"The Spirit of 1776, Buy Liberty Loans" Vintage WWI Poster, Circa 1918

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 Titled “The Spirit of 17’76’”, this original WWI poster features a striking profile of a Revolutionary-War era minuteman, poised in an active stance with gun ready. In high contrast, white block letters, the poster reads “Your Forefathers Died For Liberty In 1776- What Will You Do For It In 1917?” Published at the advent of America’s declaration of war against Germany, the poster urges Americans support the war effort and “Buy Liberty Bonds.”

Until the advent of the Cold War in the 1950s, America traditionally maintained a relatively small standing army. Whenever war broke out, it was necessary for the country to mobilize—to recruit (and sometimes draft) troops, to train them, and to produce the arms, equipment, and supplies needed to fight. When Congress and the President declared war on Germany in April of 1917, this mobilization took on extreme urgency. The government’s overarching goal was to persuade a traditionally isolationist American populace to invest and support the European war effort. The needed support both financially, through the purchase of war bonds and rationing, and emotionally, through volunteer service (men for the military, women for the nurse corps), displays of patriotism, and through shared sacrifice.

New government organizations, especially the Committee on Public Information, were tasked with putting out a singular patriotic message, achieved primarily through posters and printed pamphlets. The war ushered in the biggest advertising campaign to date, critical to the wartime communication needs of every combatant: from raising money, recruiting soldiers and boosting volunteer efforts, to spurring production and provoking outrage at enemy atrocities. The stark, colorful graphic designs, created by some of the nation’s leading artists, elicited strong emotions. The posters played to the fears, frustrations, and faith in freedoms that lingered in people's minds during the war. The United States alone produced about 2,500 poster designs and approximately 20 million posters, nearly 1 for every 4 citizens, in little more than 2 years.

This original WWI poster was part of the Colonel Edward McCrahon Poster Collection. In 1919, during the final stage of World War I, Colonel Edward H. McCrahon found himself in the devastated French village of Mieux. Among the war-scarred buildings, he came upon a Howard Chandler Christy poster nailed to a door depicting a smiling woman in a navy blue suit declaring, "Yes, I wish I was a man, I'd join the Navy." McCrahon decided to take the poster as a souvenir and continued to collect more World War I posters over the next 16 years. By 1935 he had obtained thousands, making his Collection one of the largest privately-owned World War 1 poster collections in America.

When he first began actively collecting, McCrahon specifically sought out Allied posters created by French artists manufactured during the early stages of the war. As his Collection increased, he started to expand his scope, including prints from all the major nations in the war, both Allied and Central Powers. McCrahon would frequent antique shops and bookstores, searching for forgotten posters. He even went so far as to advertise in local newspapers. After 16 years compiling his collection, Colonel McCrahon, made selected pieces of his poster collection public, exhibiting them in galleries, libraries, schools such as Middlebury College, and veteran groups such as the National Recovery Administration. Due to the rarity and delicacy of some of the prints in his touring exhibition, McCrahon mounted a number of posters on linen and coated them in a protective gloss finish of his own creation in order to preserve and protect them while they traveled. This fantastic collection certainly represents one of the most complete compilations of World War I poster art. This specific poster is part of this amazing collection and was recently obtained via the McCrahon estate sale. 




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