Posted by VetCollector
I have been collecting militaria for several years. I enjoy seeing, touching and sometimes smelling these object of history. I have a couple items on full-time display in my home and I enjoy the ensuing conversation that is sparked by guests who take an interest. For the most part, my collection is hidden in my closet and boxes in various places within my home. However, this week I have been given the opportunity to share a portion of my treasures with a decidedly larger audience that the visitors to my home.
In my home state’s largest fair there is a considerably large facility that is used to showcase various hobbies that people participate in. There are several categories of hobbies represented ranging from wood and metal working, crafts and scrap-booking. Perhaps the largest portion of floor space is dedicated to the various areas of collecting (coins, stamps, dolls, toys, clocks, etc.). In all my years of attending the fair, I can recollect one instance of a militaria collection displayed and that was last autumn (an amazing collection of armed forces nurse uniforms). From that moment, I was decidedly interested in sharing my significantly smaller (than the nurses display) collection the following year.
As I began to consider what I wanted to submit as an entrant to this year’s fair, I wanted to be more unique, more specific than simply presenting my collection of military uniforms. One area that I have been more focused upon in the past four years, military sports, has afforded me the opportunity to acquire items that span two genres of my collecting interests. Also, my collection has grown enough that a small display consisting of the mixture of types of pieces (uniforms, equipment, photographs and ephemera) would be quite tastefully displayed. With my concept decided, I began the process of submitting my collection.
The fair committee does strive for diversity in what they like to have on display and while seeking to prevent repeating collections year after year, they also try to ensure that the spaces are completely filled. I started the two-part process (electronic submission, followed by a paper form and photographs) by completing the online form a week prior to the deadline. I downloaded the paper form and set it aside, forgetting it for several days and then resigning myself to wait until next year as the deadline arrived. The following week, my phone rang during my afternoon commute and I was asked if I could bring the paper form to their office within 48 hours and that they wanted me to display my collection. I was elated and excitedly agreed to complete the remaining elements of the submission process.
Two weeks later, I received the formal acceptance letter and exhibitor packet. Getting a head-start on determining what and how I would display my collection, I selected pieces and acquired the necessary accessories (mannequins, stands, etc.) to achieve a tasteful presentation.
Move-in day went smoothly and my display was finished within a few hours as a raging, late-summer windstorm howled outside. All items carefully placed and locked into the cabinet, I snapped a few pictures and left for home. Overnight, the high winds were supplanted by terrible rainfall (three inches in just a few hours). Driving home from the fair the previous day, I remembered that I had one more piece that I wanted to display along with a few corrections to the information placard. I intended on returning in the early afternoon. When I turned my phone on, I discovered a harsh reality of displaying outside of my home. It seemed that the storm that blew in deposited a large quantity of leaves on the fair building’s roof clogging the downspouts as the rain (deluge) began to fall. The ensuing flood on the roof resulted in water penetrating the building and meandering its way into the display case that was housing my collection (mine was the only one affected).
The news was not good – some of my pieces were wet and the fair staff emptied my case to allow it to begin drying. When I arrived and saw the stained and crumbling ceiling tiles, I knew that the damage to my pieces would be considerable. Surveying my collection, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was very few pieces got wet and – the damage was simply moisture on one of the uniform trousers. The remainder of my collection was safe (and carefully removed from the case by the fair workers) which was a relief considering the ephemera (programs/scorecards from championship games) and photographs (some over 100 years old) were unaffected by the moisture. I was provided a secure space to store the dry items and I loaded what was wet and took it with me. My initial reaction to what happened to my collection was to load it all into my truck and forego displaying. As the current owner ans steward of these artifacts, I was concerned about further risk. Insurance can recoup the financial loss, but the history would be lost should any further harm befall these pieces.
I had to wait for another opportunity to return to put the display back together once the leaks were addressed. Later that week, my wife returned with me to assist and the display came together nicely. With a few changes (from the previous configuration) the final presentation turned out to be much more aesthetically balanced and pleasing. Rather than dominate my display with every piece of military baseball material that I own, I selectively chose examples that would inform the audience of the prevalence and impact that baseball has had on our culture, in particular, within the ranks of the armed forces.
The fair is set to open this week and the risk of loss is still present until I bring my collection home. What I am learning is invaluable and is preparing me to recognize and consider the risks with clarity for future public showcasing of my collection. Through the militaria collector community I have heard the horror stories regarding theft and damage and I will factor those anecdotes (along with this experience) into future decisions. I am hopeful that the positives outweigh the detractors and the audience truly enjoys and appreciates what they are seeing. Fortunately, there is a feedback mechanism in place and the fair staff told me that it is very common for viewers to submit questions and reach out to the collectors.
It would be an absolute pleasure to hear from a veteran who donned a uniform, cap and spikes and took to the diamond for his unit!