Barbara Hartsfield currently holds the Guinness World Record for the world's largest collection of miniature chairs. Her museum, Collectible & Antique Chair Gallery, holds more than 3,000 chairs in a variety of styles and themes.
From chair-shaped tissue boxes to ordinary doll chairs to miniature chairs that hold a smoking pipe, Hartsfield collects anything chair-related and displays it in the museum she's had open for two years.
Hartsfield, who's also a nurse of 39 years at Grady, talks to Patch this week on her Guinness record, how she fell into collecting chairs and what her museum, which costs $5 to browse, has to offer.
Patch: I've never heard of someone collecting chairs before.
Barbara Hartsfield: People see the words 'miniature chairs,' and they think they're dollhouse chairs. Just when people see the sign, the women usually have to bring the men in because the men say, 'I don't want to see any chairs' and I have to go to the door and say, 'Come in. You might like it.' And they come in and get excited for the horseshoe chairs, and the bottles. I have to keep pictures in my purse to show people because they can't see a chair cookie jar, or a chair lamp or a chair teapot. And then when they see the pictures, they get excited.
Patch: When did you first start collecting chairs?
Hartsfield: It really started after 1991. In '91, I wanted to write an article on pregnant psychiatric patients, so to get into the mood to write the article, I bought a few chairs and some dolls. The article was published [in] '91, and I kept buying chairs for the next 15 years. So I kind of fell into it. I didn't start out being a collector of chairs, it just developed from that article.
I wasn't serious about it at first, but then I got real serious. I mean, would plan which side of town I was going on the weekends. And I would buy chairs from TJMaxx, Marshal's, Big Lots, just going into the home decorating department. I would hit all of the stores. And then if I found a chair that I liked, I would hit all of the stores to buy it for my inventory. Now I have an inventory for the gift shop, too.
Patch: And you've been open for two years?
Hartsfield: Yes. I'm a semi-retired nurse. I bought the building in '06 and I retired in '07. I took about two years to put it together from scratch. But that was the time of the recession, and I didn't know that.
So I kind of took my time in putting it up. Even though I'm semi-retired now, I still work part time. So I never stop collecting. I bought some chairs this week. I'm running out of space! But it's fun. I guess it's hard to stop. When I see something unique and different, then I might swap it out with something.
Patch: What would you say is probably your favorite piece?
Hartsfield: That's hard to say. That's almost like asking, 'What's your favorite child?' Each one has its own character. I have about 27 major exhibits, and 15 small exhibits. I just like all of them.
But out of all the ones I have? I guess it's the Christmas tree. Because it has over 100 [ornaments]. I added some more ornaments yesterday. I also like the chairs in the bottles.
Patch: Which pieces did you add yesterday?
Hartsfield: New ornaments, chair ornaments, that I got off eBay.
Patch: So you're still collecting pieces today?
Hartsfield: Right, but not as much. It's a hobby. Some people would say I'm addicted, but I can go without buying any. It's just if I see something I don't have, because eventually it's not going to be out there. Like the one I bought yesterday, it's a Hallmark chair that was made in 2004. I like kind of old stuff, not just modern chairs.
Patch: And you buy them from eBay? Where else do you buy them?
Hartsfield: Antique shops. I went to Lakewood Antique Festival for years. You know, once a month? There were about 1,500 vendors from all over the Southeast. I was known at Lakewood. That's why one of my witnesses for [the Guinness World Record] was one of the vendors from Lakewood. Did you ever go to Lakewood?
Patch: No, I've actually never heard of it.
Hartsfield: Well, it's gone now. Some of the vendors left Lakewood and went to Jonesboro. It was fun. I also shop at antique shops all up and down I-20 in Alabama, and people buy me antique chairs. I shop when I go home to Alabama for the holidays.
Patch: Let's talk a little more about the Guinness World Record.
Hartsfield: Well, I got the record in 2008. One of my co-workers suggested that I check and see if I have the largest collection of miniature chairs, and I checked, and there was no collection, so they actually created a category for me. So, now someone would have to try to break my record. I'm not trying to keep it. I got it, that's it.
Patch: Aside from a title, did you win anything, like money?
Hartsfield: No. You really have to pay to use their [Guinness] name. That's how they make money, because to make the application, it's free. You just have to get two witnesses who they trust, like a lawyer or doctor, and someone in your field. It was easy, it really was.
Patch: Not many people can say they've won a Guinness World Record. How many miniature chairs got you in the book?
Hartsfield: I submitted 3,000, so that's the record. I put the application on hold for a while because I was still buying chairs. I have more than that now.
Patch: So you are in the actual Guinness World Record Book?
Hartsfield: Yes. I'm in the book, but I'm barely in the book for 2010. When you set a record, they don't guarantee that you'll make it in the book because there's too many records. And they don't tell you when you're going to be in the book, you just have to keep checking every year.
Patch: How many chairs do you have now?
Hartsfield: I don't know. I've probably bought another thousand [since the world record]. If I wanted to go back and challenge my own record, I take pictures every time I buy a chair, so I still keep an inventory. It's just a pictorial inventory.
I just don't get up on Saturday morning and go shopping, looking for chairs like I used to.
Patch: Do you miss that?
Hartsfield: Yes, sort of. It was fun. Plus I knew the people at the different antique shops. Gas prices are high, and I hate to order on eBay now because the postage went up, so I'm just glad I bought everything when I did.
Patch: What drew you to this particular location?
Hartsfield: I wanted to be in an area where the tourists were, and I was hoping to get some of the market from Stone Mountain Park, but with the recession, everything is a bit slow. It's a perfect location.
Patch: I mean, it's an antique home.
Hartsfield: Plus it's a good time since the Village is going through a renovation period. So I'm here when it's coming back alive. It's going through some changes, some challenges. I'm waiting out the recession.
I've been lucky just to have the support from people who have just been as excited as I have. I think the best part about it is that it's not like somebody had to put this shop together overnight. For my livelihood, I could take my time and just have fun with it, so that's what I like about it.