It was the 1940s, and America’s servicemen and women were sent to serve their country in remote cities far from their homes and loved ones. Vintage souvenir pillows bearing the name of the state where the soldier was stationed were popular war-time collectibles that they could easily mail back home. They were a way to connect with family, a gift of thanks for the letters and photographs they received every day and a comforting way to demystify the faraway place that was their temporary home.
Then, in 1959, Alaska and Hawaii achieved statehood, and vintage souvenir pillows once again became a popular collectibles, as travelers were now able to venture to these faraway places faster and more affordably thanks to the fledgling commercial aviation industry. Bringing back a pillow bearing the insignia of one of the nascent states was as much a badge of honor for the traveler as getting his or her passport stamped. Other states soon followed suit, and the pillows were purchased as a symbol of pride in one’s home state, a vacation souvenir or as inspiration for a dream trip.
Elaine Jobst, who sells vintage souvenir pillowcases at YesterYore an online shop on Artfire.com, has always been fascinated with the 1940s–1960s time period.
Most of the pillows are made in a background of either colored satin, black velveteen or silk. They were silkscreened in three or four colors and usually finished with a cotton-twisted fringe in a bright, contrasting color. I’ve found more people are looking for specific cities that have meaning to them (for example, a Paris vacation or honey-moon in Niagara Falls, or some other personal connection), rather than events, organizations or tourist attractions. They would also appeal to collectors of Americana, nostalgia, WWII and post-war memorabilia, states (especially Alaska and Hawaii) and mid-century memorabilia.
Where to Find Them
Try searching estate sales, large flea markets, online auction sites and websites for war and mid-century mementos.
Condition and luck determine price. If you’re lucky, you may find them in charity shops for $5-$10. Online, prices range from $10 and up.
How to Display Them
Thanks to their small size and thin form, vintage souvenir pillowcases can be displayed in a variety of ways without taking up much space. Hang them on the wall using vintage wood pant/skirt hangers, display them with other items in a nostalgic or kitschy vignette, place one on a nightstand that has the name of the home state of your guest—or you can always use it for its intended purpose: as a cover for a throw pillow.
Looking for more vintage collectibles ideas? Check out this post on collecting vintage portraits.