The KY Fair Board is under tremendous public pressure to "do something" about the perceived situation with crazy racists and nazis running around at KEC events. To be fair, the people beating this drum would be absolutely justified IF this was an accurate depiction of reality at a gun show or collector show. As we know.. it is not. Several involved have come out and preemptively proclaimed that the "history defense" is just a BS smokescreen. We sincerely believe otherwise. OVMS has sent a letter to the board articulating a defense of collectors and shows in advance of their meeting, in the hope that it might play a meaningful role in the serious contemplation of the issues at hand.
As collectors, I know that this is as important to you as it is to us, so in the interest of keeping you all in the loop, here is what we sent: (Apologies for the length)
I am writing on behalf of the board of directors of the Ohio Valley Military Society, of which I am a member. The OVMS is an organization of collectors that has hosted our annual ‘Show of Shows’ at the Kentucky Exposition Center for more than twenty years. When we learned that the Louisville Courier-Journal and other media outlets were attempting to link the sale of Third Reich items at Ron Dickson’s National Gun Day Show to the recent local and national tragedies, our board quickly realized this could have a profound impact on our event. Viewed through the media’s lens, it appeared that Mr. Dickson’s show was essentially a shopping opportunity for bigots and white supremacists. The outrage was immediate and intense, which would be absolutely appropriate if this characterization of collectors was true. However, it is not.
The Show-of-Shows is an annual gathering of collectors, historians, museum professionals, veterans, and scholars in a vast array of topics within the larger field of international military history. SOS is not a gun show, but some of the same people do attend both events. We typically have over 700 dealers with 1200 family and helpers set up at SOS. The vast majority of our 4500+ members attend the event. In addition, we welcome between 1700 to 2000 members of the general public. Participants are a diverse group from all walks of life, coming to Louisville from all 50 states and from more than 25 different countries. In addition to buying and selling artifacts, participants are able to connect with some of the leading scholars within their chosen fields, and interact with curators and other professionals from some of the nation’s premier museums. Perhaps of greater importance, they have the opportunity to meet and personally express their thanks and admiration to some of our particularly notable veterans. In recent years we have been honored to host a number of these real American heroes including several Medal of Honor recipients, Tuskegee Airmen, 1st Cavalry veterans of the 1965 Ia Drang valley battle, participants from the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo, pilots and aircrew of the atomic missions which ended WWII, survivors of the USS Indianapolis and Malmedy Massacre, and a number of veterans who parachuted into Normandy on D-Day. One of our members remarked rather eloquently in reference to the veterans on a Facebook post: “I go to the show to collect, but these guys are the reason why I collect.”
You will not find KKK items at our event; the Show-of-Shows is a military antiques show, where the items must specifically pertain to military history. The artifacts which are exhibited, bought and sold range from America’s colonial era to current conflicts. However, the vast majority of the collectibles offered at our show date from the first and second world wars. As diverse as our collectors’ interests are, it is the souvenirs that American soldiers brought home after the defeat of Germany in WWII that account for a sizeable portion of the items offered at the show, and generally in the collecting hobby overall. The obsession with symbols, uniforms, and insignias is a particular hallmark of fascist regimes. The Third Reich produced a great volume of such material, which was as prevalent among the rubble of its ruins as it had been in newsreel footage before the war began. In recognition of their part in the defeat of this evil, American servicemen and women actively collected and traded souvenirs even before the end of the war. Afterwards, they brought a significant quantity of these items home with them. In a similar spirit of rewarding effort with a token of the (soon-to-be) defeated foe, the US War Department sent home a tremendous amount of captured German helmets in particular, which were given out to citizens on the home front in return for war bond purchases.
Our members who collect WWII German material (often as a part of collecting WWII material from ALL of the participants) are not bigots and racists. They are quite aware of the unspeakable crimes committed against all of humanity by the Nazi government and military. They are universally of the opinion that preserving and studying the artifacts of that regime is one of the ways we can ensure that this history is remembered, and hopefully never repeated.
At worst, they are ‘history nerds’, focused on their interest in the past, and perhaps a bit oblivious to the world changing around them. Many grew up in an era where you could acquire these items directly from the individuals who brought them home, or when an ad in the local paper could yield more artifacts than they could ever hope to buy. They were used to going to gun shows, antique shows, flea markets, and garage sales, where such things were bought and sold openly without a concern for misunderstanding, since it was well-known by all present that they represented victory over the enemy, and nothing more.
