The collecting life: A glimpse into the life and times of collector Roger Busby

August 6, 2011 9:39:00 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Upon first meeting Roger Busby, one might not guess he''s a whiz at technology, a diehard sports fanatic, or once was really into medieval culture. And you certainly wouldn''t realize he''s a card-carrying Trekkie. But one stroll through his Columbus home, and you know he has led an interesting life. Everywhere the eye falls offers a clue. 


It actually all began with Grandmother Busby and a stein she made, commemorating America''s bicentennial in 1976. Her grandson, Roger, became a collector -- of steins, and so much more. 


The house is a testament to three decades of finding what pleased the soul. Each item represents a story, a place, a fond memory. And yes, sometimes even a whim. 


More than that, each piece is a tangible link to 30 years shared with someone very special. James Denny, who succumbed to cancer in March of this year, was the driving inspiration for this collecting lifestyle.  


"James had a tremendous eye, and I think I learned a lot from him," said Busby, whose career brought him to Columbus in 2006, as general manager of dining services at Mississippi University for Women. "I really started collecting when he and I met. Until then, I wasn''t focused." 


In the elegant dining room, Busby, crisply dapper in spite of a scorching August afternoon, talked easily about some of the collections, beginning with his steins. 


About 35 are on display, ranging from the large and outrageous -- Larry, Moe and Curly -- to a pair of more petite and very fine Mettlachs, bearing an intricate relief design.  


Over time, his quest has narrowed to hunting for the most intriguing and original styles he can find, he said, holding up a skull-crested vessel with a white monkey-shaped handle and German text around the base. 


Busby estimates he''s liquidated about 75 "lesser" steins over the years, "but I''ve been able to turn those into maybe 10 higher-end steins," he shared. "We''d take three or four chipped pieces, for example, and get one good piece. Just like watches, where you have everything from Timex to Rolex, you can have regular steins, or go all the way up to Mettlachs -- the Lincoln of steins," he smiled, with a nod to the prestigious line made in Germany primarily between 1885 and 1910. 




Looking glass 


On the other side of the house, the "Valentino room" is home to an art glass collection that lines the generous window ledges. Colored glass is shot through with sunlight, none more striking than the rich cobalt blue. 


"If James saw anything blue in a shop, he tried to make sure I didn''t go down that aisle," laughed Busby, leading the way into the adjacent living room, where latte-colored walls are literally covered with paintings. The home itself is an eclectic blend of French, art deco, oriental, antebellum, Victorian and modern influences, much of it reflecting Denny''s style. 


In one corner, a glass fronted display is an homage to the film "Gone with the Wind." A collection of porcelain figurines representing almost every character make Busby chuckle.  


"I was 25 before I ever saw the movie, but when I did, I fell hard! It''s just a classic ... the acting, the lighting, the costumes ... and all of it done without blue screen or computer enhancement," he noted. 


Another spacious room is a Who''s Who of Hollywood. This was one of Denny''s passions -- celebrity autographs. From every wall, icons from Katherine Hepburn and Joan Crawford to Elton John and George Clooney look down from professionally-framed photographs and magazine covers. 


One of Busby''s favorite sentimental pieces in the house is a large porcelain wood nymph.  


"I was sitting watching TV one day, and James came in carrying a brown grocery bag. He had this look on his face; I just knew I wasn''t going to like what he''d done," the homeowner grinned. 


In the bag was the nymph -- in three pieces. But remarkably, her small, delicate wings were intact, making her irresistible to Denny. A repair specialist restored her, and she now holds a place of honor in the house, greeting visitors and making Busby smile every time he recalls her ignominious arrival.  


Immediately after Denny''s passing, the house overflowing with items the two found or appreciated together, was a painful reminder of the loss.  


"But time is starting to help ... I can tell stories now and laugh. It helps me remember a wonderful life, a wonderful time," Busby shared. He credits the people around him for part of his healing. 


"Columbus was like the proverbial icing on the cake," he said. "The cake was MUW. The minute I drove onto the campus, I loved it. Columbus itself is the icing. If anything epitomizes Southern hospitality, it''s here," he said. 




If you like it ... 


Busby''s first advice to would-be collectors is to go after only what you like.  


"And once you decide on what you really want, research it, educate yourself, know what to look for, how to look for markings ..." 


The great decider, however, is: If you like it, buy it.  


"Not everything has to be a Mettlach stein in your life. Sometimes it''s the no-name, unmarked piece that grabs you. If that''s so, by gosh, just get it," he encouraged. 


"Some of those pieces are going to be the ones you''re going to find when you''re off driving, not going anywhere in particular, and you turn a corner and see a garage sale sign, or an antiques shop sign on a barn that''s barely standing ... that''s where you''re going to find some of those treasures," he predicted, like a man who''s been there. 


"No, they''re not going to be valued at $1.5 million on the Road Show," he smiled. "But they''ll give you $1.5 million worth of pleasure and memories."

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.