Published: April 25, 2017
BETHEL, CONN. – Paul B. Leonard, 70, died peacefully April 17 at Bethel Health Center with his family by his side. Paul was a well-known and respected auctioneer and appraiser in the arts and antiques world.
Paul grew up in Carmel, N.Y., but spent most of his years in New Milford, Conn., where he started his auction business, Gallery on The Hill, on Route 109, inside an old barn, locally famous for its time as a dance hall. He later started Nutmeg Auction services based in Woodbury, Conn.
His passion for antiques started in the early 1970s when he went to his first auction run by Joe Delango. From here, an interest in military items led him to start collecting, and eventually he went into business with William Joyce from New York. In 1971 at the age of 25, he conducted his first auction at the 109 site. His longtime assistant, Madeline Anderson, said, “Paul became a walking antiques encyclopedia, and if he didn’t know about an item, he would research it until he found an answer.” This was evident by the large library of arts and antiques reference books with which he always surrounded himself.
He was a self-taught auctioneer with a clear voice and an auction style that included his extensive research into the provenance of the items he sold. He was well known to include stories that would make his audience chuckle. One memorable Shaker auction, the estate of Robert and Hazel Belfit of Watertown, Conn., went on for two full days, with Paul never taking a break. “He auctioned from 10 am to 10 pm for two days in a row to sell 950 items and never broke for a meal, other than to sip some soda,” Anderson recalled.
Paul was proud to have been chosen to sell at auction the contents of the Galt estate in Colonial Williamsburg. This collection included a set of Windsor chairs that James Monroe once sat on. He sold buttons from one of Martha Washington’s dresses and a bill presented to George Washington for laundry for the Continental Army.
“I feel lucky to have handled more than my share of American history antiques of many descriptions and documents, and that’s what excites me,” he was quoted as saying.
Paul made it a family business, having his children work at the auctions, from the time they were young, helping patrons to their cars with purchases, then as runners, helping in the office. Eventually, his son Jason joined him at Nutmeg as his assistant.
In November 1993, a childhood dream of his and many young people was realized when he had the opportunity to sell a collection of more than 600 baseball cards, including the rare and famous T-206 Honus Wagner tobacco card, which sold to a Cooperstown N.Y., collector for $32,000. It was a memorable auction with children being given the chance to hold the card and get a picture taken, along with a baseball-themed atmosphere, including popcorn and Crackerjack.
Paul retired in 1999, and spent his time surrounded by his collections and “projects,” including scrimshaw and nautical items. He also traveled and spent time with his friends. He loved to share his knowledge of items with his three grandchildren, allowing them to touch and handle the fragile items.
Paul is survived by his daughter Kimberly Oshman and her husband Adam, his son Jason Leonard and his wife Bonnie, and his daughter Kristin Leonard. He will be missed by his three grandchildren, Megan Colleran, Tom Lebert and Samuel Karhan. He was lucky to have spent many years with his good friend Nancy Ivaszuk. He is also survived by his sister, Betty Strand.
A memorial service will be conducted at New Milford United Methodist Church, 68 Danbury Road, New Milford, Conn., on May 7 at 12 noon. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial donations be made to Regional Hospice and Palliative Care of Danbury, Conn., https://regionalhospicect.org, or the New Milford United Methodist Church, www.newmilfordumc.org.
-Submitted by the family
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