History of the Ohio Valley Military Society
-Looking Back 32 Years
By William “Bill” Stump (1941-2004), OVMS Member Number 69
This article was first printed in The Military Historian,
newsletter of the Ohio Valley Military Society, May 1998 issue.
In the early 1950’s the hobby of collecting military relics was in its infancy and collectors had little reference material at their disposal to aid and guide them with their particular field of interest. Word of mouth and exchanges of letters between collectors provided the first sources of information. Only a few collectors and even fewer dealers specialized in military artifacts or the study of military history. No organized collecting organizations existed for military artifact collectors. However, two organizations were formed that set the stage for similar collecting groups who patterned their clubs after them. The American Society of Military Insignia Collectors, or ASMIC (formed in 1937) was an organization specializing in the collecting and history of military insignia. The Orders and Medals Society of America (OMSA) was formed in 1950 and held meetings and published a newsletter for their members dealing with medals, orders and decorations of the world. These two organizations led the way for similar organizations that followed. Many of the founders and members of the Orders and Medals Society of America helped organize the Ohio Valley Military Society, namely Darrell Ranney, the late Gary C. Krug, Paul Peters and myself.
As the gun collecting organizations around the country began to organize and grow during the middle 1950’s, they attracted the attention of the military collectors. The gun shows provided the first centralized locations for the military artifact collector to meet and deal in military artifacts. They usually met on a set schedule in various cities throughout the country, and their meetings gave a military collector a location where he could meet with other collectors and expand his hobby. That was the positive side of the story. Almost immediately, the officials of almost every organization became suddenly hostile to the military collector. Many adopted restrictions specifying what a member could and could not display at their shows. Many rare military relics were purchased “under the table” or in the parking lots, especially if they were German, Japanese, Italian or Russian World War II items not falling in the firearms or firearm accessory status. Uniforms, medals, daggers and swords, most helmets and field equipment were forbidden to be displayed. That trend still continues today with some of the major gun collecting organizations. However, at that time, the gun shows were the only areas open to the military collector and the indignation and rebuke had to be tolerated if one wanted to meet and further his interest in military artifact collecting on the gun show circuit. For many years harsh, anti-military artifact attitude had to be tolerated and was accepted by the military collector if he attended the gun shows.
Looking back in retrospect, an impartial observer can understand the reasons for lack of “respectability” that was shown to the field of military collecting. The distrustful atmosphere that was present during the so called “McCarthy Era,” the attention given to George Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi Party, and the deep psychological wounds left after World War II were the main causes for the hostile attitudes of the gun show officials. Many officials and promoters of gun shows were themselves former veterans and were taught by the military to hate their enemy. Some had lost family members or friends as a result of World War II, and during the war, Americans as a whole were taught to hate the Fascist enemy. This hatred and dislike of anything that reminded them of the vanquished enemy, particularly the sight of a Nazi swastika, Japanese rising sun, or a Russian hammer and sickle flag covering a display table caused for immediate resentment being directed toward the military collector. This was especially true if the collector was displaying a table filled with Nazi daggers, medals, battle dress uniforms and flags. To do so was cause for the immediate challenge from the officials who told the “oftener” to remove the “offensive” items from public display. Often, after a second reprimand, they were told to leave the show and banned from attending future shows. This practice of discriminating against collectors was most obvious at the Ohio Gun Collectors Association shows in the early 1960’s. The organization is one of the largest gun collectors groups in the United States and the largest East of the Mississippi River. Their shows, usually held at that time at the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum in Columbus, Ohio, attracted thousands of collectors, and was where the early collectors and dealers in military artifacts came together on a regular basis. It was their adverse attitude against the display and sale of military artifacts, other than firearms and firearms accessories that influenced other regional gun collecting organizations to impose similar restrictions at their shows. One meeting gained nationwide attention when a reporter from a national magazine took a photograph of a display table that had a German World War II light machine gun and a large Nazi battle flag hanging on the wall behind the table. He added a caption to the photograph that stated the organization was “Nazi oriented.” This added fuel to the already burning fire of resentment, and harsher rules were imposed. By 1965, a small group of military collectors located in Louisville, KY, led by Darrell Ranney, Roy Thorn, Robert Hall, Sidney Fitch, Sr., Jeff Caulfield, and Ed Keiley, disgusted with the years of harassment and harsh treatment they had to endure at the gun shows, started recruiting members to organize and join a new collecting organization for military collectors.
