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COLLECTING FDR -
by John E. Vargo
Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston S. Churchill - two names that dominate the history of the 20th Century. There are numerous books that analyze their leadership of the Allied cause in World War II, but any listing of the reasons for their greatness would almost certainly include the following.
First, both of them recognized very early on that Hitler's Nazism was a monstrous evil that threatened the existence of Western civilization, and that had to be completely and utterly destroyed. Second, because they recognized that fundamental fact earlier than so many of their fellow countrymen, their countries were unprepared for the war that inevitably came, and so in the early fighting both suffered one defeat after another. But both FDR and Churchill had a tremendous ability to inspire people, and that ability enabled them to give hope to their peoples in the darkest days of the war. The day after the U.S. Fleet at Pearl Harbor was destroyed, when Japanese forces were advancing throughout Asia and the Pacific, FDR said to the Congress and the people, "With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph- -so help us God." - and the people believed him. Furthermore, FDR and Churchill, in their unique wartime partnership, developed and implemented plans and strategies that did indeed gain that triumph. This is not to say that every decision they made was the correct one. Furthermore, FDR and Churchill, in their unique wartime partnership, developed and implemented plans and strategies that did indeed gain that triumph. This is not to say that every decision they made was the correct one. At least some historians and other commentators have been highly critical of various aspects of their wartime leadership. But an overriding fact is that my mid-August 1945 - only slightly more than three and a half years after the disaster at Pearl Harbor - the United States and Britain, along with Russian and Chinese allies, had entirely defeated the two greatest war machines ever assembled to that time. Their plans and strategies were developed in nine face-to-face meetings between August 1941 and February 1945 - the first of which occurred on warships off the coast of Newfoundland, and the others at sites that included Casablanca, Quebec (twice), Cairo, Teheran, and Yalta - and the exchange of more than 1,700 letters, telegrams and other communications.
It is the good fortune of collectors of political history that the historic wartime partnership of FDR and Churchill was commemorated with a wide variety of items issued during the war, including buttons, china and glassware, and a variety of paper items. A remarkable feature of these collectibles is that, for the most part, they were unknown to collectors in the U.S. Until a few years ago, and their availability now is due almost entirely to the establishment of the international, Internet marketplace.
By and large, these collectibles were issued and distributed in Britain and elsewhere in the then British Empire, and in the pre-Internet days, collectors in the U.S. Did not have ready access to them. For example, the great Joe Jacob's collection of FDR memorabilia, which is pictured in the Spring/Summer 1983 issue of The Keynoter (still available from the APIC) pictures only six FDR-Churchill or FDR- Churchill-Stalin items.
Since these items are not political campaign items, they may not be of interest to those who confine their collection to campaign items only. In addition, a large number of collectors confine themselves to buttons, but as we'll see, for the most part, the FDR-Churchill memorabilia consists of non-button items. Nevertheless, one of the key standards for evaluating political collectibles is historical importance, and by that standard, the rating of these items is "off the charts." Certainly these FDR-Churchill items will be of great interest to anyone who collects memorabilia relating to either or both of these great leaders, as well as to those who collect World War II-related material FDR-Churchill Buttons. Despite the many similarities among the U.S., Britain and Canada, it seems that buttons have never been widely used in either Britain or Canada, either as political campaign items or for other promotional purposes. Thus, so far as I'm aware, none of FDR-Churchill buttons that have appeared in the hobby to date can be traced to either of those countries. Fortunately, however, it seems there is one part of the former British Empire in which buttons have had some popularity, and that is Australia and New Zealand. Beginning something more than two years ago, a number of collectibles dealers in that are have offered FDR-Churchill and other World War II-era buttons on the Internet. I'm aware of no basis for questioning the authenticity of any or these items, all of which are celluloids, and undoubtedly the relatively high prices realized from these items give dealers there more than enough incentive to search the "Outback" for more of these buttons.
One of the more attractive is 1-1/4" in size, has oval pictures of FDR and Churchill with their names underneath, and the wording "Victory Celebrations" (see photo #1). It is done in red, white and blue, pictures the British and U.S. Flags and an airplane, and has a small "V" between the pictures. Some seeing this button might think it somewhat strange, because FDR, who died on April 12, 1945, did not live to see the defeat of Nazi Germany in May of that year, much less the defeat of Japan in August. In fact, it seems that at the time the button was issued, Churchill was not in power either. Specifically, it appears that these buttons were made for the "Victory Celebrations" that were held in Britain and throughout the Dominions on June 8, 1946. By then, Churchill was no longer Prime Minister, his party having lost its majority in the House of Commons in the elections held in July 1945. The Victory Celebrations were a major undertaking of the British Government, and they included a huge parade in london in which Churchill participated. There was controversy over the appropriateness of staging such massive celebrations, both because the British economy was badly depressed at the time, and because relations with one of the former allies, the Soviet Union, had at least begun to turn hostile. (It was actually several months prior to the Victory Celebrations that Churchill gave his famous "Iron Curtain" speech in Fulton, Missouri.) In addition to the button, I also have a program from the London celebrations and a placard issued for the London parade. The placard features oval photos of not only FDR and Churchill, but also Stalin, General Eisenhower, and British Field Marshall Montgomery.
