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Uncle Sam Wants You: Rare WWI Posters Up for Auction

A vintage World War I poster from the Col. McCrahon Collection. (Guernsey's)

A collection of about 2,000 posters from the World War I era, considered to be one of the world's finest and amassed over more than a decade by a U.S. Army officer, will be sold at auction later this month, Guernsey's auction house said on Tuesday.

A vintage World War I poster from the Col. McCrahon Collection. (Guernsey's)
A vintage World War I poster from the Col. McCrahon Collection. (Guernsey's)

The collection, which will go under the hammer during an online, unreserved auction with no minimum bids on June 30 and July 1, includes the famous poster of a stern-looking, top-hatted Uncle Sam pointing a finger with the words, "I Want You for U.S. Army."

Another patriotic poster shows the American flag and laborers with the words "Teamwork Wins," while a third is of French women working in a laundry inscribed "Four Years in the Fight."

"It's the best [collection] in the world," said Arlan Ettinger, the president of Guernsey's. "It appears that from the very beginning it was always looked at as the most comprehensive assemblage of posters of many different nationalities pertaining to their involvement in World War I."

Although all of the posters, works of art which are expected to fetch between $200 to $5,000 apiece, are patriotic, their topics range from fundraising and food rationing to women's war efforts, enlistment and animal aid.

Edward H. McCrahon, who was born in Brooklyn, started the collection after he joined the French Army two years before the United States entered the Great War in 1917.

He became enthralled with the colorful, graphic posters encouraging citizens to support the war and continued collecting after enlisting with the U.S. armed forces.

About half of the posters are from the United States, while others are in various languages from more than 15 countries such as France, Italy, Germany, Canada, Cuba and China.

Many are by prominent illustrators, including J.C. Leyendecker and Howard Chandler Christy, and are among the only known copies to exist.

The largest poster is a massive 9 x 14 ft. American work urging people to "Give or Perish," that was made on behalf of the Armenian Relief Fund.

"There are many posters in this collection that have never been seen before," Ettinger added.

When the World War I ended, McCrahon devoted all of his time to enlarging the collection and by the 1930s, he began to exhibit it around the country. The collection is being sold by his heirs.

"It really is a time capsule of a different era, when these things were very stirring, patriotic and treasured," said Ettinger.