Guns and Roses: Collecting World War II Pillow Tops

What's pink, patriotic, and as into posies as it is punt-guns? No, it's not Paris Hilton's latest image makeover. Or Mattel's new "Bivouac Barbie"....

It's a Sweetheart Pillow from World War II.

These satiny, sentimental souvenirs from our US military ports stand today as quirky and meaningful reminders of our nation's past and the lives of the people who served. "To Mother," "To My Wife," "To Sister" or sometimes just featuring area tourist attractions, the pillows were sent back as sweet and consoling tokens of caring during tough times. Many feature images of heavy military machinery, flags and eagles paired-- rather unexpectedly to modern eyes!-- with delicate roses and gentle poetic verse directed at the recipient.

The pillow covers often support a particular branch of the military. And many feature a specific location, or even have customized messaging. All the ones I've seen to-date have been trimmed in fringe. This one came from the St. Vincent de Paul in Apollo, PA.

Did you know that the colors of the American flag are pink, white and blue? Apparently so! That poor eagle. The other eagles must laugh so.

It reads:

America's Defense
To My Sister:
Nice to chat with
Good to know
Glad to have her
where I go:
Kind in trouble.
Bright in joy.
Suits exactly-
Can't say why:
Sweet and wholesome,
Always true:
That's my sister.
Yes, that's you!

I became enchanted with these decorative bits of history when I spied them in a display the now-deceased Riverfront Antique Mall in Beaver Falls, PA. (Readers who are from my region might hear "Taps" playing lightly in the background over the loss of this enjoyable and once-massive antiquing mecca... I sure can. Sniff... sob...!) At the time, though, at upwards of $20 apiece, I was not inclined to invest.

Yet one day some tell-tale fringe peeking out of the textiles rack in the Goodwill sent my Super-Thrifter Sense tingling. And there were THREE pillow covers from the very same period, but at a much more manageable $2 a piece.

I grabbed them up quickly, and since have tried to fine-tune the ol' brain to seek out these delightful examples of World War II memorabilia when I scan the aisles.

As with any sort of collectible, condition has an important effect on value. Many of these covers look like they've never been unfolded or used, and those are typically worth more.

And some, like this one I recently acquired at the Fleatique in Ligonier, have seen better days-- a little fading... Some fringe issues... But for $1, and with such great sentiment, I thought the price was fine.

The poem here reads:

To My Wife
A darling little wife--
Has made my dreams come true
She blesses all my life,
Her name is only "You"
You are my partner sweet,
You share in all I do,
And make my joy complete
By simply being You!

Now THIS particular pillow cover below lives year-round in my Shabby Chic-styled/cottage guest room.

This US Army pillow sham from Hollywood California is one of my absolute favorites-- It was only a buck or two at the Boulevard Bring N Sell (which also has closed) and this particular poem reads:

Of all the girls
I ever knew
There never was
one like you
You're the nearest,
You're the dearest
Pal I ever knew.

Ah, it's an idealized society where a brother tells his sister she's his "nearest and dearest pal." Now THAT'S homesickness talking. Or possibly shellshock. I love those big beautiful girly pink roses and fringe contrasting with the army tanks and battle scenes. That just makes me smile.

Here are two examples that act basically as tourism postcards. These may be later in date than World War II, I'm not sure. But I thought they were interesting variations on the style. Here we have the Hawaiian Islands, complete with volcanos and hula girl...

And here we have Kentucky. Yes, indeed, the entire state encapsulated in a fringed pillow...

And this one is my only one printed on velvet instead of satin. Again, I'm not sure of the age here-- this might be a slightly later example. This came from the Goodwill in Monroeville, PA.

It reads:

Mother and Dad
To both of you, dear Mother and Dad
This brings a double measure
Of sincere wishes for a life that's filled
With all that gives you pleasure
It also brings the loving thought
That the joys you've always given
Have made the world for those you love
A better place to live in.