Originally the Australia/New Zealand dealers who offered the Victory Celebrations button speculated that it had been made in Britain and brought back by soldiers returning from service there. But with all other World War II- era buttons that have surfaced there, it seems more likely that they were produced for the celebrations held in Australia or New Zealand. By my count eight examples of this button have been offered on the Internet since early 2000, and as often happens in the Internet marketplace, there has been quite a bit of variation in prices realized. Several of the early examples went in the $125-$150 range, but two offered earlier this year went for $677 and $22 respectively. However, an example with some light staining on one part of the button sold for only $139 in July 2002. Another FDR-Churchill button that has appeared recently is definitely Australian in origin. It is 7/8" in size and has b/w photos of FDR and Churchill in ovals with the U.S. And British flags behind them (see photo #2). Below, in small letters, is the wording "Hoyts Suburban Theatres," and this button is also serially numbered. The Hoyts theatre chain in Australia dates back to the early years of the 20th century and is still in business today. Regrettably, a letter to the mail office of the company requesting any available information on the FDR-Churchill button has gone unanswered. One of the dealers who offered one of these buttons speculated that the serial numbering indicated possible use in a campaign to sell war savings bonds.
Only a few examples of this button have surfaced thus far, and one problem with it is that its quality of manufacture is not as high as that of the "Victory Celebrations" button. At least two of the examples offered thus far show some ear around the edges. One showing significant wear sold for $115 earlier this year. Examples were also offered earlier this year in the Dave Frent and Bob Coup auctions. Yet another button that has been offered by dealers in Australia is a 1" celluloid, made by A.W. Patrick of Melbourne, that pictures Stalin along with Churchill and FDR, each in a circle (see photo #3). This button has the word "Victory" above in a sun-breaking-through- clouds design, and "For United Nations" below, along with images of the Soviet, British and U.S. Flags. The button is done in blue and white, although one example done in brown and white has appeared.
As an aside, I must say that while there are a number of items that picture Stalin along with FDR and Churchill, I personally do not value those items as highly as ones that feature FDR and Churchill only. I recognize that FDR and Churchill met personally with Stalin during the war and attempted to work with him both in prosecuting the war and establishing the peace. I also recognize that without the participation of the Soviet Union in the war against Nazi Germany, the war could not have been won by mid-1945, and possibly could not have been won at all. However, it's also true that Stalin had facilitated the start of World War II by entering into a non-aggression pact with Hitler in 1939. More generally, I think it's fair to say that Staling was more similar to Hitler than he was to either FDR or Churchill, in that like Hitler, he was, to put it bluntly, a psychotic mass murderer. Thus while I do have some FDR-Churchill-Stalin items in my collection and will add others that I find at a relatively low price, such items are not at all high on my want list.
Apparently a number of other collectors do not share my antipathy to Stalin's presence on items featuring FDR and Churchill. Regarding the "Victory" trigate, I'm aware of three examples that were offered on the Internet in a period from mid-2001 to mid-2002, and each sold in the $220-230 range. The first offering of the button that I'm aware of occurred in early 2001, and it sold for $460. However, as is typical of the Internet, one offered only three months after that sold for only $115. There is a second kind of FDR-Churchill- Stalin trigate. This one also has photos of the three in circles, with images their flags behind them, but the design of this one is dominated by a large "V" for victory. The words "For Freedom" appear on the image of a banner below. This button is not an Internet discovery, as the Joe Jacob's collection had included an example of it. However, it seems likely that this button too was issued in Australia/New Zealand, as an Australian dealer offered one in September 2000. The winning bid was a whopping $690.