The rules imposed by the gun shows seemed to the military artifact collector a direct assault on them and their hobby. Change would not come easy and “respectability” for the military collector would come even slower. However, the “die hard pioneers” that survived began to compile information, write and publish reference books, and in general, withstood the adversity that was directed against them during the 1960s and early 1970s. These early collectors and dealers made the expansion of the field of military artifact collecting possible as well as the study and research of military history. The most important and significant contribution they made, and will be their lasting legacy, is (that) their efforts aided a new generation of collectors and students of military history, as well as recorded and preserved the history of the past - a most significant and important period of world history.
It was through the efforts of the dedicated collectors from Louisville, Kentucky that took a dream and turned it into reality by forming the Ohio Valley Military Society in 1965. It took over a year to recruit enough members to make their dream come true by traveling to area gun shows and writing countless letters to collectors they knew requesting them to join the new organization. Finally, the first charter was written in Louisville, KY, and from its early beginning evolved the world’s first, largest and most prestigious military collecting organization of its kind to date. It also served as a “pattern” for other similar organizations now operating throughout the world.
The mere incorporation of the OVMS proved to be only the first step in bringing the new organization to the pinnacle of success, esteem and world renowned status it now commands today. The first year proved to be very difficult. The major obstacle that had to be overcome was a lack of communication. Collectors had to be contacted and an efficient means of communication had to be devised. Meetings had to be organized and operating funds obtained. The dues charged the first year was a mere $1.00 per year. At the beginning of 1966, the membership was comprised of just over 50 members. Many collectors contacted were highly skeptical of the efforts of the organizers. Some held back from joining, waiting to see if action would take the place of mere words. But, a start had been made where only hopes and dreams had existed before.
The first OVMS show was held in 1966 in the basement of an old office building, next to the Holiday Inn, located in Shivley, a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky. The basement was also the meeting hall for the local Masonic Lodge, as well as used as a fish fry site. It was one year after the “Louisville 7” began to recruit members, but the attendance at this show was low in comparison to shows held today. One thing that stood out was the extreme enthusiasm shown by all in attendance. No advertisement of any kind had been made to bring in the general public, so only invited collectors and dealers attended.
The lack of public attendance was seen as the first major problem facing the new group. Almost everyone agreed that the public would be the main source to supply the military artifacts everyone wanted and would bring in new members as well. A few in attendance wanted to exclude the general public and have a “members only” club. They were outvoted and it was decided to continue the recruitment campaign and have another show the following year. This was done across the road at the Shively Women’s Club building, and during the period of two shows, over 100 new members were recruited. The internationally known historian of orders and medals, Dr. K. G. Klietman of Berlin, Germany became the 77th member of the OVMS. He was the first member of a foreign country and gave the new organization an “international touch” and led the way for collectors all over the world to recognize the fledgling organization.
In 1967, the OVMS newsletter, The Militaria Historian, was being published on a monthly basis. The new editor was M. L. Meyerhoffer, taking over from Darrell Ranney who had hand-typed the first newsletters on an old manual typewriter, four copies at a time, using carbon paper. The newsletter provided the membership with all news concerning the Society, included articles of interest concerning all fields of military collecting, and even featured a classified section. Many members who could not attend the yearly shows kept in contact with each other by using this service.
