Published: September 3, 2019
By Madelia Hickman Ring
WEST NEWBURY, MASS. – Paul DeCoste, a veteran dealer whose knowledge was all-embracing and whose passion for antiques was infectious, died on Tuesday, August 20, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, at the age of 77. He was surrounded by his wife of 48 years, Linda Milici DeCoste, and immediate family. The cause of death respiratory failure. A funeral was held on Friday, August 23, for immediate family and close friends. Paul and Linda DeCoste did not have children; he is survived by Linda, his stepbrother, Chet Paris, and Paris’ family.
The West Newbury dealer had been an exhibitor at the New Hampshire Antiques shows for 31 years and this past edition was scheduled to be his last show, though he was too ill to be there in person. His areas of expertise included, but were not limited, to Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century furniture and accessories, nautical items, scientific instruments, metal, glass and potteries of the Seventeenth to the Nineteenth Centuries.
Paul was born Paul Joseph DeCoste on June 19, 1942, in Weymouth, Mass., to William and Rose DeCoste. His father worked at South Shore Hospital and his mother, a homemaker.
Paul graduated from Sacred Heart High School in Weymouth, Mass., and graduated from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston. An artist his whole life, DeCoste specialized in portraits, both drawings and paintings. “His hand-eye coordination was amazing,” Linda remembered. DeCoste had brought some of his work to a small exhibition at a show in Hartford, Conn., once. “I had no idea he was that talented,” recalled Arthur Liverant.
DeCoste got his start in the antiques business when his father gave him some things to sell out of an antique house. “It was back in the late 1960s,” Linda recalled. “He was completely self-taught.” Of all the things DeCoste specialized and dealt in, Linda said he really liked nautical antiques, particularly scrimshaw, as well as early candlesticks and scientific instruments. “He sold a piece to the Smithsonian once and was really happy it went there.”
DeCoste loved to travel. “Traipsing around Europe, looking at museums and art shops,” was how Linda put it in a phone call with Antiques and The Arts Weekly. “He still wanted to do more traveling, there were still places he hadn’t been to that he wanted to go to, not to mention favorite places he wanted to go back to.” The couple particularly loved to get away to the White Mountains. “Not many people know he loved to go hiking and camping,” Linda mused.
Scientific instrument expert, Ray Giordano, shared this contribution by email: “In the over 40 years I knew Paul as a close friend, antiques were to him like a blood supply. He reveled in the buying, selling and researching of a wide range of antiques, including those in my specialty of scientific instruments. Though I have applied myself almost exclusively to scientific antiques, Paul in his comprehensive knowledge of antiques had an amazing ability to analyze an instrument utilizing his prodigious memory, wide experiences and innate instinct. Our almost daily telephone conversations often started with ‘have you seen this maker…do you think its worth…it’s really great.’ Surely, I will miss those calls, which also frequently covered the antiques and global news and politics of the day. As well, I will very much miss the giant of a special person he was, and I and many, many friends and colleagues will remember Paul for his affable, intelligent and generous disposition.”
Artist Jamie Wyeth had met DeCoste at an antiques show years ago and was one of DeCoste’s longtime clients. He had not heard the news that DeCoste had died when Antiques and The Arts Weekly reached out to him for a memory. “He was one of the great informed people, particularly on marine antiques. I live in a Maine lighthouse; not only did he sell me wonderful things for lighthouses, he was terribly knowledgeable. I will miss that. Because of his background in painting, he was interested in what I was doing; we had a lot in common through art. A lot of objects in my studio came through Paul.” Wyeth acknowledged an interest in whaling and recalled he once traded one of his paintings for a narwhal tusk that DeCoste had. “The last thing I got for him was a whalebone tool, for rubbing the seams when they made the sails. He described to me how it was used. He had such a love for these things.”
