With such notably large events as the Show Of Shows and the MAX as well as the dozens of regional shows, militaria in the United States truly rules east of the Mississippi. Yet, there are many excellent shows out West that are worth attending. The crown jewel of those is the annual West Coast Historical Militaria Collectors Show, held each May at the Fairplex in Pomona.
It has been going strong for more than 20 years, and since its inception has been run by the power couple behind Vintage Productions, the now-famous “appointment-only” shop in Southern California. However, when you ask co-owner Bob Chatt about the West Coast Historical Militaria Collectors Show, however, you’re likely to hear, “That’s my wife’s show; you have to talk to Danielle about that.”
Danielle Chatt is the other half of this dynamic dealer duo, and she puts a great deal of work into the spring event, but is also quick to respond that it is a very much joint effort. Her part is no small effort however, as she handles more of the “front of show” and administrative responsibilities, while Bob works more with the vendors.
So while both are known as the show promoters, Bob has been a part of the community since he was young.
“It’s a family atmosphere,” Danielle told Military Trader.
The show began in San Diego but was moved to the Fairplex in Pomona as a way to connect with a past beloved event in the collecting community. It was at the fairgrounds where the storied Great Western Show had been held for years until firearms and ammunition were banned in the late 1990s. Since moving back to the venue each year the West Coast Historical Militaria Collectors Show has grown a bit in size.
What is standout about the show, is that it remains fairly faithful to it’s the concept of being about “all militaria.”
“We distilled it to the essence of military collectors,” says Danielle. “It’s not peppered with non-military.”
The annual show, which takes place every year on Mother’s Day weekend, gets an impressive draw due to it being the largest military collectibles even in the Western part of the country. While it concentrates its offerings on militaria, there are crossover interests as well. Collectors of vintage clothing find the antique threads from militaries from all over the world, whether battle fatigues or dress uniforms, also interesting.
What is notable too is that there has been the decision to do more by doing less.
The crew behind Vintage Productions used to put on two shows a year but discontinued the fall show as the feeling was that it split the base and made it less special.
In addition, the Chatts also promoted a vintage clothing show but stopped putting on the show to concentrate on their militaria event. As a result, this year’s show is “strictly down and dirty military show,” says Danielle. “We want to keep it pure.”
Danielle adds that she is working hard to grow the community. People local to the Pamona area visit each year, but there are many who travel from much further locals to the show each May. While it hasn’t drawn in the European dealers the way the larger East Coast events have succeeded in doing, the West Coast Historical Militaria Collectors Show is already noticed worldwide.
In addition to die hard collectors, the Chatts do a lot to encourage collectors young and old to come out. All active military and their families are admitted free. To encourage new collectors and get them started, the Chatts give away free tchotchkes to kids entering the show. This includes free patches or other small items, and many of the regular dealers donate items for this purpose.
From those small offerings could grow the future collections that support the hobby – and the Chatts’ business in years to come.
This year another change is a concentration on the dealers and collectors. Previous years the Chatts held a costume contest, and while a fan favorite that allowed the event to become a burgeoning “Comic Con” for military history, it was decided to hold off on it this year.
The event is always wildly popular and has attracted sponsors such as the Fort MacArthur Museum. Aside from being a frequent partner to the show, the museum has sponsored the contest and paid for trophies. The Chatts plan to take this year to gauge interest and work out logistics.
One issue the Chatts face at the venue is that “It’s hard to orchestrate [the costume contest] with no public address system,” Danielle says. The show has grown so much, the space for the event has diminished.
While dealers are part of the spotlight at the West Coast Historical Militaria Collectors Show, the Chatts spark interest by setting up displays of topical or one-of-a-kind items. This year that included a display a bit further afield.
At the Ohio Valley Military Society’s Show Of Shows, Bob put together two such displays. The first display was a grouping of high altitude helmets, while the other display was a case organized with a collection of Martha Raye memorabilia, with items from the actress and singer who also earned an honorary rank for being a military nurse. Displays such as these are meant to be a conversation starter to further education in the hobby.
While organizing even one show a year can be enough to occupy one’s days, Danielle and Bob make time in their days running Vintage Productions. Open by appointment, it is full of vintage clothing such as military uniforms, as well as suits and dresses, work clothes and any duds worn in days of the past. The shop, as well as the show, attracts collectors, but also the fashion elite. Representatives from designers such as Polo, Abercrombie & Fitch, Tom Ford, and others come to the shop to study and purchase military uniforms that inspire today’s collections.
Outside of the show, both Chatts are collectors as well, and the Vintage Productions web site features items from the collection. Bob is involved with The American Society of Military Insignia Collectors (ASMIC) and works with the patch collecting group.
For her part, Danielle has started to buy a small token at each show as simple but personal gifts for her mother. This began as the West Coast Historical Militaria Show and has traditionally taken place on the Friday and Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend. This has become a tradition, and the simple gifts have included sweetheart jewelry, and jewelry made from military medals, as well as other interesting pieces found on the tables at the Fairplex show.
In addition, Danielle explains that she now collects military Christmas and greeting cards, while her collection also includes postcards and other wartime correspondence.
“I like the messages in them, especially information on soldiers and descriptions of the scene,” which she says she finds touching. “It started because the messages are so heartfelt.”
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