Hunter was born in Newark, Ohio, a once-thriving commercial center east of Columbus. The Hunter family had settled in Newark long before the Civil War, engaging in the practice of law and business. His father and grandfather were jurists, and his mother, Daisy Burner, was a noted hostess and gourmet cook.

"Bobby" Hunter, as he was known to his friends, began to study and collect antiques in his early teens. Upon his graduation from high school in 1922, his love for antiques had become so great that he decided his hobby should become his profession. As one of Ohio's early antiquarians, he collected and traded over a wide area, coming into contact with noted scholars I.T. Frary and Henry Ford, for whom he located many antiques for the Greenfield Village Collection.

Hunter's interest in the Avery-Downer House dates back to his early years, absorbing stories from his father who was a Denison University student and a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. These fraternity gentlemen met on the third floor of the very old Warner Hotel, directly across from the Avery-Downer House. As an alumnus, his father would have contributed towards the $6,000 cost of purchasing the house for the fraternity in 1903. In those days, fraternity obligations were taken seriously. Although not a university man, Robbins Hunter, Jr. made a name for himself as a noted historian and antiquarian. During his career he was the prime influence in arranging the moves of the Davidson, Buckingham, and King houses to 6th Street in Newark, and also in securing the Webb House on Granville Street. Robbins loved his Licking County and its historic houses.