For militaria collectors, Pearl Harbor memorabilia is particularly precious.
Whether it’s newspaper clippings saved from the day that will “live in infamy” or uniforms worn by the brave sailors stationed at the Hawaiian base, Pearl Harbor collectibles have a significance that is difficult to overstate.
“There’s just nothing that compares to that instance in history,” says WorthPoint Worthologist Chris Hughes.
Japan’s stunning strike on the U.S. Navy’s fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, sank or damaged 21 ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, destroyed 188 aircraft and claimed more than 2,400 lives. The attack—the deadliest ever committed by a foreign power on U.S. soil—also plunged the nation headfirst into World War II. Before the attack, Americans had expressed little support for joining the war, but the devastation on Pearl Harbor quickly changed public opinion.
Because of Pearl Harbor’s historical importance, memorabilia can be difficult to find. Hughes says that war posters—many carrying the rallying cry, “Remember Pearl Harbor”—provide one of the easier points of entry for new collectors. Stressing sacrifice and strength, these colorful works can be had for anywhere from $75 to $250.
Dec. 7, the day that would live in infamy
Reproductions are common, so Hughes warns beginners to be wary of posters priced for much less.
Clippings from magazines or newspapers chronicling the attack are also more common. WorthPoint’s sister site, GoAntiques, has Newsweek magazine issues from both the day of the attack and the week after, as well as an edition of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin printed on the day of the attack. The site, however, cautions that the copy of the newspaper may be a reproduction.
(left) Newsweek’s prescient cover story; (right) Honolulu Star-Bulletin’s Dec. 7 front page
For more seasoned collectors, personal items seem to hold the greatest appeal.
During the 1940s, sailors at Pearl Harbor sported white, “Donald Duck” type hats adorned with ribbons listing the ship to which they were assigned. Collectors, says Hughes, will often collect those ribbons if they list a ship that was sunk at Pearl Harbor.
Purple Hearts awarded posthumously are also sought-after collectibles.
Uncle Sam shows his anger
“To find a medal group that’s named to someone killed at Pearl Harbor, that’s a Holy Grail item to a medal collector,” says Hughes. “They’re out there. They exist, but they sell at a premium.”
Photos taken by military personnel and personal correspondence from those who served at Pearl Harbor are also highly valued.
Hughes says collecting Pearl Harbor memorabilia takes patience and perseverance. In addition to GoAntiques, he suggests attending militaria shows and digging around online for items.
“There are discussion groups on the Internet that are very welcoming to new collectors,” shares Hughes.
To find out what your Pearl Harbor items might be worth, check out worthopedia.com or Goantiques’ PriceMiner tool, which is available by subscription.
Chris Hughes is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in 20th century militaria and the owner of Rally Point Militaria and Vietnam Uniform – Military Collectibles sites.
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