September 25, 2016

Utah’s King of Collectors

Bob Campbell started collecting cigarette butts as a boy. Today his collection is really smoking.

utahkingofcollectors

Utah collector Harold Robert Campbell

Harold Robert Campbell collects every collectible imaginable. “The problem,” he says, “is figuring out what I don’t collect.” It is an obsession he can trace back to his earliest memories. Undiagnosed dyslexia and losing his dad just before he turned five left Robert with a need to find order in the world.

He started collections whenever he found two of anything that were similar. He collected sticks, rocks, bottle caps, thimbles, rope, spools of thread, bandages, new and used, and a few things that didn’t please his mother like lint, cigarette butts and old fingernails.

Campbell said that when he was newly married he was collecting pieces of mining and railroad rail. The pieces were one-yard long with the patent and manufacturing dates stamped into the ends. They were heavy and when his wife stubbed her toe on one they had to go. That incident did not deter him from broadening his collections.

One of his collections is an assortment of poison bottles from the early 1900s. Their distinctive three-sided shape was designed to help people avoid accidental poisoning when reaching into the medicine cabinet at night.

He has an impressive collection of pirate-era pieces of eight. The pieces are all different shapes, but what was important was the weight. The coins contain 27 grams of silver, were made in the New World and then shipped back to Spain. He also has gold doubloons minted in the same way.

Campbell collects guns, dolls, relics, rocks and minerals. Some of his favorite pieces are his impressive heavy gold nuggets. His rock and mineral collection even inspired him to pursue a degree in petroleum geology.

Adding to his book collection, Campbell recently acquired a Pony Express Bible. The riders were all given one so that they would have something to read during their rest time and he was able to find a well-preserved volume.

Gem's are a part of Robert's many collections. This watermelon tourmaline specimen was found in California.

Gem’s are a part of Robert’s many collections. This watermelon tourmaline specimen was found in California.

Along with the material items Robert accumulates, he also collects the stories that go along with them. He knows the value, place of origin and the tales behind his pieces. Through collecting he has cultivated a love of history. But, he says, “The most fun is the hunt.” He will find something he wants to add to a collection and at times wait years to acquire it.

His collections have also led him to a life of adventures. His father left behind a Pony Express medal. He said he was always fascinated by it and learned all he could about the Pony Express. He joined a group that sponsors a commemorative ride along the route. Being a young man from Utah, they assumed he could ride. “I was a city boy with no experience with horses,” he says. They sent him out alone on the trail in the dark for his section of the ride. He half expected to be thrown from the horse and die on the trail. It was an experience he will never forget.

His father had been a jeweler and watch repairman and Robert gravitated to the crafts his father did. Among his father’s things was a white box containing coins from around the world. He went through the coins over and over again. Robert had two brothers with an equal claim to the legacy but, he says, “I bought out my brothers’ interest when I was a teenager.”

So perhaps his greatest love is his coin collection which his father inspired. The collection includes rare and ancient coins from all over the world. He started out as a vest pocket dealer, someone who bought and sold coins between shops without a store of his own.

He then worked at a coin shop in Sugar House and eventually bought it without any inventory at all for $2,500. Starting with just the store space he built his business, All About Coins, into a multi-million dollar a year venture.

From a boy who collected sticks to find order in the world Campbell has built a lifetime collection of adventure, knowledge and success.