Looking for more information on World War II pillow covers? Well, I understand the Wright Museum in Wolfeboro, NH, collects world war II textiles such as these, so you can check that out here:

And I also think you might enjoy this site: It discusses the author's sweetheart pillow cover collection, and gives a nice pictorial overview on the types of pillow shams out there from this time period.

Oh-- and before you go, since you may have missed it, I thought you might enjoy seeing my New Year's post from last year, talking about New Year' postcards from around 1910. This is is on my .Mac site here (apologies that I haven't yet converted it over to Blogger. I'm still chipping away at it)-- click here.

Wishing you all the very best for 2008! And I hope to see you again soon in the new year.


Rosemary said...

Hi Jenn,
I didn't know that you collected those. They are really pretty. I have seen them now and again. I will have to pay more attention at the flea markets. What a great piece of history. Lots of pink too!
I am going to go and check out your last years New Years post.
Happy New Year to you,

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Heya, Rosemary! Hope you're well! It's not as much an active collection as a stumbling on them here and there. But they're so sweet and kitschy (and flat, so they don't take up much space!) I enjoy having them. I'd imagine out your way, with such big military ports, you may find you see quite a few of them.

Happy New Year to you, too. I will pop by your blog before I head off for the holiday.


Rose Mary said...

Thanks so much for the great post, Jenn. I've never heard of these! I love WWII anything~so this was especially fun to learn about. Hope you have a great New Year!


~Becca~Bluebird Rose said...

My aunt had a few of those; I remember being intrigued by them..... I'm not sure how old hers were or when she got them, but one of them was a "Mother" one.
Thanks for sharing! :)

misselaineous said...

Happy New Year, Jenn! Off the blogs for a couple days, check out yours at 4 in the morn, and saw the cool pillow covers. I recently added 3 to a collection I wasn't aware that I had, but grabbed up all 3 for a dime..yes a dime, dontcha love yard sales??!! 2 are sis-mom ones and the 3rd a NY state..smaller, but the Statue of Liberty is PINK!! At the same sale, found a vintage globe, ($1) and the oceans are black! :D these "artists" sure took some poetic license w/ colors!

ThriftShopRomantic said...

R-Mary- Heya, happy New Year to you! I didn't know you were a World War II history buff-- would love to hear about what you're into regarding that some day. Perhaps in a future blog post when you're looking for an idea? :)

Becca-- thanks so much for stopping by! Isn't it funny how we absorb the vintage items that family members have had?

Misselaineous- what a deal you got on your $0.10 pillow covers! And to think I thought I was doing well getting them for a buck or two. :) A pink Statue of Liberty... good golly. But ya know, I think I appreciate them all the more because the colors are so surprising. Sounds like a great collection.

Sher said...

How fantastic are those WW2 pillows!!!?!!! I, for one, am pleased that they have found a home where they will be loved and appreciated for the history and all the sentiment behind them!

Sujatha said...

Happy New Year, Jenn!

Sundar says hi too. I happened upon your blog on the pghbloggers site and couldn't believe it was you in your tiny profile photo.

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Hi, Sujatha-- And hi to Sundar, too! How wonderfully amazing to have you stop by! I will have to pop over and visit your site and see what you're up to. Happy New Year and I hope you're doing well.


Greg said...

I'd never heard of these before, so you've set my interest in all things WWII a tingling (Super Thrifting Senses...?!? Heh heh...).

With their old fashioned sentiments and fringing, they're definitely a throwback (or throw pillow) to an earlier, more innocent age.

A softer time, shall we say?

Balkandina said...

I love these pillow covers. I have a few. I remember my grandmother had them on her sofa from all 5 of her sons who were in WWII. When she died they threw away all of her "junk" before those of us who cared could get to them.
I also have a collection of the black velvet state ones-you can still occasionally find them in old souvenir shops. Great Blog

Carrie ~ Gigi said...

Oh my...when you left a comment I say the "B"---You have created a wonderful site. I love your projects, and the pillow is exquiste!

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