EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 265 - June 20, 2010 - ISSN 1528-6703     7 of 8

Collector's Corner: Uncle Sam Memorabilia

By Michele Alice

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Uncle Sam, the personification of the nation, was based upon a real person, Samuel Wilson. Born in Menotomy (now Arlington), Massachusetts, in 1766, Wilson eventually moved to Troy, New York, where he and his brother Ebenezer opened a meat packing business. Troy was an up-and-coming community - by the mid-19th Century, it would be one of the five most prosperous cities in the U.S. - and the Wilsons' business thrived.

During the war of 1812, the United States government contracted with the Wilsons for supplies for the army. The meats were delivered in barrels marked "U.S." for "United States," but friends and employees, who had often referred to the brothers as "Uncle Sam" and "Uncle Eb," good-humoredly joked that the U.S. stood for Uncle Sam. Troops receiving the supplies picked up on the nickname, and it stuck.

The depiction of Uncle Sam has undergone a number of permutations since its inception. Political cartoonist Thomas Nast is credited with creating by 1876 the basics for the one with which we are most familiar today, and in 1950 Herbert Noxon won a State Department competition for an official version.

The Uncle Sam name or image has appeared on just about everything imaginable - from postcards and posters to advertisements and T-shirts, and from watches and mechanical banks to postage stamps and Pez dispensers. There are even hand-painted Uncle Sam bowling pins!

It is difficult to assess the Uncle Sam effect on the secondary markets as most items are cross-collectible, but a perusal of online auction and retail sites has provided a sampling of what might be expected:

  • various Uncle Sam 22-cent postage stamps (1998) for $1-2 each;
  • a 1939 Uncle Sam Secret Service matchbook for $8.50;
  • a vintage Uncle Sam Pez dispenser for $99.99;
  • an antique cast-iron mechanical bank in damaged condition for $528;
  • a signed 7" x 7" Warhol promotional lithograph for $4500; and
  • an antique cast-iron bank (same as above) in very good condition for $5000!

Interested in learning more about this popular collectible? Check out the resources listed below, and

Happy Hunting!

Books:

The Foremost Guide to Uncle Sam Collectibles
This book is out of print, but remains an important guide to the subject.

Posters of World Wars I and II CD-ROM and Book (Dover Full-Color Electronic Design)

World War I Posters (Schiffer Book for Collectors with Price Guide)

Websites:

Uncle Sam - link
Site offers a slightly different history, but lots of great pics of Uncle Sam ephemera.

Uncle Sam and Home Defense Cards - link
Page at Deke's Collection (nice site!) provides short description of Gum Inc.'s 1941 trading cards.

Uncle Sam Cookie Jars - link
Nice pics of patriotic cookie jars.

The Uncle Sam Memorial Foundation - link
"Dedicated to the life and times of Samuel Wilson", the site offers a timeline, sponsored events, postcard gallery, more.

Uncle Sam Postcards - link
Some nice pics of vintage postcards.


About the author:

Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9


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