Published: March 13, 2017
By Laura Beach
GROTON, MASS. — To Pam Boynton’s many attributes, add social media sensation. The Massachusetts antiques dealer’s death at home at 87 on Tuesday, March 7, has elicited a groundswell of emotion from the tight-knit community of collectors, dealers and auctioneers who knew and loved her. Boynton was both sui generis, a thoroughgoing original with no precise equal, and an emblem of the Americana field in the buoyant years of the 1970s and 1980s.
As the tributes arrayed here suggest, Boynton was crisp in manner and forthright in her views. When a memorable folk portrait or superb piece of painted furniture was at stake, she could be a fierce competitor. Her wit bordered on the merciless but was never cruel. Instead it reflected a deep camaraderie with those who, like her, devoted themselves to the discovery and preservation of the soulful residue of early New England.
Pamela Phillips Boynton was born in Scotland on May 3, 1929, to an American serviceman and his wife stationed overseas. On their return to this country, the family lived in New Hampshire before moving to Groton, Mass., where Pam was educated and where she met her future husband, David Boynton Sr.
Boynton got into the antiques business through her mother, Elizabeth Phillips, who dealt in refinished cottage furniture, an irony given Boynton’s reverence for paint, says her daughter and business partner Martha Boynton.
“My mother was in the antiques business by the late 1950s. Even as a kid, I remember her being on the road quite a bit. She originally called her business Summer Kitchen Antiques, after the antique hearth in our old house,” says Martha Boynton. Her mother, widowed at 48, expressed no interest marrying again. Her love was antiques.
Ignatius Weiss, Mason Stewart and Roger Bacon were important early customers of Pam Boynton, who formed close friendships with the prominent dealers G.W. Samaha and Wayne Pratt. When Pratt died in 2007, Pam Boynton told us, “Some of the greatest stuff I ever owned came from Wayne. He’d come up the drive with Belknap paintings, painted Vermont chests and fabulous Windsor chairs. Wayne loved anything wonderful, mostly furniture and primitive paintings. We did so many shows together that people thought I was his mother. He started calling me Mother Boynton. I nearly died of embarrassment but the name stuck.”
Pam, generally accompanied by Martha and her husband, Frank Blanchette, exhibited at as many as 24 shows a year. Pam’s favorites were the New Hampshire Antiques Show, the ADA Historic Deerfield Show, the York Antiques Shows and the Connecticut Antiques Show, both spring and fall. She would not have dreamt of spending money exhibiting at big-city shows in Philadelphia or New York.
Increasingly frail over the past two years, Pam Boynton was absent from the family booth in Manchester, N.H., and Deerfield, Mass., this past August and October. Martha and her sister, Susan Maxwell, lovingly cared for their mother, both on the road and at home, arranging for someone to be by her side at all times in recent days.
“I don’t think Pam could have done what she did without Martha’s help. Martha was integral to all,” says their good friend Butch Berdan. He adds, “Pam was an essential part of our antiques family. I will miss her dry Yankee wit and wisdom.”
Stricken with polio as a child, Pam Boynton wore trousers to obscure the braces on her legs. Her steely character was testament to the many obstacles she overcame with fortitude, resilience and uncommon decency.
In addition to Martha Boynton, Frank Blanchette and Susan Maxwell, Pam is survived by her son David Boynton Jr, Susan’s husband Kelly Ware, grandson Benjamin Maxwell and great-granddaughters Ava and Zoey Maxwell. Services were private. Donations may be made to Martha Boynton’s Fund for Dogs and Cats, a rescue organization, or the charity of your choice.