Today, the official newsletter is published after each OVMS meeting and has changed in format and printing from the hand written issues produced in the early 1960’s. However, the original goal has not changed as it still keeps the membership informed of the basic news concerning the Society and provides interesting articles concerning the collecting field. The yearly Show of Shows program is a colorful masterpiece of newsletter art and all issues are kept as a lasting reference and history of the organization by most members.
As the organization grew in membership, new problems had to be overcome. The first two locations were quickly realized as being unsuitable for future show sites due to the small meeting area. The “hole in the wall” atmosphere and inadequate parking were also major problems. It was through the efforts of Bill Murray, Paul Peters, and Vern Abrams, all from the Cincinnati area, that a new and larger location was chosen for the third and fourth shows held in 1968 and 1969. They chose a location near Middletown, Ohio, The Congress Inn, located on 1-75. The late Robert Osborne, assisted and secured the Manchester Motor Inn, located in downtown Middletown, for two shows in 1970. By now the increased growth in interest in the Society called for an even larger meeting location. The next site chosen was the Saint Peter and Paul Hall, Norwood, Ohio. This site was utilized for over 6 years. One meeting was held in Dayton, Ohio in 1976. As America celebrated its 200th Birthday, the OVMS had a membership now numbering 700. Members now came from Canada, England, Germany, Austria, Holland, Japan and other European Countries.
In 1977, as overcrowding again became a major problem, the officials looked for another location to accommodate the ever increasing number of new members. Kentucky again provided the location for all future shows.
The Drawbridge Motor Inn, located on 1-75 in the City of Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, proved to be an excellent meeting site. Ample parking, modern and spacious meeting rooms, quality food, service and lodging were located in one facility. It was near the Greater Cincinnati Airport, providing easy access to the area for members flying in from outside the state. The membership was very pleased with the new location and with each show more and more new members joined the ranks of the “Louisville 7”. However, as the old saying goes, “alI good things come to an end” when, in 1984, the Drawbridge raised the rates for the meeting hall which forced another move and another new location had to be found.
Fortunately, The Best Western Motor Inn located a few miles south on 1-75 in Erlanger, Kentucky, became the new home for the OVMS until October, 1988. New negotiations with the newly named Drawbridge Estate enabled the show to again operate at Fort Mitchell where they meet four times per year.
Starting in 1992, a special international “Show of Shows” was organized and replaced the normal March Show. Today the Show of Shows operates at the Kentucky Fair and Exhibition Center at 1-264 & 1-65 in Louisville, Kentucky. The Show has now grown to over 1,100 tables of display and exhibit tables. This show is truly the greatest of all military shows in the world, sponsored by the greatest and longest active general militaria collecting society in the world.
As we enter the fourth decade of providing over 1700 members in 45 states and sixteen foreign countries with benefits most of us take for granted, it is easy to forget the dedicated service and sacrifice provided by the founding members of this great organization. Many have passed into history in the past 32 years and never knew or had the opportunity to see so many artifacts that are truly museum pieces, and rank as some of the greatest collectibles on the market today, exchange hands or be displayed at the shows. Others have faithfully served and remained members for over 30 years. They are few in number, but they can smile, look back in retrospect and have the personal satisfaction of knowing that through their efforts in the field of military collecting, it has finally attained the respectability denied it in the early 1960s. One has only to look at the classified advertisements in the “Show of Shows” program to see the other organizations that are now operating throughout the United States and many foreign countries that followed in the footsteps of the Ohio Valley Military Society.
It’s ironic that the Ohio Gun Collectors Association, which imposed the strictest regulations aimed at the military collectors in the past, now has many members of their great gun collecting organizations holding membership in the OVMS. Perhaps future history will somehow bring these two great organizations together for a show.
Today, there is no doubt that the military collectors’ shows have arrived. With shows like the Show of Shows, we have obtained equal status and respectability. In conclusion, we must remember the past and never take for granted the years of dedicated service that the officers and directors, past and present, as well as the early pioneers of the hobby, have accomplished as we prepare to enter into a new century.