Probably the best FDR-Churchill button is one that, as far as I'm aware, has not yet been offered on the Internet, but was in the Joe Jacob collection. It's a 1-3/4" size button that has oval photos of both with images of their flags behind them, and the words "Casablanca" above and "Unconditional Surrender" below. As we'll see, a number of FDR-Churchill items refer to one of their meetings, which for security reasons were planned and assembled in absolute secrecy, but were extensively publicized afterward. This button, of course, refers to their meeting in Casablanca in January 1943. At a joint news conference there, FDR - reportedly to Churchill's surprise and initial displeasure - enunciated a policy of requiring the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers. A policy of requiring unconditional surrender had been implicit in prior pronouncements of FDR and Churchill, but here it was stated explicitly. As a result, the Casablanca conference is more remembered by far for the unconditional surrender statement than for anything else. The Casablanca button is a terrific item not only for its historical significance, but also for its attractive design and relatively large size. One of these reportedly sold for over $1,100 in an Al Anderson auction in early 2001. However, it still is not clear by whom this button was made, or where it was originally distributed.
FDR-Churchill China and Glassware. While I am no expert on the collecting of historical memorabilia in Britain, it does seem that the collecting of pieces of commemorative china, and particularly plates, is a much more established and popular hobby there than it is here. Thus, for example, one visiting collectibles stores in England will see plates and related items that commemorate a coronation or a royal wedding, including, for example, the Prince Charles-Lady Diana wedding. Not surprisingly, a wide range of FDR-Churchill china and glassware was produced during the war.
At present I'm aware of three different sets of Fdr-Churchill china, and an additional three plates that are not part of a set. What is probably the most attractive china set also happens to be the one from which items are the most available. This is a set produced by Alfred Meakin of England that pictures FDR and Churchill in ovals with images of their flags behind them, images of the Statue of Liberty and the globe between then, and a banner reading "The Champions of Democracy" below.
This set differs from other FDR-Churchill china in that the flags and other images are multicolor, whereas the others are done in two colors only. The set includes numerous items bearing this same design, including a plate, a bowl, a cup and saucer, a mug, a tumbler, and a creamer. It's inconceivable that anyone would use these for dining, but anyone wishing to do that would be able to serve practically a full meal using items from this set.
I mentioned earlier that a number of FDR- Churchill items commemorate one of their war- era meetings. As detailed below, at least one of the sets of china and two of the plates that are not part of any set relate to the first of the FDR-Churchill meetings, on the North Atlantic in August 1941.
The timing and setting of this meeting - which took place as Britain was completing its second year at war, but prior to U.S. Entry - could hardly have been more dramatic. FDR and Churchill secretly sailed from their countries to the rendezvous point, and their meetings took place on the two warships on which they personally had sailed, the USS Augusta and the HMS Prince of Wales, which was at the time Britain's newest warship. The meeting certainly had practical significance, in that it gave FDR, Churchill and their staffs a chance to know one another and to discuss strategy. But probably more important at the time was its symbolic significance, in proving a clear demonstration of the shared values and purposes of the United States and Britain. At this meeting FDR and Churchill issued the "Atlantic Charter," and eight-point statement of principles for international relations that included self-determination for all peoples, international security, free trade, freedom of the seas, and disarming aggressor nations.
Practically everyone who has seen newsreel footage of World War II or the FDR era has likely seen the films of FDR and Churchill singing hymns at a Sunday religious service that took place on the Prince of Wales. Sadly, about four months later, after Japan's entry into the war, the Prince of Wales was sunk off the coast of Malaya by Japanese torpedo planes, with the loss of most of its crew. The meeting is commemorated on a group of china pieces that features a sepia photo of FDR and Churchill that was taken at the Sunday religious service, with their names and "Atlantic Meeting, 1941" below, also in sepia. The pieces bearing this design include a plate, a mug, a small jug, an ashtray, and a small vase. At least the plate was made by Wilkinson (maker of Royal Staffordshire Pottery), and other pieces were made by Lancasters Ltd. It also seems it is quite common for these pieces to show some damage to the picture or some other wear. Of the two individual plates that commemorate the Atlantic meeting, one is notable in that it is one of the few FDR- Churchill items that were produced in the U.S. It was made by Vernon Kilns of Vernon, California, which produced a number of commemorative plates of various kinds in the period of the 1930's to the 1950's. The design of this plate is somewhat busy. In addition to drawings of FDR and Churchill, it includes images of the warships at the Atlantic meeting, U.S. And British flags, combat aircraft, and brief quotes of FDR and Churchill.
The third set of china of which I'm aware features drawings of FDR and Churchill with their names and titles below and crossed British and U.S. Flags, all done in brown on white. This set was made by Royal Winton and includes at least a cup and saucer, a creamer and small sugar bowl, a mug, a bowl, and a large dish with lid. At least some of the items produced with this design, including the creamer and sugar bowl, picture FDR or Churchill only, rather than both.