Pam was a founding member of the ADA. She will be missed by all. The outpouring of memories circulating within the trade attest to her kindness, generosity of knowledge, keen eye, dry wit and straightforwardness. She was a classic. On a personal note, we very rarely buy things to keep. We have two things from Pam Boynton, a hutch table that is our family dining table and a painted, one-drawer stand. We use both daily. Pam first had this hutch table (which features a carved scroll arm, unlike any other I’ve seen) in the mid-1970s and quickly sold it into a collection. She reacquired it in 2006 and I bought it immediately. The antiques world will miss Pam Boynton, but her legacy will live on in hundreds of collections.
—Steven S. Powers, President, Antiques Dealers Association of America
I remember a funny thing that is printable. We were sitting around and someone was talking about a vacation. Pam piped up, “Well, I took a vacation once and missed a great set of Windsor chairs. I never took another vacation.” I associate Pam with early paint-decorated furniture and very good smalls. She always asked, “Got any velvet fruit for me?” She was an icon of the business. She had a heart of gold and was especially supportive of new dealers. She knew they were going to carry the torch.
—Tommy Thompson, President, New Hampshire Antiques Dealers Association
Pam was an institution. I loved her for herself, for her spirit and for the important role she played as a woman in the field. She was down to earth and funny. She called a spade a spade. Her passing is a huge loss to our business. She’s from a generation that will never be again.
We began buying from Pam in the 1950s and stepped up our purchases after Roger Bacon died in 1962. She was a very honest, nice, caring person. She treated everyone well and had a network of pickers and other dealers who knew what she liked to sell and brought her things. The hierarchy consisted of pickers, wholesale dealers and the big retail dealers who were mostly in New York City or southern Connecticut. Pam sold mostly to other dealers and to a loyal group of collectors. She kept really good things in her living room. She directed you to her barn if she didn’t know you. Pam and I sat in the front row at one of Ronny Bourgeault’s auctions. Pam bought on our behalf a circa 1830 pastel portrait of children by Deacon Robert Peckham. She was tickled when Maine Antique Digest later dubbed the pastel “Boynton’s Babies.” After the auction, I called Pam and asked her if I could pay her for her bidding. She said, “No. There are some things you just do.”
I generally had very short conversations with Pam, as she would always duck away or, in later years, speed away in her chair when she saw my camera. When I did find her seated in her booth, I really enjoyed hearing about a recent find or her stories about times past. She had a great memory of her life in the antiques business and, without question, she enjoyed every minute of it. She was a fixture in the business and will really be missed.
—R. Scudder Smith
One bright, shining star in a galaxy of stars. That was Pam Boynton. Knowing Pam, I’m sure she is wheeling and dealing “up there” already. Her pickers are pulling in and her customers will soon follow. I know my husband Frank has pulled in and is asking her if she has tole. Wayne has a Windsor chair he wants to show her. Zeke is telling her some great joke. Suzanne has found a fabulous stack of Nantucket baskets. She and “Crabby Appleton” (Butch Berdan Sr) are going toe to toe. Bob Cleaves has some great leads for her. Iggy Weiss comes in with a paper bag full of cash. Peggy Schorsch is looking for a great painting. Bert Savage wants a J.H. Davis watercolor. Gene King and Mason Stewart have some treasures for her to see. After which she is off to one of Nan Gurley’s shows and then on to a Bob Skinner sale. Most important, Pam has just found a replacement for “that house” in Pepperell, Mass. Pam was truly an inspiration to us all. We will so miss our friend and will forever cherish our favorite memories of our times together. One beautiful truth in the antiques world is that we are all family. I am so very thankful this great lady crossed my path in life.
Pam was our neighbor for the 25 years we lived in Groton, Mass. We arrived in town as wannabe antiques dealers. Bob Skinner told us, “You’ve got to get to know Pam.” That was excellent advice. Pam was so knowledgeable and so willing to share what she knew. And what an eye for the best! We spent many evenings sitting around her kitchen table. It served as the hub of her life — everything mixed together: great antiques, the family cat, pickers with fresh goods for sale, her husband and kids, grandchildren, serious collectors of early Americana, the family dog and a parade of dealers. We all loved her stories about antiques and the people who bought and sold them. She had a love of the business that we all found contagious. Thank you, Pam!
