I made a discovery last year on Carrie Lord’s Instagram account called @homefronthistory. On March 17, 2022, she posted about war stamp corsages, called ‘Warsages’. Carrie has several in her collection of fabulous American home front WW2 collectibles. I had just recorded an interview with 89-year-old Rita, who had told me about buying war stamps as a child, and I noticed in this IG post that war stamps were attached to the corsage. So off down a new rabbit hole – were ‘Warsages’ a Canadian thing as well?
I located one warsage in the collection of the Women’s College Hospital Foundation. Here is what the description says:
“The Hospital Aid also supported the war effort by purchasing Canadian War Savings Bonds as prizes for various hospital fundraising events. In addition, the volunteers bought large numbers of Canadian War Savings Stamps to make special corsages affectionately known as warsages. A popular trend during WWII, warsages were made by women’s groups. They were constructed using ribbon and then adorned with war savings stamps. The Hospital Aid produced warsages with ribbon in WCH colours of blue and white, then presented and sold them at hospital events. This original warsage is now preserved in the collection of The Miss Margaret Robins Archives of WCH.”
In Canada, War Savings Stamps were 25 cents each. Once you had saved 25 cents, you could buy a stamp at the post office and stick it in a government supplied booklet. The goal was to fill a page with 16 stamps for a total of $4.00. After the war, you could redeem one page for $5.00, a wonderful return on your savings. War Savings Stamps were a method of the government selling small bonds to fund the war effort. These stamp books were even popular with children, who worked diligently to fill their stamp books to help ‘win the war’, twenty-five cents at a time.
Young women could apply to sell War Savings Stamps, and would carry the title of ‘Miss Canada’ and wear a red apron bearing that name. Some of these teenagers fashioned these little corsages of fabric or paper flowers and added war stamps wrapped in cellophane. The warsages were popular at dances and fairs and as gifts on special occasions like Mother’s Day, Easter and Christmas. It appears from primary source articles that service clubs also engaged in making these wartime fundraisers. More about Miss Canada teens and the funds that were raised through the sale of War Savings Stamps may be found at this link of the Canadian War Museum: https://www.warmuseum.ca/s3/supplyline/assets/swwteacherresources/AB4.1-Eng-MissCanadaApron.pdf
I haven’t found an authentic ‘warsage’ here in Canada (yet), but I was thrilled when I found a rare, partially used, War Savings Stamp booklet and a number of unused stamps. So I recreated my own ‘warsage’ of velvet flowers and leaves from a vintage hat, and even some vintage crinkly cellophane I found in my stash.
And the earliest primary source reference to ‘war stamp corsages’ I have found so far is in the Toronto Star, when the Newman ball was held at the Royal York Hotel, February 19, 1941 – a full nine months before the U.S. entered the war. So perhaps, just maybe, the ‘warsage’ originated in Canada???
This Remembrance Day, for me, the warsage is a reminder again of the voluntary participation of the women, children and men on the home front who were engaged in fundraising for six years of war. The War Savings Stamp scheme was successful, as Canadians purchased over $318 million in War Stamps and Certificates during the war, according to the Canadian War Museum.