The Barkers put their hearts into Old Martin Farm Antiques
The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
New-age technology blends with age-old charm: Ann and Glenn Barker proudly pose in front of the shed near their early 19th-Century farmhouse. Glenn Barker and his son built the shed to hold a solar panel on the back roof while inside its rustic charm provides a backdrop for their circulating collection of antiques for sale.
The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Their faces hidden by their bonnets, the Sunbonnet Babies keep their charm more than a century after they first appeared in a children’s schoolbook. Eulalie Osgood Grover wrote the story in the 1900 book illustrated by Bertha Corbett. The babies have since appeared on everything from quilts to china. Here, Ann Barker holds a series of Sunbonnet Babies cards in a rustic frame for sale in her shop.
GUILDERLAND — Ann and Glenn Barker have a passion for old things, which they enjoy sharing with others.
Retired teachers — he taught American history, she taught second grade — they live in an early 19th-Century farmhouse on the outskirts of Altamont. The barn-red clapboard house is framed with towering, ancient black locust trees.
At the end of their gravel driveway is a new shed, built with rustic charm by Glenn Barker and his son. They situated the shed so that the back side would face at the right angle for a solar panel, which supplies all of the Barkers’ electrical needs in the summer and much in the winter.
Inside the shed is a treasure trove of antiques, a sampling of an ever-changing collection.
“We just love the uniqueness of the old stuff and we love the hunt,” said Mr. Barker.
Their hunting grounds include upstate New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
“Shops around here are closing down left and right,” said Mr. Barker.
The Barkers’ shop at 4066 Becker Road is open every Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and other days with a phone call.
“I don’t like to say ‘by appointment.’ It sounds stuffy,” said Mrs. Barker. “People can call anytime.” The number is 861-6682.
“We hate to go to a shop that’s not open” when it is advertised to be, said Mr. Barker, so the couple is faithful about their Sunday hours.
“We’re always willing to negotiate a better price,” said Mrs. Barker.
Mr. Barker advised, when antiques shopping anywhere, “Always politely ask for a better price.”
The Barkers have been selling antiques for almost as long as they’ve been married — 44 years. They met in college, at Oswego — he hailed from Fulton and she from Brooklyn.
“When I was in college, Glenn’s mother didn’t drive and she loved garage sales,” recalled Mrs. Barker. She would do the driving and also got involved in the hunt.
The couple put their first show together after three years of marriage, and they’ve been doing it ever since.
The Barkers bought their historic home on Becker Road in 1978 and worked on it for a year before moving in. The late Roger Keenholts, Altamont’s village historian, had an 1815 map of Guilderland in which their place was labeled as a dwelling; the Barkers said, looking at the interior structure, they surmise the original home was a log cabin.
They raised two now-grown sons in the historic house — Ned, a nurse at Ellis Hospital, who worked on the shed, and Dan, who just graduated with a master’s degree in information science.
The Barkers bring their wares to a half-dozen big shows every year. The one in Brimfield, Massachusetts is “the biggest and the best,” Mr. Barker said. They are also fond of the Albany show held in November at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church.
“We have favorite restaurants and hotels and motels,” Mr. Barker said of their annual pilgrimages to the various big shows.
Their shop, opened last fall, is named Old Martin Farm Antiques. Mr. Barker recalled, soon after they moved in, the late Harry Armstrong came collecting for the volunteer fire department. “If you ever need the fire company, say it’s the old Martin farm,” he advised; the name stuck.
The farm originally had a huge, early Dutch barn, which, the Barkers say, was dismantled before they bought the property and moved to Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts where it was reassembled. They’ve been to see it there. Mr. Barker said of the man who moved the barn, “He had albums with hundreds of photos of the dismantling.”
Both Barkers like to collect advertising and old toys, as well as country and Victorian furniture. And each has developed special interests.
Mrs. Barkers collects Sunbonnet Babies and dollhouses. The couple recently went to an auction run by Noel Barrett — of Antiques Roadshow fame — selling items from a long-time collector’s dollhouse museum as well as her personal collection. One item, a tiny squirrel in a miniature cage, sold for $1,200.
Mr. Barker specializes in old baseball paraphernalia.
A Cincinnati Red Legs fan — his father rooted for the team — Mr. Barker was originally a Brooklyn Dodgers fan before they moved to Los Angeles, breaking the heart of Brooklyn. He reached for an 1880s’ catcher’s mask and a 1930s’ leather glove on hand in their store.
“We pull a few items for every type,” he said. “We have others in storage.”
They’ve weathered the drop in antiques prices since the turn of the century. “It started with 9/11,” said Mr. Barker of the 2001 terrorists’ attacks, “and continued in 2008 after the economic collapse.”
Lately, they say, the antiques business is on an upswing. “It’s recovering,” Mr. Barker said.
And Mrs. Barker notes a recent up tick in more young customers.
“It makes us feel good when we see young people taking it up; we’ve noticed more in the last two or three years,” she said.
They have some items specific to Altamont, such as milk bottles and, recently, postcards. The Barkers had a 1905 and a 1908 leather postcard addressed to a woman in Altamont. A customer recognized the name and told the current Altamont family with the name; the family checked its family tree and located the distant relative who had received the cards over a century ago.
On Sunday morning, a young man visited the shop; he was interested in early railroad items so Mr. Barker retrieved some goods from his house.
“We hate to see the same stuff in a shop,” said Mr. Barker, so the couple is constantly shifting their collection. That way, visitors always have something new to see.