By: Peter Suciu
If T.V. legend Ed Sullivan were in Louisville this February, he might have said, "We’re going to have a really big show.”
And he wouldn’t be amiss. Every year on the third weekend of the month, the Kentucky Expo Center becomes home to the Ohio Valley Military Society’s (OVMS) annual Show Of Shows (SOS), the largest militaria collectibles event in North America. With nearly 2,000 tables, this isn’t just a big "gun show." In fact, the SOS isn’t really a gun show at all.
While there are plenty of firearms dating from the late Middle Ages to the modern day, this is really a historic collectibles show where everything from medals to helmets, swords to uniforms, and so much more are offered for sale. Simply put, SOS could be described as one of the greatest military history museums– and one where just about everything is for sale.
This year marked the 27th year that the SOS has become the must-attend show, drawing in collectors and dealers from across the United States and across the world.
It is notable that even as monuments to the confederacy have come down in many cities, there remains a deep appreciation for the historic value of such items offered for sale at the SOS. This mindset also included “Nazi memorabilia,” but the show promoters from OVMS were quick to point out that this isn’t about glorifying those objects or certainly the regime, but, rather, respecting what the objects meant to our fathers and grandfathers who helped liberate Europe from tyranny.
Show Of Shows is an event where everyone, regardless of political leanings or background, truly have a love of the historic value of the items displayed. As Bill Combs, business manager of OVMS, described it, "This is where military history meets military collecting."
Here are some of the best things I saw at the 2019 Ohio Valley Military Society’s Show Of Shows:
Here is an early Cold War double size M1 Carbine training rifle complete with dummy bullets and even a giant size manual. These were used for training recruits as a guide for them to become familiar with the workings of the actual weapon.
A pair of 19th century "trade guns" of the type used by Native American tribes on the frontier – along with some really Middle Age "helms" from Northern Europe.
Two World War I machine guns, including a British Hotchkiss portable machine gun, that saw use with the Imperial Camel Corps on the Palestine Front, and a German MG08/15 – the latter was considered a "mobile" machine gun 100 years ago!
While this would be a project, this Japanese Type 11 machine gun is an extremely rare item. A skilled gunsmith could probably make a nice semi-automatic version, or it could be built up as a non-firing display piece.
A U.S. Browning M1917 .30 Caliber Machine Gun was among the rarer guns offered for sale at SOS this year.
Something you don’t see every day – a Japanese Konishiruko Rokuoh-Sha Type 89 camera, used for military training exercises and to confirm kills for pilots. As a training gun camera, it was used to evaluate how accurate fighter pilots were without having to use live rounds.
A trio of machine guns (top to bottom): a German MG-34, German MG-42, and British Bren Gun. These were among the most widely used machine guns of World War II.
It wasn’t just 20th century small arms at SOS. It is a show where yes! you can even buy a cannon or two!
For the collector who has literally everything, there was this – a training rocket for an F-15.
An oversized M-1 Garand was another example of a rare training rifle offered at the show this year.
Given the political climate, and how easily offended some people can be, the Ohio Valley Military Society made sure to note that the collectibles offered in the hall were war souvenirs.
An overhead view shows how large of a show SOS is, and this is only about one-third of the whole hall!
A future collector dressed up as a general.
While not for sale, visitors to the show could see a lovely example of a Civil War artillery crew. In many ways, SOS is a "Comic-Con" for those with a love of military history.
Peter Suciu is a freelance writer based in Michigan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.