PROFILES - Seventy years antiquing and still going strong
By Carole Berry
When dealers and collectors shop the Medford Armory Antiques & Vintage, Barbara and Harlan Parsons, Medford, Oregon, are always there with youthful smiles and a spectacular display, specializing in country kitchen primitives.
Avid collectors since the 1950’s, the Parsons will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary on November 19. They met in 1949 at a 4th of July Carnival at Port Hueneme, California (near Oxnard) where Harlan’s ship was stationed in harbor. He was 19 and Barbara, still in school was 16. Four months later they married and became life long soul mates, building a wonderful life together and pursuing their passion for antiques. Discharged from the Navy in 1951, Harlan worked as a foreman at Oxnard Glass Company for 38 years. Barbara went to work packing lemons in a lemon house. When their son, Steven was born in 1952, Barbara became a stay-at-home Mom.
“After almost seventy years, the Parsons still have a passion for collecting”
The Parsons’ passion for collecting antiques began “when we fell in love with a 14-inch coffee grinder, bought it and from then on really went all out collecting,” Barbera said. “A bit of everything, mostly tinware, we saw one thing then another!”
They started out with a space in an antique mall in Ventura, California, “with ritzy stuff and a few primitives,” Barbara said. In 1977, when a building across the street became available, the owners of the “ritzy stuff shop” encouraged them to open their own, and “the rest is history.”
While running their shop in Ventura for 17 years, they became good friends with many longtime customers. Their success allowed Harlan to quit his day job so he could do refinishing and help run the shop. They continued to be known for their country kitchen primitives, and began traveling in search of antiques. Their antiquing journeys took them as far north as Washington. They also had a “great picker from back East who sold to them,” Barbara said. “We’d visit shops, shows, always buying.”
In 1989, the Parsons decided to relocate to Medford. “We got rid of everything, had a big sale, moved up there, then ‘twiddled our thumbs;’ so we decided to open a space at Main Antique Mall in Medford,” Barbara said. After five years, they switched to 6th Street Antiques in Grants Pass, owned by Carmen and Yvonne Herrala. When the Herralas retired and closed their shop, the Parsons starting doing shows. In 1997, they took part in their first Show at the Medford Armory with S.O.A.C.C. (Southern Oregon Antiques & Collectibles Club.) Shortly after, they also began doing Phyllis Bear’s Medford Armory Antique Show Benefitting DOGS for the DEAF (now called DOGS for Better LIVES).
After almost 70 years, the Parsons still have a passion for collecting. Tinware is still Barbara’s favorite. Harlan has always had a passion for coffee memorabilia, i.e., signs, tins, grinders and wooden ware.
“There’s not too much we don’t care for,” Barbera said. “When people say it’s a disease [collecting] it really is! It gets in your blood, you’re always looking. Sometimes its always out there if you look.
“If you look at a whole show, you can find the neatest stuff. Sometimes you find something you’ve been looking for for years, and there it is! Sometimes you see something and aren’t sure if you really like it. It may not be there ever again, just depends on the item, so if you really want it, get it.
She continued, “You don’t see books and magazines. When we had our shop, everyone read the magazines and asked for those things. Books help a lot. If I love something, I read up about it. Antique books are interesting.”
Pursuing her passion for kitchenware, “years ago we didn’t have all of these electric things. There was a gadget for everything,” she said. “You had to start from scratch in the old days, that’s what I like about kitchenware: it’s interesting, fun to read about.”
With their 70th Anniversary coming up in November, the Parsons plan to continue buying and selling antiques as long as they can. Their son, Steven, is a big help.
“Collecting antiques, you meet the nicest people on this earth, people we never would have met,” Barbera said. “Harlan and I have a lot of nice memories,” says Barbara.
The couple likes to have their cherished collectibles out where they can see them at home. “It’s nice we both like the same kind of stuff, not always the case” says Barbara. One part of their kitchen is like a country store, so they can see and enjoy their many treasures collected over the years.
Carole Berry is the promoter of Twin Bridges Antique Productions.