By Mrs. Martha Yoshida (Leonard Wood)January 7, 2016
For one Fort Leonard Wood chaplain, a package of toy Army Soldiers from a five-and-dime store marked the beginnings of an appreciation for things that are old.
Chaplain (Maj.) Jeffrey Roberson, U.S. Army Engineer School ethics instructor, procures and preserves items from as far back as the 17th century as his lifelong hobby.
"I became a collector of different things at an early age," Roberson said. "I collected toy Soldiers from different nations and time periods. By the time I was 10, I was pretty solid in collecting."
"I consider myself a curator," Roberson, a Tennessee native, said. "I admire things that survive, and I want to help them survive so other people get to know about things of the past."
Roberson's collection was shaped by his father's history lessons and his grandfather instilling in him the importance of saving and taking care of things.
His father's career with the U.S. Air Force allowed for travel to places that influenced Roberson.
Roberson said when their Family was stationed in Europe, they would often shop at "Saturday markets," where he could pick up first-edition books, time-honored copies of German script, old clocks and medallions from previous wars.
"I also like things that operate, whether it be a music box or a typewriter," he said. "Those kinds of things are fascinating to me because of their simplicity, yet they are intricate at the same time."
As the items in his collection started taking up a lot of space, Roberson said he began to focus on books.
He now has 900 books in his collection, which span several centuries.
"The oldest book I have is a history book dating back to about 1836," he said. "Many of the history books I have are interesting because they have details that are left out of the books today, but it's still relevant information."
Though he purchases many of his items at auctions and estate sales, Roberson said he has acquired some items as a form of payment for his work, or as a gift.
"A friend of mine was an armorer in Germany, so he made me a suit of armor," he said.
Roberson said the oldest object he has is a cannon ball dating back nearly 345 years.
"It's a solid shot, so there is no fear of it exploding," Roberson said. "It is not impressive in any way. It has got age and pitting on it. When I received it, I asked about its origin and discovered it came from the battlefield as a result of Sir Henry Morgan's raid on Portobello. The date of that fight was 1671."
Though he acquired many of the items when he was single, Roberson's wife, Amanda, said she doesn't mind that his collection continues to grow.
"I enjoy history and collecting antique things myself," she said. "Collecting has turned into a Family hobby. It is a great way to share the past with our children and teach them about history."
We talk about how people used to do things, why they did things that way and whether certain items have any significance to world events, she said.
Having fostered his love of history in his children, it comes as no surprise that Roberson is also entrusted to be his Family's historian.
"I maintain original documents of my Family history, which means a lot in today's world where so many people don't know where they came from," he said. "I am the repository of my Family's bibles and I care for seven generations of Family photographs. So, it's not just general history, it is Family history."
A very large part of the collection has to do with music, including a batch of records he received from his grandfather, he said.
"In my 20's I began to collect records," he said. "At first they were contemporary records. Then I realized records stretched farther than that and all of sudden I found myself in possession of many fine records like Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Bing Crosby, Perry Como and even Lawrence Welk became very popular to me."
Though he has acquired more than 500 records, Roberson said he continues to collect 45s, 33s and 78s. He owns a modern record player, along with three 20th century players, which date back to 1925, 1935 and 1999.
"The players all serve different purposes," he explained. "Some of my records are extremely heavy, about one quarter of an inch thick, and they can't be played on a standard record player."
"The holy grail of record collecting would be to find a thing called an Edison," he said. "It's difficult to find one in operational condition. I've seen them as far as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, but never to my satisfaction. So, I'm still searching."
Roberson considered opening up a museum, but for now, is focused on sharing his collection with his children.
"Many objects come with a story and I'm the holder of the story," he said. "I look at it as my responsibility to care for these objects and to pass them on too."
"I've tried to teach my kids an appreciation for things that are old," he said. "Just because it's old doesn't mean it's no good. It's just old -- and it's something to be remembered."