Thomas Pulling, of Oyster Bay, said he came across the...

Thomas Pulling, of Oyster Bay, said he came across the folio several years ago and decided to make it public.

After their luminous colors and patriotic themes helped fund America's World War I effort, they were mostly forgotten in a closet of an Oyster Bay estate.

Now, the trove of posters that helped sell some $20 billion worth of Liberty Bonds is hanging in the Hillwood Art Museum, on the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University.

"This collection is representative of a leap forward in 20th century American illustration," said Barbara Applegate, the museum's director. "It's a significant collection in the fact that the colors are so vivid and they are so well preserved."

They were loaned to the museum by Thomas Pulling, a trustee of the university whose grandfather R.C. Leffingwell commissioned the posters while serving as assistant secretary of the Treasury.

When he left the Treasury Department in 1920, Leffingwell was given an album containing scores of the posters as a goodbye gift.

But he stuffed the folio into a closet, where it remained mostly undisturbed for decades.

Pulling, of Oyster Bay, said he came across the folio several years ago and decided to make it public.

"The colors are unbelievable because they have been asleep in my house for 80 years," Pulling said.

Leffingwell helped raise about two-thirds of the money the United States spent on World War I by organizing the issuance of Liberty Bonds while serving under President Woodrow Wilson.

People who bought the bonds were promised their money back plus as much as 4.5 percent interest - paid in gold.

To build public support for the bonds, Leffingwell hired the nation's best-known illustrators - including Howard Chandler Christy, Jessie Willcox Smith, J.C. Leyendecker and James Montgomery Flagg - to create patriotic themes.

The posters - iconic images that often depicted mothers, Uncle Sam, Boy Scouts or beautiful women urging on determined soldiers - hung in banks, post offices, schools, train stations and public places. One of the exhibited posters depicts Lady Liberty saying, "Buy a Liberty Bond Lest I Perish."

Pulling said he didn't know what to do with the posters until he was directed to an archivist at the Smithsonian Institution.

The Smithsonian organized an exhibition of the work at the Smithsonian American Museum of Art in Washington, D.C., in 2007. A second exhibition, this one at the Norman Rockwell Museum, in Stockbridge, Mass., ran in 2008.

The exhibit at C.W. Post, which opened Thursday, runs through Nov. 13.

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