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    

German Wwii Original M 40 Camo Helmet Named To An Officer Germany Camouflage Ww2Ww2 German M38 Lufwaffe Paratrooper / FallschirmjUs Army Wwii Helmet Early Fixed Bale Rare Schlueter Lieutenant Painted Insignia Wwii Us Airborne Reinforced Jump Jacket OriginalWw2 M1 Camo Helmet & Liner, Complete 7th I.d. Vet Original Item's. Very Neat!Original Wwii Aaf Named Trench Art Cbi Hat W/ Missions Marked "flying The Hump"Russian Ww2 Pu Sniper Scope Mosin Nagant M91/30 & Bent Bolt1st German Army Luftwaffe Dagger Air Force Ww2 + Chained Scabbard Rare ScarceWw2 Vet Bring Back Japanese 29.5" Samurai Sword Signed Twice On Blade/guard # 1 Wwii Us Army Uniform Airborne Tab Glider Para Badge Ab Cib Ike Jacket Patch Ww2 Fixed Bale Us Army Air Force M1 Helmet W/liner, Named, Dated, Unit Id, EgyptJapanese Wwll Army Officer's Sword In Mountings, Gendaito "kanehide", MonVintage Ww2 Elgin Military Type A11 Af-45 Navigation Hack WatchVintage Ww2 Hamilton 987a Ord. Dept. Military WatchWw2 Army M41 Field Jacket 'amphibious Operations T-5' -namedWw 2 Us Navy Pilots Survival Jack Knife With Saw By Colonial Knife Co.Vintage Wwi Army Air Force 3" Sterling Pilots Wing Pin ~aWehrmacht German Wwii Radio Torn.fu.g Backpack Transceiver M1 Garand Hra 3/8 Das Stock With HandguardsWorld War 1 Uniform, German Helmets, Hate Belt, Gas Mask, Diary, 48 Star FlagsVintage Ww2 Us Army M-41 Field Jacket Sigmund Eisner Dated 1941 Size 38 LongWw2 British Battle Dress Jacket - Us Made -xl Size 18 Nice! 1943 Dtd Blouse WwiiOriginal Wwii German Officer's Wool Overcoat / Full Length / With Orig InsigniaU.s. Army Ww2 Pacific M1 Carbine Combat Web Set. Great Combat Used Look!M1a1 Paratrooper Carbine Stock W/ Ww2 Us Airborne "rigger" Holster M1 CarbineGerman Ww1 1916 Dated P08 Luger Holster Brown Leather P-08Ww2 Japanese Army Tropical Hat 1943 Second Lieutenant. Good***original Ww2 German Close Combat Badge Gold Nr! From $0.99 ***Wwii U.s.a.a.f & Usn Flight Helmet Assemblies Oxygen Mask Goggles And Misc. Fine Old Japanese Pair Of Knives In Case Japan, War Militaria Short DaggerWwii Aaf P-39 Airacobra Fighter Aircraft Trench Art Dummy 37mm Ammo Shell 1942German Ww2 Mp 40 Original Part Marked Arsenal Condition!!!Ww2 Vet Bring Back Antique Japanese 37" Samurai Sword #3 No ReserveWwii German Rad Dagger With Scabbard And HangerWwii Raf Royal Air Force Mae West Life Jacket Spitfire Rare Transitional PatternBrowning M1919a6 Parts / M1919a4 Rare Complete Ww2 German K98 Mauser Parts Kit Stock Bolt Barrel Sling Bands Byf Large Original Wwii U.s. Army Wac Officer Dress Uniform Jacket & Skirt - Id'dWwii M-209-b Converter Cipher Machine With AccessoriesHamilton Model 22 Deck Watch / Chronometer With Inner And Outer BoxesScarce Wwii U.s. M7-a1 Bazooka Practice Round Rocket; Good Condition & No Res!German Ww2 Mp 38 40 43 44 Original Part Arsenal Conditions!!!!Hamilton Model 21 Chronometer From The Beatrice VictoryUltra Rare Ww2 Japanese Navy Aircraft Machine Gun Camera W Storage Case & FilmVintage Ww2 Waltham Canadian Military Rcaf Hack WatchVintage & Rare Ww2 Australian British Army Combat Knife Dagger Fairbairn SykesWwii Ww2 Elite Officer German Visor Hat CapRare Vtg Us Navy Wwii M1 Steel Pot Officer Lieutenat Helmet+ Firestone F5 Liner!Patch Ww2 Us Army 17th Airborne Infantry Bloody Claw Khaki Cutedge As Removed 15Original Wwii Soviet Russian Colonel's Uniform Tunic Fur Hat Holster Belt GroupWwii Japanese Test Type 1 Arisaka Paratrooper Bayo-guaranteed Original*3 Japanese Ww Ii Army Officer's Sword In Mountings, Gendaito "masayasu" Wwii German P-38 Holster -1942 -waa706 Rare Authentic German Ww Ii Helmet Liner 1939Mosin Nagant Sniper Bolt Fits M9130,m38 M39 M44 And Other VariantsWwii Japanese Army Officer Samurai Sword-guaranteed All OriginalUsgi M1 Garand Operating Rod Uncut Unmodified Wra Winchester SlantRare Us Army Wwii 1942 Blue Enamel Canteen With Cover & Blue Enamel Cup 1942 Ww23yk Rare Japanese Ww2 2nd Class Zuiho Sho Order Of The Sacred Treasure Medal BoxEarly Mgc 68 Ww2 German Mp40 Steel Replica Mgc-68 Best Replica Made! Superb Wwii