Pam was helpful to us when we were neophyte dealers starting out in southern New Hampshire in the early 1960s. She was very knowledgeable and experienced, and she shared her knowledge. She had a shop in her home and a big, wonderful golden retriever who slept on her porch. Pam was very up-front. She would tell you honestly what you were offering for merchandise. We soaked up everything she said like little sponges. I have fond memories of our early days in antiques. Pam was an inspiration.
Pam Boynton was for me what the antiques business is all about. She was emblematic of the dealers who brought it into its glory in the 1970s and 1980s. It is hard enough to be a woman in the business today, but it was a tough trade dominated by men when she started and Pam held her own. My dad, who was also a dealer, and Pam loved each other. He only got the better of her once, when he knew more than she did about a family record for Augusta, Maine, clockmaker Benjamin Wingate. Pam was the godmother of the antiques business. She had the sharpest wit and never missed a beat. She knew what deals were being done and could make things happen for people. She helped so many dealers starting out. Some very prominent collectors were her clients, but she was always just Pam. She was unfazed by celebrity and wealth. What really impressed her were great antiques.
Very early on I did flea markets. I sold Pam a miniature six-board blue chest. On that occasion, I took it to her. When you visited her, she was always in the kitchen, making something. The landscape would change, but there were always people there wondering what she had for sale. The best things, not for sale, were in her legendary bedroom. I liked going there very much. She came across as stern, had a wicked, dry sense of humor and could be pretty tough on you. Bob Skinner and I once found a phenomenal pair of painted baskets at Brimfield and Pam was not amused. She took one of the baskets and drop-kicked it about 20 feet. It was unharmed but we were shocked. She was one of that great group of women dealers known for having interesting stuff with remarkable surface, color and integrity. She never forgave Skinner Inc for enlarging its profile in Boston. “You’ve forgotten your customers,” she would say, though of course we hadn’t.
—Stephen L. Fletcher
Back in what was probably the early 1970s, around the time that we met Pam, there was a show at the Groton Country Club. Pam was doing the show, as were Bob Cleaves, Jimmy Bakker and Wayne Pratt. Paulette and I, in our early twenties, came in with a cigar store Indian. Pam teasingly insisted we cover up its midsection, a story that lived on. She had nicknames for everyone. She called us Sonny and Cher, and me the Fisherman because I had a commercial fishing license. She bought a lot from us over the years. One day I drove down the driveway of her big Greek Revival farmhouse with its barn on the side. She came out, looked at what I had and said, “Wow, that’s a great Windsor chair. How did you come up with that price?” Taken aback, I stammered, “I don’t know. It’s just what I want for it.” She replied, “Well, I’m going to buy it anyway. I was just wondering.” I spoke to her after the Delaware Antiques Show in November. She wanted to hear everything, was thrilled that I had done well and that business in general was looking up. When we called her Monday afternoon, she was too tired to speak but listened to our message. Another one of the old guard is gone.
When Suzanne Courcier and I showed up on Pam’s doorstep, we heard her voice from the kitchen: “Just come on in. Nobody ever knocks.” That was our first introduction to Pam. Her advice to young dealers was, “Just show up. Otherwise they’ll think you’re dead.” I remember the first time I saw her in action at the New Hampshire Dealers Show. She was regarded as venerable and it was a little bit intimidating but she had a way of putting you at ease. We struck up a fast friendship over the years with Pam, Martha and Frank. They had nicknames for everyone. We were Country and Western. Pam was a great source. One of the few things we never tried to sell was a decorated box Suzanne brought home from Pam’s one day. Pam had great taste and was a force to be reckoned with. The business changed, but Pam kept doing things in the old-school way.
