As Britain pokes its meerkat head out of another recession hole, it got me thinking about how things like this effect people’s buying habits. As some people may know, I am a creative writer at a gift company in the week (no, I don’t know how I fit it all in either!!!) and in the recession’s lowest period, people didn’t stop buying, they just bought cheap novelty gifts which were affordable for the occasion and morale boosting too.
I love collecting WWII novelties and took some photos of a few of my favourite bits and bobs. I started collecting music sheets and brooches, but thanks to my friend’s in America sending me some fantastically tacky specimens, this has now taken off! Fundraising was a huge part of the homefront. From homeless families to wounded soldiers, cheap and often fun items were made to aid the war effort and people’s dwindling spirits. We often put rose tinted glasses on when looking back at this awful time and although there was a lot of comradery, we cannot forget what a horrendously dire time this was for all involved. A novelty compact mirror in the shape of an officers cap may not be able to raise the opposition’s white flag, but I am sure it raised a smile! Whether bought by a soldier to send to his girl, or bought by a lady supporting her man’s efforts in the service, such things were a little light heartedness in a dark time.
I have some fabulous 1940’s jewellery and am a lover of brooches. I have chosen some that are specifically of this era, but it can be difficult to tell when it comes to lucite jewellery as people were carving them well into the 60’s! In the war, these were generally made from the windscreens of crashed German aircraft and sold for the war effort or given to sweethearts. Reverse carving them, the shapes would be painted to give a real 3D effect to the flowers or objects. I have a lovely Spitfire one, of which I wear often! You will also see a wonderful Bundles for Britain charm bracelet which is a real stunner. Bundles for Britain was an American charity, raising money for us. You may come across the emblem, which is usually a rearing lion in a white shield with a red and blue striped ribbon. Another fantastic piece is my silver bomb set! A necklace and earrings in the shape of torpedos, they are subtle with a cheeky twist.
Men’s jewellery was also a great novelty. You could get tin versions of the service rings for children and even some of the men’s sweetheart rings had lockets or secret compartments in them. We have a lovely one from America and you can see a V for Victory tie bar behind! As men were not often in civvies, there was no real need to produce ties and other novelty gifts for men as they could not be worn anyway, so hankerchiefs or other items that could be kept in a pocket were sent over, along with funny greeting cards or a letter record. These are like a vinyl record made of cardboard with a thin layer on the top. A message to a soldier or from a soldier to a family could be recorded at a shop and sent to the recipient in an envelope). I have a few of these and have played them, but as they were made to only be played a few times, they can be very difficult to hear depending on how worn they are.
Now to tableware. The flame that sparked my love of these vintage novelties was a set of Victory Bomb salt and pepper shakers. Made out of chalkware or plaster, they are crudely painted in cheerful red, white and blue! How can you not love these? Well…back then, they may have been thought of as tacky and vulgar, but just like Christmas cracker gifts, they were loved for a short period of time, which is what they are all about. I am also now the proud owner of a War Against Hitlerism teapot! I have wanted one of these for as long as I can remember. They were produced for Dyson and Horsfall who surrendered their aluminium teapots to be recycled as allied armaments. It is covered in allied flags and of course the inspiring slogan ‘Liberty and Freedom’ on the other side. The Victory vase (also a favourite bought by our friends!) is another great example and a strong symbol of the time. Everyone recognises a V with …- as the victory sign and it has become a very iconic image. Doesn’t it just fill you with strength and pride just looking at it?
So keep looking around those vintage stalls and take a gander at some of those museum quality pieces. There are some fantastic money boxes (oh for the love of a bottomless bank account…) and some very funny propaganda items such as chamber pots with Hitler’s face in them and even pincushions of Hitler bending over looking rather uncomfortable with a the cushion being is rear…