There are also at least two FDR-Churchill glasses. One is done in red and blue and features drawings of them in ovals and the U.s. And British flags, along with the slogans "Hands Across the Sea" above their portraits, and "Champions of Democracy" on the back. The other features pictures of the two in black along with the name of the sponsoring company, the Border Cities Wire & Iron Works in Canada.
Paper and Other FDR-Churchill Items. While thus there are a number of FDR-Churchill buttons and china pieces, most of the commemoratives and paper items or other types of collectibles.
Two of the better FDR-Churchill collectibles - because of their direct association with FDR and Churchill - are paper items that were made in connection with their Atlantic meeting in August 1941. The first is a card, about 7" X 9" in size, with an image of an old sailing ship and the "Sail on O Ship of State!" verse from Longfellow, along with a notation that FDR had used the verse in a message he had sent to Churchill (see photo #6). The FDR message reference here was a well-publicized letter of introduction that FDR had given to Wendell Willkie when Willkie made a fact-finding visit to Britain in January 1941. FDR had added the Longfellow verse to that letter by hand, and Churchill had highlighted FDR's message in a worldwide radio broadcast he made in February 1941.
According to a book about the Atlantic meeting that was published in 1947, Churchill took with him to the meeting a quantity of these cards, which had been printed by the prominent English company Raphael Tuck & Sons, and some number of them were autographed by both FDR and Churchill. One of these was sold at Christie's in New York in early 2001 for nearly $65,000, and one with slightly faded signatures sold in an eBay Live Auction in September 2001 for $19,000. From time to time examples of the card that are not autographed appear in Internet auctions, and it's not clear whether these cards were printed exclusively for the Atlantic meeting, or whether Tuck, which was a major printer of postcards, may have also sold them to the public.
The other Atlantic meeting item is a cachet, or postal cover, that was specially authorized by FDR and issued by the Navy, and was later distributed to those who had been present at the meeting, including the crews of the participating U.S. Navy ships. The design on the left side of the envelope is printed in red, white and blue (the pictured example also bears an imprint from the U.S.S. Tuscaloosa, which had carried much of the military and other U.s. Staff to the meeting.) FDR's selection of a postal cover as a commemorative of the meeting is, of course, entirely consistent with his lifelong devotion to stamp collecting.
It seems FDR sent one of these covers to Churchill in May 1942, and the files of the FDR Library include a copy of a brief accompanying memorandum that is vintage FDR. Referring in a teasing manner to one of Churchill's pastimes, masonry (Churchill had personally built some very substantial landscaping walls at his estate), the memorandum states,
I found this envelope among my things yesterday. Even if you prefer the trade of bricklaying to the great science of philately, you may have a descendant who collects stamps. I think this was postmarked on the AUGUSTA at the moment you stepped over the side.
One of my favorite kinds of FDR-Churchill items is "premiums" that were issued by various Canadian businesses for promotional purposes. The FDR-Churchill glass issued by Border Cities Wire & Iron Works that I mentioned earlier is an example. One of the most active companies in this regard was the Imperial Oil Co. Of Canada. For Christmas 1943 the company made available to its dealers, as a give-away to their customers, a color photo of FDR and Churchill that was taken at the Casablanca meeting, along with a brief note). The photo is 7-1/4"X10" in size and is printed on a heavy stock. Imperial Oil also issued a calendar that included the same photo, and a matchbook with a different, black and white photo of FDR and Churchill, along with the company logo.
A number of companies, including Mentholatum, issued blotters featuring FDR and Churchill. Yet another premium, which illustrates how widespread was the interest of Canadian businesses in such promotions, is an 8"X10" print that includes the wording, "Compliments of Stanfield's Unshrinkable Underwear". Use of this particular print was by no means unique to Stanfield's, however, as I have seen at least several versions of this print that differ only in their sponsor.
Apparently a printer in Canada made this print available for use by interested businesses, and typically these prints appear in a small metal frame with both a stand on back and a loop for hanging on a wall. (In the mid- 1990's an autograph dealer offered one of these prints that had been autographed by both FDR and Churchill at the 1943 Quebec conference for $9,5000 - in retrospect, quite a bargain!) There's also a type of matchbook bearing pictures of FDR and Churchill that apparently was made available to Canadian businesses in the small manner, as it's possible to obtain examples of it showing a number of different sponsors.
There are as well a number of other kinds of FDR-Churchill collectibles. For example, in addition to the Atlantic meeting postal cover described above, there are a number of other Fdr-Churchill postal covers and postcards - ones that relate to one of their meetings, as well as ones that commemorate their wartime partnership generally. In addition, there are magazines and newspapers that have a cover photo or front-page coverage of one of their meetings, and news photos taken during those meetings. Pictured here is a February 1943 issue of the British magazine Picture Post that featured coverage of the Casablanca conference.
