By Andrew L. Turner
From the time he was in a stroller, Bob Chatt attended gun shows and rolled through flea markets. He credits his family for igniting his interest in collecting. “I am absolutely certain this was my destiny,” said Chatt. “My grandfather and father collected antique guns, coin operated machines and ran the largest Native American Indian art show for over 30 years.”
In 1977, when he was ten years old, he began actively collecting militaria. “It was history, it was heraldry, it was patriotic; but really, to a young kid, it was just plain cool,” he said. “My focus zeroed in on Vietnam War memorabilia in 1979 when I saw “Apocalypse Now”. It was awesome and I knew this was what I wanted to collect.”
At the young age of 13, Chatt set up at his first show, and experienced one of his first “lessons”. “I asked a ‘seasoned dealer’—and he knows who he is—for the price on a patch and was told: ‘Kid, that costs more than you will earn in a lifetime of allowances—now go away!’” Chatt recollected.
“Well, that was it. The gauntlet had been thrown down, I was determined to make it in this business, and I have to say, I respect and admire that dealer to this day—even as the grouchy old guy that he is...”
1991 brought the debut of Chatt’s first retail outlet, “Vintage Valor”, a mixture of military and vintage clothing. “It was small and cramped but gave me a good look into the very tough world of retail. I knew right away that I needed to mature and grow the business if I was going to make this work,” he said. “In 1993, I moved to a larger location. This was a step up in size, and inventory quality, and my momentum was definitely building.”
With a burgeoning business and event organization experience gained from running the Native American Indian art shows, Chatt began the San Diego Historical Militaria Collectors Show. He now hosts the West Coast Historical Military Collectors Show in May and November of each year (www.militariashow.com).
Today, Chatt’s store, “Vintage Productions” (www.vintageproductions.com), is located in Huntington Beach, California. “I am very proud of the work it took to get to this point,” he said. “This shop is everything I have strived for—a very good mix, and huge selection of quality military and vintage clothing.”
Chatt also operates in Japan through a business relationship with MASH (www.mash-japan.co.jp), and the partnership made him more aware of “military fashion”. “As a result, I began working with numerous high-end fashion designers,” he said. “It was the start of a real push towards getting military fashion into mainstream clothing lines in New York, Los Angeles, and Japan.”
He still remembers the pitfalls of being a new collector, and advises those new to the pursuit to be selective, find a topic of interest and get focused. “Step away from the computer and attend some shows in person,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be open to considering a variety of sources. It’s also important to give yourself time to learn...you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and dive into actual research.”
“It’s easy to simply ask others for answers but you will find that discovering the information on your own has many more rewards, and a lot more details”, he said, “and don’t kick yourself too hard if you end up with a fake or repro once in awhile. Everyone’s done it, and you will learn from those mistakes.”
Chatt said he learned good lessons along the way, and at the top of his list is trying not to discourage younger collectors who ask questions or uncover odd research. He regards them as a great resource. “There is a lot more information out there on the Internet, some of which even discounts old “tried and true” theories, so keep an open mind,” he said. “To this day I still have young collectors teach me new things about Vietnam collecting.”
He also stressed the importance of family involvement in collecting militaria. “Do your best to keep updated records and notes on what you’ve spent on your treasures,” he said. “I think most people would roll over in their graves if their family sold a prized collection for pennies just because they did not have all the facts.”
Quality over quantity has proved positive for Chatt and encourages others to follow suit. “In the long run, you will never be disappointed,” he said. “I am lucky to love what I do and find it an interest and challenge every day. Over the years, I have been able to grow my business to include a highly functioning company Web site, several very successful specialty shows as well as a secondary retail location in Japan.”
His business endeavors afford him the opportunity to travel the world buying militaria. He considers the opportunity to be one of his greatest accomplishments, with traveling through Asia, buying out old patch shops and visiting historic places and battlefields, an unparalleled experience.
“I continue to travel several times a year to Japan and all around the U.S. for various shows, all the while working to enlarge and diversify my business so I can adapt to the constant changes and trends in both the fashion and military collecting worlds,” said Chatt. “My fascination with military has never diminished; it just keeps expanding into different areas. It is both exciting and motivating to continually change the direction of this business—and it certainly keeps my life interesting.”
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