In the dark early days of World War II, the pilots and air crews of the Royal Air Force (RAF) emerged as the first ray of hope that Hitler's war machine could be resisted and, in fact, defeated. The valor and romance of "The Few", as they were called in reference to Churchill's quote, "Never has so much been owed by so many to so few," continues to capture the imagination of modern collectors, just as it did in the early 1940's.
Many of the WWII-era variations on the sweetheart wing now on the market were actually produced by the American charities engaged in raising money and supplies for the civilian victims of Hitler's aggression, even before the US entered the war. Groups like Bundles for Britain, the British War Relief Society (BWRS) and the British-American Ambulance Corps (BAAC) each produced their own fundraising pins trading on the reputation and allure of the RAF. These pins can make lovely additions to an RAF wing or sweetheart collection. But it is important for collectors to know exactly what they are buying.
So how to tell them apart from actual, British-made sweethearts and uniform badges?
Monogram In the British designs, the RAF center monogram generally shows the letters intertwined. In the US pins, they are not.
Manufacturer The war relief pins were produced by American, rather than British, costume jewelry manufacturers, primarily Accessocraft, Silson and Monet. Trifari and Coro also created some war relief designs but these were either a very small part of their patriotic jewelry line or produced independently of the major war relief charities.
Materials Through Coro, the BAAC offered some designs in sterling silver, but most of the US pins are made of gold-plated brass, in enameled and unenameled versions. Also, unlike the British RAF sweethearts, the larger American designs were produced as brooches or fur clips. The lapel-sized designs come in both pinback and screw-back versions.
Some of the US pins, like the RAF wing made for Bundles for Britain by Monet, are well marked. Coro produced a clearly marked wing design called "A Tribute to Valor" for the BAAC. But many were only associated with the charity which sold them on the backing cards, very few of which survive.
Neither Silson nor Accessocraft, which made huge numbers of brooches for nearly every war relief group in the US, was so diligent about marking their charity pieces. Most of the British War Relief Society's Accessocraft pieces can be identified by the "BWRS" somewhere in their design. The Bundles for Britain Accessocraft V pin is only marked "BFor VictoryB" on the back, which couldn't be more obscure. Silson's wing-and-roundel designs for the BAAC's "Thumbs-Up Cavalcade" are only marked with the company's name on the back.
Because many of the American war relief pins were expensive at the time they were sold (with around 50% of the purchase price going to the charity), they were frequently carefully preserved and can be found on the market in near mint condition. Their lovely designs and excellent condition make them very collectible in their own right, or to round out a homefront, sweetheart or RAF collection.