Recently we sold a large Russian porcelain tureen at auction that depicted a hunting scene. But upon closer examination, those in the know recognized it as valuable propaganda — a “blank,” or piece of undecorated Imperial porcelain that was decorated after the October Revolution of 1917. The white lid was sculpted in the shape of a Russian hammer and sickle.
Online bidding shot up the day before our live auction, and the winning bidder paid $8,475 with buyer’s premium.
Propaganda is information or ideas that are spread deliberately and methodically to shape public opinion. The messages are emotional, and they’re designed to promote or deter a cause.
Many people mistakenly think the rise of propaganda came about during War World I, but in fact propaganda dates back to the ancient Greeks, who used games, theater, the assembly, law courts and religious festivals to propagandize beliefs and ideas.
We can credit the Catholic Church for coming up with the word propaganda in 1622. Back then, it was an honorable word, used to describe the actions of cardinals who would spread the faith.
As a history buff, I’m always fascinated when propaganda goes up for auction. Lately, too, I think there’s more interest in collecting it. Not only will you find a diverse selection in the secondary market, the prices are competitive. Here are a few examples:
By far, posters are the most common propaganda we see at our auction house. Not only do we see American posters, we see propaganda from our enemies as well. You have to remember that many of our soldiers would bring posters home after a victory. I’ve seen propaganda posters sell for as little as $25 to several thousand dollars for the rare ones.
War time coins and bank notes depicting heroes and hidden messages are of interest to people collecting propaganda. But even more fascinating is counterfeit currency that foreign powers used against their opponents. As with any collectible, do your research to make sure the propagandized currency or counterfeit currency is authentic.
Did you know that nine months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Captain America punched Hitler in the face? Many comic book writers were part of our country’s Office of War Information and the War Writer’s Board. I’ve seen some of these vintage comic books realize hundreds of dollars at auction, but you might be able to find some for as low as $20.
John Lennon’s 1969 hit song “Give Peace a Chance,” The Clash’s 1979 punk rock hit, “London Calling,” U2’s 1983 riveting song, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” … the list of political protest songs goes on and on. People collecting propaganda will often gravitate to collecting vintage vinyl albums and 45 records, not only for the music, but for the cover art as well.
Propaganda will continue to be collected and sold for years to come. Despite what some of you may wish, it’s not going away any time soon.
Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Consignment in Glendale. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.ejsauction.com or @EJs_Auction on Twitter.