Missed Opportunities

“The time to buy an antique is when you see it.”  Years ago as I searched the aisles of an antique mall in Richmond, Ind., I would hear that message being played at a low—but perceptible— level. It was just loud enough that no one could  accuse the mall of planting subliminal messages. It may not have been subliminal, but it sure has stuck in my brain through the years!


Pre-Arranged Sales

As my collecting advances, I have found that I do less walking through antique malls and flea markets, and more networking via email with established sources. This method has been more effective since I began to focus my collecting efforts rather than just buying whatever I see. Regardless of the tactics I employ to find new items for my collection, that piped in message still resonates in the back of my brain: “The time to buy an antique is when you see it.”

This message kicked me in the pants all the way back from the Show of Shows this past weekend. One of my contacts had found an absolutely amazing WWI Tank Corps grouping for me: Uniform, dog tags, discharge papers, panoramas and war souvenirs—just the kind of “upscale” item I like to add to my collection. We agreed on a price and decided to make the exchange at the SOS. We both know that shipping framed panorama photos can be an expensive pain!

Nick (our advertising “man on point”) and I drove the 10 hours from central Wisconsin to Louisville on Thursday, rolling into the northern Kentucky city around 4PM. Just as we crossed the Ohio River, my source gave me a call. “Want to make the exchange tonight, John?” he asked.  “Nah,” I said, assured we could do things in the morning, “We just rolled into town and want to get something to eat.”  With that, we agreed to touch base in the morning. Nick and I drove deep into town for the first of many weekend barbecue feasts.

The next morning, as we approached the convention center, I called my buddy. No answer.  “No big deal,” I thought, “The excitement of ‘opening day’ at the SOS is pretty distracting.” I reasoned, “He probably can’t hear his phone ringing.”

Over the next few hours, I attempted several more calls—only to receive the same recording, “The number you dialed is not answering…” By noon, I was starting to get a bit nervous.

Around 2PM, my phone rang—it was my buddy! “I thought maybe you turned off your phone and forgot to turn it back on,” I exclaimed, delighted that we had established contact. “I sorta did,” he admitted hesitantly. “I had a call at midnight informing me there was a medical emergency at home.” He went on to explain how he had to leave Louisville in the middle of the night, apologizing for not being able to leave the group with anyone.

I assured him it was no big deal. “Family ALWAYS comes first,” I told him. Don’t worry about the group… it’s just stuff. Family is way more important.” And with that, we told each other we would connect in the weeks to come.

While I am sure the deal will all come together, I can’t deny I was disappointed. I had waited a couple of months to finally call this incredible Tank Corps group my own, only to say—when it was nearly in my hands—“I can pick it up tomorrow.” The message resounded louder in my brain, “The time to buy an antique is when you see it.”



I have worked for quite a few of the truly influential militaria dealers over the years. One of them borrowed an expression from the U.S. Army Air Force to describe how we had to work shows: “Maximize effectiveness over the target.”  By that, he meant, “When we make the huge monetary and time commitment to go to a show, it is time to work, Work, WORK.” There would be time for goofing around, sleeping, and putting up our feet at restaurants after the show.

Like the message from the Richmond antique mall, this message about effectiveness has entered my daily lexicon. I use it to refer to a myriad of chores, ranging from going to the grocery store to doing research in museums. If I make the time and / or monetary commitment to a particular activity, I want to maximize “my effectiveness over the target.”

This mantra has served me quite well. In effect, it has forced me to “buy the antique” when I see it.  Both of these sayings convey the same, essential message: Recognize and seize opportunities.

The Show of Shows and the National Gun Day Show provided two great opportunities for collectors to “maximize effectiveness” in Louisville this past weekend. Many of us worked the Show of Shows looking for relics on Thursday and Friday, only to shift gears, and go to the National Gun Day Show on Saturday and Sunday. The only thing holding us back was the amount of cash in our pockets! But as long as there was cash, the targets were plentiful! Truly, the Show of Shows / National Gun Day weekend is a time to maximize effectiveness over the target.



I love Louisville. It is one of my favorite cities in the United States. In fact, when my ancestors came from Germany in 1848, they settled just across the river in Floyd Knobs, Ind. My great-great grandmother is buried there. I am quick to take any chance to visit the area. So, when the Military Vehicle Preservation Association (MVPA) announced it would hold its 2014 International Convention in Louisville, I was delighted to have another opportunity to return to the “Derby City.” Scheduled for June 26-28, it will be held in Expo Center—the same place we all know as the home of the Show of Shows and the National Gun Day Shows.

Some good planning has gone into this convention. An alliance has been struck with the National Gun Day Show to hold the two events concurrently at the Expo Center. This is a real good opportunity for vehicle enthusiasts who also like to buy and sell firearms, since the MVPA does not allow the buying and selling of weapons at its Convention. It also provides a great opportunity to introduce a lot of people to the military vehicle hobby.

Ron Dickson, the owner of the National Gun Day Show, did a great job promoting the upcoming convention at this past weekend’s show. I heard him announce it several times. But apart from his announcements and flyers on the “free literature” table, I didn’t see any MVPA presence at either the National Gun Day Show or the Show of Shows.

Now, before I continue, let me say, I love the MVPA and have been a proud member for more than a decade. I promote the organization however I can in both of our magazines.

The Show of Shows and the National Gun Day Show constitutes the single largest gathering of historical military collectors in the United States. Held in late February, it would have been a prime venue to promote the upcoming MVPA convention scheduled for the same location just four months away. In this day when we are all beating our heads on the table trying to shake loose ideas on how to promote our hobby, we can’t afford to miss—in the words of corporate drones—“the low-hanging fruit.”

Every year, both the Ohio Valley Military Society (OVMS—the host of the Show of Shows) and National Gun Day Show look for activities that will attract more people to come to their shows. Five or ten historic military vehicles with people handing out literature about the upcoming convention—in the same location—would have been a good draw at either show and provided the MVPA with the opportunity to invite the more than 20,000 attendees to come back to Louisville in June for their convention.

I know, it does little good to wag a finger after the fact. But from a survival-of-the-club point of view, it is frustrating when a target passes under the MVPA’s sites and no propaganda bombs are released.

I don’t know the reasons for a lack of MVPA participation at the Show of Shows. I am not on the MVPA Board nor privy to “inside info.” There might be some very good reasons for ignoring the largest gathering of historic militaria collectors in the United States. Heck, I might be embarrassed to learn the MVPA did have a table at the SOS!  I will say, however, Nick and I did walk every row of the show, handing out magazines to each table. Neither he nor I remember seeing an MVPA table. Table or not, the back of the convention hall did have historic military vehicles on display—belonging to a local WWII German reenactment group. No sign of anything from the MVPA, though.

All groups and publications are struggling to retain members and attract new ones. When an opportunity is dropped at our feet, “We need to recognize and capitalize on it,” (says the guy who drove home without his trophy Tank Corps group). Say it however you wish, “The time to buy an antique is when you see it,” “Maximize effectiveness over the target,” or “Pluck the low-hanging fruit.” Whatever the expression, the meaning is obvious: Make the best of the opportunities. I am afraid the MVPA missed a serious opportunity to promote the 2014 National Convention.

With only four months, I hope their plans are on track to make this the best and largest-attended event of the MVPA’s history. The hobby needs it.


Keep ’em rolling,

John Adams-Graf
Editor, Military Trader & Military Vehicles Magazine






For info on the 2014 MVPA Convention, log onto:  www.mvpa.org/home/mvpa-convention/upcoming-convention/

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