Finally, there are items that do not fall into a particular category. For example, there are at least several different FDR-Churchill stickers or decals, which appear to be Canadian issues, and there is a set of FDR and Churchill celluloid-covered matchbox holders that were issued in Britain. Three particular items are noteworthy. First, and a favorite of mine, is a small (5"X8") program from one of the famous Bob Hope USO shows. This show took place at the Odeon Theatre in London on August 1, 1943, and the program cover has color artwork of FDR and Churchill with the slogan, "Just perfect harmony." Almost certainly the slogan was indented to have a dual meaning, referring both to the musical part of the show and to British-American relations. The artist switched FDR's and Churchill's smoking instruments of choice with FDR shown with a Churchillian cigar, and Churchill with FDR's cigarette in a holder.
Second is a poster, measuring about 16"X20", that features color artwork of FDR and Churchill in ovals. It also shows images of the U.S. And British flags and the Statue of Liberty, and has the slogans "United for Victory," "Liberty for All," "Democracy Shall Not Die," and "God Gave Us Courage - America Gave Us Strength." It appears that this poster was printed in the U.S., although in view of the latter slogan, it must have been intended for distribution in Canada.
Finally, there is a silver-color bell that stands about 6" high, has a "V" for victory on the handle, and profile busts of FDR, Churchill and Stalin on the side. Wording that appears around the base of the bell explains why these bells are special, "Cast from metal from German aircraft shot down over Britain 1939- 1945 - RAF Benevolent Fund." Collectors who participate in Internet auctions are probably familiar with these, as they appear with some frequency. The RAF Benevolent Fund is still in existence, and its purpose, as its name suggests, is to support the survivors of those killed while serving in the Royal Air Force. According to an information sheet available from the Fund, the bells were cast in 1945 for use in a fundraising appeal. They were first offered for sale at the first Battle of Britain dinner in London shortly after V-E Day, and otherwise they were offered for sale at golf courses throughout Britain. The bells were manufactured by several different companies, a fact that likely accounts for the differences in quality and minor differences in design among the bells offered. It also seems that at the time the bells were first offered, the supply well outstripped demand, and the manufacturers ended up with many unsold examples.
With this type of item, it is natural for there to be some concern over whether the item is being reproduced. However, the information that the bells were originally produced in a relatively large number helps to explain the frequency with which it is offered for sale on the Internet. Notwithstanding their relative availability, the bells - especially those on which the images and words are clear, and the metal is not discolored - are a terrific collectible.
Because of the international marketplace created through the Internet, FDR-Churchill collectibles are no longer merely curiosities, or a sidelight to some other collecting specialty. Rather, it is now possible for the collecting of that memorabilia to be a specialty unto itself. Indeed, for the same reason, it is now possible for collectors in the U.S. To maintain a specialty in "Churchill only" memorabilia - as anyone who has seen Chris Hearn's table at an APIC show can attest (frequent trips to Britain can also be helpful on this score.)
The substantial improvement in access to FDR-Churchill memorabilia happens to coincide with a revival of their names in the public mind. Until recently, it's fair to say that attention to FDR and Churchill had been largely confined to "students of history" - albeit "students of history" as broadly defined to include not only actual students and academicians, but also amateur students such as the devoted admirers of one or both of these leaders, World War II-buffs, and us political collectors. But especially last fall, after the terrorist attacks, FDR and Churchill again began to be referred to by and discussed extensively among political leaders, the news media, and commentators.
Churchill, who is a favorite among Republicans, has gotten the larger share of the attention. He has been quoted or paraphrased in the statements of many Bush Administration officials, and last fall former New York Mayor Guiliani gained the nickname "Churchill in a ball cap." In addition, President Bush has on display in the Oval Office a bust of Churchill that he had requested from the British government. (However, it may be that the depth of Mr. Bush's appreciation for Churchill's wartime leadership was revealed by a comment he made to a group of Oval Office visitors last fall, "Winston Churchill, he did what he thought was right."
The renewed appreciation of FDR and Churchill is entirely appropriate, for, as in their time, the peoples of the United States and the West, and, indeed, our way of life, are under deadly attack, although in a manner very different from that of the 1940's. The lesson from their times and experiences is that with the proper leadership, it is indeed possible for a free, and otherwise gentle and peace-loving people to rise up and defeat even the most militant, fanatical and treacherous enemy.
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