November 28, 2021

The World of Churchill Collectables: Big 3 Pocket Mirror

By BRIAN KRAPF

A pocket mirror is a practical, staple item carried in many ladies’ handbags. This particular example was produced sometime between 1943 and 1945. The front depicts the Big Three: Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin. There are no manufacturer’s markings to confirm who produced it, but the piece is decidedly British. The fact that Churchill, by design, is prominently featured in the center is an obvious clue as to its origins. There is also a lesser, subtler clue, however, that not only confirms where the piece was made, but confirms that it was made under wartime conditions.

Aside from the mirror’s patriotic wartime design, it is noteworthy that the front is made of a paper wrapping without a protective celluloid covering. Wartime Britain experienced a celluloid shortage. Therefore, many British-produced items of the period, such as mirrors and badges, were often made without celluloid coverings, unlike their counterparts produced in the United States, Canada, or Australia. Celluloid was not a rationed commodity like fuel, bacon, or butter.

Going without celluloid on the home front, made a substantial contribution to the war effort. Nitrocellulose, a key component of celluloid, was also used in the production of cordite, an accelerant used with gunpowder. Entertainment and the Arts in Wartime Britain, an informational report published in November 1944 by the British Information Services, specifically mentions a wartime shortage of celluloid. In fact, just prior to the war, 200 commercial films were produced in Britain annually. By 1943 that number had dwindled to fifty. Obviously, there were other factors contributing to the reduction of film production, such as employees called to service, but the celluloid shortage warranted mentioning in this government publication. We can conclude that a shortage of celluloid affected the production of movies as well as the manufacture of consumer items.

This pocket mirror is a rare survivor since there was no celluloid covering to offer protection to the paper, most examples are found worn and tattered. While the patriotic design and inclusion of the Big Three are eye appealing, the significance of the lack of a celluloid covering adds to its being a truly wonderful wartime collectible.

National WWI Museum and Memorial, Kansas City

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Brian Krapf’s forthcoming book We Want Winston!—A Treasury of Memorabilia will be published in 2022.

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