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    

Wwii Us Army Air Corps Drill Shirt U.s Army Air Forces Scott Field Illinois RareGerman Wwii Luftwaffe Pilot Electrically Heated Winter Flight Suit Uniform Ww2Ww2 Ii Japanese Samurai Sword Solid BladePanzer Jacket 2nd Model, Wrap, German, Tunic - Rare!!E Japanese Wwll Nlf Officer's Sword In Type 44 Mountings, "teruyoshi"Original Japanese Sword Sign Famous Smith Rare Hamon Very Old Blade Browning 1917a1 Cradle And Pintle Antique Signed Japanese Samurai Sword Blade Ww2100% Original Ww2 German M35 Ss/elite Helmet W.helmet Carrier Bno: 4752 /et64/Original Wwii Us Army Medic Pouch/bags Set With Rare Vintage Field Medic ContentGerman Wwi Imperial Pickelhaube Spike War Combat Damaged Helmet Germany Ww1 Us Ww2 Fixed Bale M1 Helmet W/ 3rd Pattern Hawley Liner, Nice!Antique Blade Red Signature - Mint Wwii Japanese Army Officer Samurai Sword Ww2 Ww2 Original 473rd Infantry Regiment Uniform, 5th ArmyGerman Paratrooper Winter Helmet Ww2 Found In East FranceMens 1944 Omega 30t2 Sc Large Size Wwii Stainless Steel 16j Swiss Military WatchWw2 Us Army Usmc M1 Medic Helmet Repainted & Reissued Sewn Straps Rear Seam Ww2 Named Air Corps 1st Tuskegee Airman Black African American Pilot GroupingRare And Original Wwii Us M3 Trench Knife Case Blued Blade Marking BayonetJapanese Wwll Army Officer's Sword In Mountings, "takehisa"Original And Mint Wwii Us M3 Trench Knife Utica Guard Marked BayonetBrowning 1917a1 Tripod M1 Carbine Stock & Handguard Inland Walnut Striped Beautiful Hi (a3)Us M1905 16" Bayonet Knife 1905 Dated 1942 M1 Garand 1903 Springfield Pal Original Ww2 Usmc 1st Marine Division Theatre Made Ike Jacket & Coat Named ChinaWw2 Usaaf Aviator Scarf - 5th Af & 345th Air Apaches Bomb Group Squadron PatchesWwii A-2 Jacket A2 Aero 21996 Original World War Excellent Condition Japanese Ww2 Helmet Type 90 Combat Helmet, Infantry HelmetWwii Ww2 Usn Us Navy Denim Blue Jean Shirt New. 15 Nxsx 75408 ChambrayWwii Wasp Named Type A-2 Flight Jacket Class 44-w-3 Bronco Mfg Corp Size 38 AafMint And Original Wwii Us M3 Trench Knife Imperial Blade Marking BayonetWw2 German Paratrooper Helmet M38. Camo.Commando Dagger Jack Knife Sas Marines Fairbairn Sykes 3rd Pat Ww2 SpecialforcesWwi German 98/05 Mauser Butcher Sawback Bayo-anker-werke Bielefeld-navy Marked**original Ww2 German Luftwaffe Belt Buckle W/pull Tab** Wwii Us English Fairbairn Sykes Commando Stiletto Fighting Knife & ScabbardMint And Original Wwii Us M3 Trench Knife Imperial Guard Marking BayonetSuperb Nco Sword, With Hanger Exc Cond, From Old Estate CollectionWw 2 German Luftwaffe Single Decal Combat Helmet Vet Bring BackItalian Wwii Bersaglieri Sun Helmet & Goggles1st Model Luftwaffe Sword DaggerOld Ww2 Japanese Sword Blade, Gunto, For RestorationM-1 Carbine StockVery Nicejapanese Landing Forces Helmet , Exc Con From Old Estate CollectionWw2 Japanese Sword Army Officer's, Signed, "kanehisa", Hot StampedOriginal Ww2 German Kriegsmarine Navy U-boat Medal Pin - Rare!!A+ Wwii Us M4 Bayonet Fighting Knife Imperial M1 Carbine Usa Usmc DaggerM-40 German Helmet. Ww2. Size 66. Complete With Liner. Name. Africa Corps Camo.Rare Rectangular Crossguard Japanese Wwii Late War Bayonet With Wooden ScabbardWwii M1941 M41 Field Jacket Original Named 36r Army Infantry Original G43 K43 Wwii German Scope And Mount G-43 K-43 Mauser Walther SniperUssr Ww Ii Authentic The Order Of Suvorov 3 Degrees! Original!no. 1729From The Tom Clinton Collection Ww2 British Para Jump Wing With Neat PaperworkVintage Totenkopf Silver Skull Ss Honor Wwii Era German Band World War 2 RingM43 Tunic German EliteWw2 M35 Early War German Helmet Camo GrayA+ Wwii Us Fighting Knife Rh-36 Pal Parkerized Cutlery Usa Usmc Usn Interesting Officer's Samurai Sword From Old Estate CollectionAmazing Wwii Aaf Officer's Visor Cap Hat, Crusher, Bancroft FlighterOriginal & Rare Ww2 Us Army Poster "stop Him And The Job's Done"