Thirty-five years! An achievement for any institution to celebrate….and Robbins Hunter Museum is! My thoughts have turned back the clock to 1976 when my husband and I founded the Ohio Antique Review. Robbins Hunter showed his support for our effort by regularly advertising his shop “Avery House” and continued every month until his death in 1979. It was clear to me that I would be the one to cover the sale of his collection. So baby sitters were found and I was off to Granville for three days of witnessing a massive collection being dispersed. With Craig Connelly wielding the auction gavel from the front porch, antiques displayed in the yard, on the porches and throughout the house, and crowds gathered in anticipation of bargains, this young editor arrived to report on the sale for readers in every state and seven foreign countries. I thought you might enjoy a reprint of what I wrote that day in 1981.
HUNTER SALE PROVIDES HEALTHY ENDOWMENT TO MAINTAIN HOUSE MUSEUM by Ann K. Lowder
Granville’s Avery-Downer House is widely recognized as one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in Ohio, if not in the country. Its most recent owner, the late Robbins Hunter, cherished a life-long dream of its being restored and opened to the public as a house museum. His will left the property and its contents to the Licking County Historical Society. Faced with restoration estimates running as high as $300,000, the society decided to sell part of the contents to raise a much-needed trust.
Robbins Hunter’s family roots went back to the early days of the Ohio country. His great-grandfather, Joseph Hunter, was a cabinetmaker in Cadiz. His grandfather and father were judges in Newark and established the family home on Granville Street just beyond Eleventh. The second Judge Hunter wrote a book about his own father entitled, The Judge Rode a Sorrel Horse. Pick Richardson remembers sitting next to Hunter in French class. “He was more interested in Miss Foos’ antiques than in French. While the rest of us boys spent our money on good times, he was exploring Newark’s attics, buying antiques.” His dealing went back to those early years of high school during the twenties when his parents let him sell from their garage. He knew all of the old families in Licking County and few people would challenge his expertise on the history and the furnishing of the area. His tastes ranged far afield and he indulged himself in many collecting areas, notably clocks and lighting. His shop reflected his broad interests: musical instruments, English japanned furniture, American clocks, cast iron lawn ornaments, and Ohio furniture as well as that of New England and Pennsylvania. His tastes were inclined more to big pieces—Empire and Classic Revival furniture, rather than glass and porcelains.
In 1965, a part of his collection was featured in the exhibit “The Arts and Crafts of the Old Northwest Territory” at the Henry Ford Museum. These pieces, as well as others, were kept by the Licking County Historical Society to form the basis for the furnishing of the museum. Although a number of pieces were sold which the society would have liked to keep, Executive Director Phyllis Strayer says, “it was necessary to consider economic factors as well as historical, sentimental factors.” Thus, the bulk of the contents were tagged for the auction. Craig Connelly, local dealer and auctioneer who says he “learned all I know from Robbins Hunter, was selected to handle the monumental task. Months of hard work went into selecting items for the sale, publicizing it, and orchestrating the actual staging of it. The decision to hold the sale on site in Granville was natural. Not only was there local sentiment for Robbins Hunter, but Granville and the house itself are a picture-perfect setting, and what’s more Mother Nature cooperated. By the end of three days of selling, approximately $200,000 had been raised to be placed in trust and the proceeds used for the restoration work. The thought must have passed through the mind of everyone at the auction that Robbins Hunter would be pleased. His dream at last is becoming a reality and Avery-Downer House is a legacy of which all of Ohio can indeed be proud.