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He's collected priceless pieces of history, but his favorite collection is the memories

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Posted at 12:33 PM, Jul 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-02 23:31:43-04

MIDLOTHIAN, Va. -- Like a curator at the Louvre, David Robinson can take you on a tour through the ages.

“So these are wooden statues probably out of European Churches. Carved hundreds of years old,” said David.

The man from Midlothian is amassing his own eclectic mix.

“Collecting is like playing pinball. You get bounced from being interested in one type of collectible -- will bounce you to another and bounce you to another.”

Like David’s colorful groupings of glass. Ranging from the silly, to the sanctuary.

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“Carnival glass, head vases and two stained glass windows out of a Brooklyn Church,” said David.

David’s trove of treasures is certainly hands on.

“My personal museum, where I get to touch everything and if I break anything I don’t have to kick myself out,” said David.

He started buying his first gems at an early age.

“Probably six or seven years old. Stamps,” said David.

When other kids were playing outside, David was stock piling inside.

“Yes! And that translated to the kid you beat up. And the little geeky kid who had no friends,” said David.

Daviddeclares the difference between collecting and hoarding.

“Make sure you’re buying the item with a purpose, and make sure you’re buying something that is authentic,” said David. “Part of the role of a collector is to save it. And to keep it and protect it from going in the trash can.”

It is a hobby he is still perfecting.

“Nothing you see in this house Greg will fit in a coffin. So you have to be mindful that we’re just custodians of old things,” said David.

The thrill is in the hunt. But David has learned not to become too attached.

“But the highest form of collecting is letting go of stuff. The highest form of collecting is actually selling,” said David.

For a man who seemingly can cobble together just about anything, one haul has remained out of reach.

Since he was a teen, David has been searching near and far for anything related to Charles M. Robinson.

“I started out with nothing,” said David.

Charles M. Robinson may be the most famous Virginian you’ve never heard of.

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Charles M. Robinson

“So I’ve been chasing ghosts my whole life. Charles M. Robinson died in 1932,” said Robinson.

The master architect left his mark on the city skyline.

“These buildings are the fabric of Richmond.”

In the early, 1900’s Charles designed schools, churches, college campuses and venues still standing today.

“If someone said 'which is Charles M. Robinson’s greatest buildings?' I would say Altria Theatre,” said David.

Other Charles M. Robinson-designed buildings include Albert Hill Middle School, First English Evangelical Lutheran Church, Stuart Circle Hospital, Franklin Military Academy and Thomas Jefferson High School among hundreds of others.

“These exterior schools make a statement to a child going to that school. That they’re going someplace special,” said David.

It’s not that David is consumed with construction. This collector’s passion runs deeper. Charles M. Robinson is David’s great-grandfather.

David got hooked on family history ever since writing a boyhood book report on his ancestor.

“Whatever happened to those plans. And where is the census of the buildings,” asked David.

He hounded the firm which owned the architect’s work.

“‘Can I buy these plans?’ I asked that as a 13-year-old and they laughed.”

The laughing lasted decades. The firm turned down David’s repeated offers.

“These were the original plans. These were not blue prints drawn without computers,” said David.

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David would not be deterred.

“Many of the buildings aren’t here any more and this is the only record,” said David.

His persistence finally pays off.

“So last May, I acquired the 700 Charles M. Robinson plans from 1906 to 1932,” said David.

The accountant mortgaged his home to purchase the hand drawn designs crafted by the relative he never knew.

“So the collection could have been broken up and sold on eBay,” said David.

David cataloged and organized the entire collection himself.

“Last summer I spent between five and 600 hours opening every box. Every bag. Every single plan I touched,” says David.

When the University of Virginia learned of the Robinson drawings, they negotiated with David to acquire the entire collection.

“So now University of Virginia has the plans in their Alderman Library,” he said.

Knowing his great-grandfather’s vision on paper will be kept whole and educate future architects was worth the effort.

“The Charles M. Robinson plans are quite valuable because they’re works of art,” described David.

He is a man who realized a childhood dream.

“For me the highest and best memory was when the UVA box truck pulled out of the driveway,” remembered David.

David Robinson is a collector who reached the pinnacle by letting go.

“My great-grandfather made me the person I am. Because I look at his accomplishments and say ‘I got a really big bar to get too,’” said David. “I still have the memory of owning it, so I am collecting memories.”

Learn more about Charles M. Robinson here.

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