Times change, though. We are now mourning the loss of many of our aging WWII veterans. We are also entering an era when younger people, now separated by several generations from these same WWII veterans, are unfamiliar with this hobby and with history in general. It is no surprise that they would be suspicious, alarmed and offended should they encounter WWII German items being sold and traded. This is especially true for those not personally familiar with any collectors, and thus unfamiliar with the motives of people who pursue such things. This is a fact that is sometimes lost on our ‘history nerds.’ They are often thoroughly focused on the historical past as it pertains to their specific area of interest, studying and memorizing minutiae that would make anyone else’s eyes glaze over, and chasing after the next artifact. When painted as racists, bigots, Nazis, etc., these folks are often absolutely stunned, confused, and hurt. They know who they are, and why they collect, and are sometimes guilty of assuming that those outside the hobby should understand this as well.
As an organization, the OVMS has recognized this and worked to institute rules and practices that help to prevent misunderstandings from happening. One of the most important things that we do is to properly contextualize WWII German material as souvenirs of a defeated foe, through signage at the entrance to our shows, and information included in our event programs. I have included a copy of our current complete rules and regulations pertaining to this issue. Our board is always open to suggestions of further measures that we might consider to ensure such material is presented in the proper context. It is very important to us to ensure the continued protection of our members, our show, and the venues who lease to us.
One suggestion that we sometimes hear is that collecting certain material (in this case German WWII items) should be considered socially unacceptable out of respect to the millions of innocent victims of that evil regime; “Those items should either be in museums where they can be put to proper use, or destroyed – but not held in private collections.”
For all of the good intentions of those making such statements, what they overlook is that, knowingly or otherwise, private collectors such as those who attend our shows are critical components at the very foundational level of the museum system. They serve essentially as ‘volunteer curators’, dedicating their own time and resources to the study, acquisition and preservation of the artifacts which interest them personally. As any reasonably well-informed museum professional will tell you, there are far more historic artifacts in need of preservation which exist outside of museums than all of the professional institutions combined could ever hope to collect and curate. This is especially true today when most museums have limited resources and funding. When items leave the care of the original owners or their descendants, very often the only safety net preventing their complete loss is the presence of a commercial value for the material, driven almost exclusively by the activities and interests of private collectors. This safety net is particularly important for items and collecting fields that may be temporarily overlooked or even disparaged and shunned as socially uncomfortable by professional institutions.
The recent centennial of the First World War is an excellent case in point for the former. The long-anticipated anniversary failed to cause much change in the market among collectors, as their interest was already well-established and had been for many decades. Where we did see considerable activity, however, was among the numerous state, local, and even several national museums who suddenly became aware that their collections were insufficient to support the centenary exhibits they wished to offer. In need of artifacts to illustrate the history of the Great War, they turned to the collecting community, where they were able to borrow or purchase the items required. As a seller who has enjoyed several large museum collection deaccession contracts, I found it illustrative to note that at least one institution was actively seeking and paying a premium for some of the very same artifacts that a previous administration had deemed ‘surplus’ and sold in years past. It was the collector market that kept the items out of the rubbish bin when they were unwanted by this particular museum, and provided them back again once the institution realized that they were needed.
I cannot speak for other fields, but for historic arms and military antiques, the vast majority of research and scholarship originates either within or as a direct result of the collecting community. The collectors serve both as authors and primary audience for scholarly work within their chosen fields, resulting in a level of knowledge and understanding on many topics that would otherwise be lost to time.
WWII German material may be the largest segment of the militaria collecting community, but it is by no means the only one. Our members collect Revolutionary War swords, Spanish items from 1898, WWI photographs, Russian posters, and everything else you might imagine. So why not just exclude WWII German items from our show? Because all of these diverse interests work together in a symbiotic fashion to create an event in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The guy collecting WWI French headgear is more likely to find a great deal on the orphan cap residing on the table of someone who deals primarily in WWII German helmets, and vice-versa.
Our ‘history nerds’ may range from polished, accomplished authors and professionals to socially-awkward bumpkins, but they are not bigots and racists. They love history. They venerate the special veteran guests who helped to save the world from the Nazis nearly 75 years ago. They love collecting and preserving historic artifacts. AND, they love Louisville. When word of this controversy over Mr. Dickson’s gun show spread, the overwhelming response from our members was “I sure hope we don’t have to move away from Louisville.” Whether it is the Cardinal restaurant, Nord’s bakery, or their favorite hotel, for over 20 years they have become quite attached to the city and to the Kentucky Exposition Center.
The OVMS recognizes how easy it would be for people unfamiliar with WWII collectors to raise an eyebrow (or worse) when suddenly confronted by their activities, and we realize that the public pressure brought to bear on your organization has been significant, which will require a response. It is our sincere hope that we can work together to develop a response that will properly address public concerns, while allowing our show to continue with the appropriately contextualized exhibit of original period artifacts. We have shared our guidelines with other military collectable shows around the country for the purpose of helping them to prevent this very sort of situation. We would be glad to offer our resources to Mr. Dickson as well, so that he might better safeguard against these and other issues at his shows.
Edited by Shenkursk, 09 November 2018 - 09:05 AM.