Dr Marc Cendron had last seen DeCoste on Friday, August 16, a few days before he died. A shared passion for objects made in the Newbury and Newburyport area sparked their relationship, which began with the sale of a silver pitcher made by a Newburyport silversmith and continued beyond the last piece Cendron purchased from DeCoste, a Newburyport sampler a few months ago.
“I have so many stories about Paul,” Cendron shared. “One of the funny things – he would always be in the back of the auction house surveying the crowd. He could be one of the most aggressive bidders you ever met; if he saw something he wanted or knew he had a buyer for he would be unrelenting, whatever the price was. In spite of that, he was respectful, a very good guy.”
Tributes to Paul came from many dealers who he had known through shows. A dealer who knew him particularly well was Thomaston, Maine, dealer Ross Levett, who said he had known DeCoste for at least 35 years and called him not just a customer but also “a very good friend and a wonderful dealer…he had broad knowledge, enthusiasm, he truly had enthusiasm.”
Sharing a favorite memory, Levett said, “There was a guy in the chair, so anxious for the next thing to come in, the next thing to go out. His enthusiasm was infectious. He was a great dealer to buy from and a great dealer to sell to. He was a wonderful, pleasant, nice person to everyone. I never remember him feuding with anyone…he was never involved in the politics of the business.”
Antiques and The Arts Weekly’s publisher, Scudder Smith, also remembered Paul occupying the corner of the booth. “Paul always had something to show you, something he was always delighted to show you. (He was) always sitting at the corner of his booth, it took him awhile because he wanted to talk for a while. He had great interesting things loaded with history. He would dig out a paper or an object and he could ramble off a history on that object, keep you listening for hours. I met him years and years ago at the New Hampshire dealer show – I saw him there all the time, he was almost always glued to the corner of his booth where he could unpack some things and slide them right into his case.”
Portsmouth, N.H., dealer Jonathan Trace said, “He was one of the most knowledgeable antique dealers I knew. He had a great knowledge of scientific instruments – American and European – what I liked best was he was always very free with his knowledge. He was an encyclopedia – he knew about anything – if you saw something and had a question, he always had the answers. It’s tough. He’s gone too soon. Paul was always very friendly, always very excited to see you. Just a great loss. We will miss him a lot.”
Arthur Liverant echoed the sentiment. “We are very sad. We are very fond of Paul. He had a wealth of knowledge and always had a comment…or ten. Talking always took several minutes. He was always willing to share his knowledge, which was pretty amazing, in so many things. He knew marine arts, scrimshaw and early instruments; early painting, because of his knowledge of painting; glass, metals, pewter, prints, stoneware, textiles, clocks and furniture, especially from the Northshore Massachusetts region…he coveted the early stuff.
“Paul was a throwback to the age of really studying the stuff and learning about the material he was handling. I think he will be missed because he dealt in material few people dealt in. He had great fortitude, great insight, willing to put his money where his mouth is. Today, that is an exceptional quality – to be able to stand up for what he believed in – which he did.
“I always enjoyed being next to Paul at shows. He agreed to do the Philadelphia show in 2018 on the condition that his booth was next to ours. We kidded each other during the show, bantering back and forth. He would say ‘how can I sell anything when you are taking all of my customers?’ I would give it right back to him by telling him to stop selling all those scrimshaws. But he knew I had tremendous respect for him.”
As the saying goes, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” Those who remembered DeCoste invariably mentioned Linda, who was his partner in both life and the business. “Linda was a very important part of their business and certainly knowledgeable and she was a pleasure to deal with, though she was not quite so vocal as Paul was. Paul was always willing to talk, Linda was more quiet and reserved, but you know when she spoke she knew what she was talking about,” was how Arthur Liverant remembered their partnership. It was a sentiment echoed by Ross Levett, who said, “She was 100 percent supportive and a participant.”
Linda has expressed to Antiques and The Arts Weekly an intention to carry on, at least “for a while.” She plans to do the Gurley show in Boxborough, Mass., on Sunday, September 22.
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