pattern Waffen Tunic2 Ww Hungarian M 37 Helmet .german Shape.2 Ww Italian Army Officer Field Tunic.ortica Wool.infantry Div.toscana.greeceVintage Ww2 Case Xx Usaf Navy Pilots Machete Jungle Survival Bowie Knife KnivesGerman Germany Ww2 Wwii Luftwaffe Helmet M40Original Wwii Combat Worn Us 8th Air Force Painted B-10 Flight Jacket B-17 PilotM1 Carbine Type I Flip Sight Irwin Pedersen, Rare