Antiques & Collectibles: World War I poster depicts women’s patriotism in the fields

Question: I have decided to part with some items I own and would appreciate any information, including value, that you can provide about a copyrighted 1918 poster. Although it was rescued from an old chicken coop that was being demolished, it is in good condition except for an upper left hand torn-away corner. — L.C., Elmer

Answer: Your poster depicts two women in large straw hats and early 1900s clothing carrying baskets of vegetables. A third woman on horseback behind them holds the staff of a large, unfurled American flag. Copyrighted in 1918 by the American Lithographic Co. at New York City, the World War I poster was produced for the Woman’s Land Army of America to recruit women to “help the farmer fight the food famine” during the war. Known as “farmerettes,” the volunteers were solicited to serve with a sense of urgency, pride and duty.

In addition to its historic significance, the large poster has been valued because it is the work of Herbert Andrew Paus (1880-1946). Considered one of the great artists from the golden age of illustration, Paus created the first Woman’s Land Army recruitment poster, symbolizing patriotism in farmers’ fields.

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Paus studied watercolor and oil art at Chase Art School in New York, was employed as a newspaper cartoonist and soon became a freelancer. He provided illustrations for major magazines including Life, Ladies Home Journal, Colliers, Popular Science and children’s books, as well as advertisements for Goodyear and Victor records. When America entered World War I, Paus was chosen to do heroic, inspirational posters.

A conservator may be able to replace your poster’s torn corner, but the cost could be prohibitive if you plan to sell the art. Although prices paid during the past seven years for examples in very good to excellent condition were as high as $1,300, in its current state, a hands-on appraisal value of your poster could range from $65 to $125.

Question: Shortly before Christmas, I bought a large box of old household linens at a local thrift shop. Among the pieces are four sets of white cotton, handmade crocheted items. Each set consists of one 12-inch-high by 15-inch-wide rectangle and a pair of 11-inch-long by 6-inch-wide rectangles. When I asked the cashier if she knew anything about the sets, she said they were “anti-somethings trimmed with pineapples.” Can you help? — B.R., Absecon

Answer: The crocheted pieces you describe appear to be antimacassar sets, each composed of a headrest and a pair of armrests. Such sets were used to cover the top of an upholstered chair’s back and arms to protect the fabric from being soiled by soft, greasy macassar oil, an ointment for the hair. Macassar was commonly used by men during the Victorian, Edwardian and World War I periods to make their hair shine and stay flat.

Originally plain cotton cloths, antimacassars eventually became handmade white cotton crocheted or tatted lace sets, often enhanced with patterns featuring cats, dogs, horses, flowers, birds, pine cones or pineapples. Pineapple patterns were particularly popular because they symbolized hospitality.

Although interest in antimacassars faded by the 1930s, they appeared as collectibles from the 1950s to the 1960s and seem to be returning, especially examples decorated with the pineapple motif. Many sets such as yours can be purchased for $15 to $30 when they are in excellent condition.

Alyce Hand Benham is an antiques broker, appraiser and estate-liquidation specialist. Send questions to: Alyce Benham, Living section, The Press of Atlantic City, 1000 W. Washington Ave., Pleasantville, NJ 08232. Email: [email protected]. Letters may be used in future columns but cannot be answered individually, and photos cannot be returned.

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