To those who lived through it, World War 1 was the Great War destroying the world they had known, and they carefully preserved mementoes of it.
The Great War convulsed Europe for more than four years. The
largely stalemated trench fighting led to an enormous loss of life - more people died than
World War 2 - and marked a watershed in history of warfare.
Tanks, aircraft and marines were all used for the first time, cavalry was rendered almost obsolete.
Perhaps the first things that leap to mind thinking of war collections are weapons, and decorations. Such items from
World War 1 are very difficult to collect. They rare and expensive and fakes are common.
Don't be put off by these dire warnings. There are plenty of other collectable items
associated with this historic conflict. There is a wealth of paper memorabilia, for instance.
Books printed for Queen Mary's or Prince Albert's charities are easily found. Magazines
such as Bystander and Illustrated London may he bought in single copies or bound volumes.
They are filled with drawings and photographs and carry articles, advertisements
and cartoons that give a flavour of the times.
can still find the cryptic and poignant postcards that passed back and forth between troops and their loved ones back home,
while several sets of cigarette cards, many of them issued in the 1920s, commemorated personalities or events of the war.
Trench warfare was bloody, filthy, terrifying and often very, very boring.
Men spent long hours hanging about in appalling conditions. Some passed the time crafting things from the debris of war.
Brass shell cases became ashtrays, vases, sugar scuttles, photo frames, crucifixes and brooches.
There seems to have been no end to the ingenuity of these craftsmen in turning shrapnel into art.
Humour stayed alive in those grim times. Old Bill, an enormously popular cartoon character created by Bruce Bairnsfather, personified the British Tommy, the ordinary soldier coping with the nightmare of trench warfare with trenchant wit.
The cartoons appeared in books and magazines and on postcards, watercolours and china.
Other Great War china includes heraldic ware with regimental insignia and Toby jugs and figurines of various generals such as Kitchener, French, Joffre and
Foch. The Kaiser also appeared, often as the villain of the piece.
For our grandparents, collecting things from the war years was a way of making sense of the conflict that had so radically affected all their lives.
It was said that hardly a family in England, France, Germany and Russia escaped without losing one or more of its young men in the fighting and dozens of other countries also suffered.
Today's collectors, too, can get an insight into the time when the certainties of the 19th
century gave way to the doubts and confusions of the modern age.
There are four main types of collectable World War 1 pottery that you are likely to find. Commemorative ware marks the general outburst of joy at the ending of the hostilities, and generally shows emblems of peace printed on mugs, bowls and plates.
Patriotic busts and figurines show the heroes and villains of the war, often with a motto or rallying cry added.
The ranges of crested ware that were the most popular souvenir pottery of a more peaceful
age and were made by firms such as Goss, Swan and Carlton, were broadened to include models of military subjects, where regimental insignia replaced the town crests that gave the ware its
The final category, Bairnsfatherware, featured the likeness of Old Bill, either modelled in 3-D or in the form of transfer-printed reproductions of the most famous cartoons on ordinary Staffordshire domestic wares of the time.
Be careful when choosing what to collect. There are so many possibilities that it pays to
Collecting weapons, for instance,
is a specialized interest. If World War 1 weapon ry attracts you, join a club and
subscribe to specialist magazines.
The smallest article of uniform is going to he pricey, because even tin helmets are getting
Beware of fakes; it is very easy to stitch World War I badges onto a battledress and you
need to be very knowledgeable not to be taken in.
Haunt the Imperial War Museum and the National Army Museum so you can get a feel for the real thing.
Medals and decorations are also widely faked. Once again, knowledge is the best
defence. Join the Orders and Medals Research Society and subscribe to their journal.
If medals can be identified as belonging to a known individual, then they are worth more.
By far the safest areas for the novice collector are trench art, paper memorabilia and commemorative china. It is possible that
you have inherited some items, as World War I is r elatively recent history.
You may pick up some items at flea markets and even at car
fairs, hut the best hunting grounds are
salerooms and specialist dealers.
As usual, it is important to check china for chips, cracks or rubbing to transfer prints. Bairnsfatherware is particularly collectable as his Old Bill character was so much a part of the Great War.
Figurines and toby jugs and mugs depicting notable generals, admirals and the like are also desirable. Look out for those designed by Carruthers Gould for
Wilkinson's; you will find a maker's mark on the base of items.
Always make sure that none of the fine detail has been chipped or broken off.
Crockery and models of tanks or ambulances with coats-of-arms or regimental insignia were made by Goss, Swan, Carlton and others. Again, look for maker's marks.
Magazines, posters or postcards should be in good
condition. Tears, serious yellowing, bad creasing or water damage will reduce the value. Books with their original dust covers in good condition are worth more than those with no cover or one that has got tatty.
Although good condition is an important consideration, mint condition is suspect in items made 80 years ago, especially if the article supposedly spent time in the trenches. Ensembles of kit associated with a particular person should never be broken up.
Troops stationed overseas kept in touch with Blighty by mail. Postcards with embroidered motifs were very popular.