Pam Boynton was unmistakable and one of a kind. She knew everyone: pickers, dealers and the big collectors. The thing about Pam was she had a great eye and wonderful stuff. If you didn’t stop to see her, you weren’t in New England looking for antiques. She was the best combination of mischievous charm and wit. If you told Pam a portrait went for sixty thousand, she didn’t say, “Wow, that’s too high!” She would say, “What happened to thirty thousand or, in her Yankee accent, ‘fahty’ thousand?”You knew what she meant. She had a big heart and an endearing smile. But she did tell you what was on her mind. If you knew her, you knew she was a good soul. It is hard to believe she is gone. She will be deeply missed by so very many.
Pam was a role model to so many women in the antiques trade. She was a country dealer, on her own and standing toe-to-toe with a tough bunch of guys in an era when most women dealers were bankrolled by their husbands. She was feisty and took no prisoners. Nothing stood between her and a great antique. I remember she once got the better of an amazing, sweet guy in a business deal. When he later came to her distraught, she wrapped her arm around him and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you.” She was also ahead of her time in saving wonderful paint in a time when furniture was routinely stripped.
Mother Pam was terrific at keeping my business partner Wayne Pratt in line with a word or two. We both loved her and she is a great loss to the entire antiques community.
People who knew Pam better will write more insightful things, but these are a couple of my memories of her. When I did the NHADA show for the first time on two weeks notice, I was walking the floor and came to Pam’s booth on the downstairs level. I extended the same nod and reserved “Hi” that Chance the rapper probably gives Jay-Z when they run into each other at the Grammy Awards after party. Pam replied spryly, “Hi John! How are you? Excited to be doing the show?” I said I was but that I was nervous. “You’ll do fine,” she told me. Pam cared about the future of the business she excelled at and loved. It’s the only excuse I can think of for why she cared who I was, knew that it was my first year at NHADA, and helped talk someone into buying something from me that he didn’t need. It’s easy to wish someone success, a lot harder to help make it happen. Some would call it Yankee ingenuity. I will miss her.
So sad to lose another bright star in our antiques family. She was the real thing among a lot of reproductions. Her honesty and humorous wit was refreshing and greatly appreciated.
She was a classic.
Over the years, if there was a gathering of antiques dealers buying and selling one thing could be certain, Pam Boynton would be right in the middle of the action. Whether it was the Sarah French shows at the Highway Hotel, the Amherst flea market on Sunday morning or the New Hampshire Dealers Show, Pam would be there raring to go! Her love of antiques and ability to interact with fellow dealers is what made her a very special person. To say the antiques business lost one of the greats would be an understatement. We all have our Pam stories to reflect upon. For that we can be thankful.
One of the giants in our field. Pam was a woman of wonderful taste, knowledge, integrity, frankness, keen wit, humor and wisdom. She will be deeply missed by so many of us whose lives she touched. I feel privileged to have called her my friend. One of my favorite pieces, acquired from her at the 2003 New Hampshire Antiques Show, is an Eighteenth Century mirror from the Carver family of Bucks County, Penn.
Pam mentored us when we moved to New England 25 years ago. She was a guide, teacher, mother, friend. We loved her and will miss her greatly.
—Russ “The Duck” and Karen Goldberger
Pam was a great inspiration to us through her career.
Truly a legend among dealers.
What a knowledgeable and engaging lady who was such a positive force in the antiques world! We will miss Pam.
Pam was someone you knew you’d always see out and about and loving every minute she was involved with the business and her friends. May she be at peace and enjoying a good laugh with her friends who have passed before her. I’m sure they’ve been waiting for her to join the party.
Pam was knowledgeable and a plain speaker. One always knew what was on her mind. Her kindness to many may not be known to all but I heard many stories confirming this. Most of all was her true love of antiques. She even took delight in what others had for sale. She was a great one and the antiques world will miss her presence.
A wonderful lady. My dad and uncle did lots of business with Pam. Also a great friend of mine. So much I could say, so many stories.
March 8, 2017
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