Antique Collectors Can Build Community in Beautiful Way

Antiques collectors can make a real difference in a community. Wheeling lost one of these special people a week or so ago, when Robert Lee Martin, better known as Bob, died.

I met him about nine years ago, when he was donating a significant collection of historic glass to his beloved alma mater, Bethany College.

The valuable collection of Wheeling Decorating porcelain was impressive to view then. It is still on display in the Academic Parlour of Old Main.

The lovely collection of hand-decorated china is both beautiful and meaningful. It represents not just devotion to a school, but also a Wheeling resident’s homage to his roots, and his desire to share with the general public, evidence of his hometown’s glorious past.

Bob told me how he got started collecting when the Upper Ohio Valley Collection of historical artifacts was on display at the archives at Bethany. He began to collect the products of the region, names like Fostoria, Imperial, Fiesta and Warwick. Once he saw Wheeling Decorating pieces, he was off on another quest as he amassed hundreds of pieces of the decorative porcelain. Most were bought at auction or estate sales.

“When he went to auctions, if he wanted something, he would put his hand up and it would stay up. You knew that if Bob Martin was there bidding on an item, he was definitely going to get it,” said Betty June Wymer, another avid Wheeling collector. Martin also was a member of the now-defunct Warwick China Collectors group and took a serious interest in Warwick dinner sets.

His collection was well-known and so vast that when he formerly lived at the Virginia Apartments, his antiques overflowed from his own apartment into a second, then a third and fourth apartment.

“He was an amazing collector. And when he moved from the Virginia Apartments to Elmhurst, even at his age, he wanted to carry his collection himself, down the flights of stairs. He was a very interesting man,” Wymer recalled.

Wheeling Decorating has a big following of enthusiasts who enjoy examples of this highly productive Wheeling firm that operated from 1869 to 1962, decorating blanks made by some of the biggest names in glass and china at the time, including Cambridge, Central Glass, Fenton, Fostoria, Hall, Heisey, Homer Laughlin, Imperial and Lenox. Known frequently by the initials WDCO, the company started out in North Wheeling at 700 N. Market St.

Fancy designs that look like lace, etched birds and pheasants, gold trimmed and colored flowers and urns, are all part of the WDCO look. Decorating both glass blanks, such as candlesticks and candy jars, and porcelain blanks, including plates and wall pockets, the company supplied America with attractive ware for their homes.

WDCO did many pictorial churches and souvenir items, too, including school mugs, state plates and historical ashtrays, etc. Attention to detail is evident and the wide variety of items out there makes WDCO especially fun to collect.

Like so many collectors I’ve met along the way while writing this column, Bob Martin was a kind and considerate person, who looked toward the future, but respected the past and enjoyed sharing its beauty with others.

Besides Bethany College, he donated treasures to Elmhurst retirement home, where he resided at the time of his death.

A frequent donor to Bethany, he was responsible for campus improvements including restoration of the Academic Parlour, exterior lighting of Old Main and brick walkways.

A proud 1940 graduate of Bethany and 1936 graduate of Warwood High School, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Bethany in 1990.

It is very appropriate that he was laid to rest in Bethany’s beautiful and historic Campbell Cemetery this past Tuesday, Feb. 10.

For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at: zambitomaureen@hotmail. com or by writing in care of this newspaper.