Published: October 14, 2008
Paul Madden, an antiques dealer who specialized in scrimshaw and maritime antiques, died on September 30, following a brief hospitalization in Boston. He was 70 years old and died from complications following rehabilitation care for a leg infection, according to his son, Parke Madden.
Madden, who lived in Sandwich, was an active antiques dealer, appraiser and lecturer in the business for 40 years. He lectured numerous times for various historical associations and museums on subjects ranging from antique scrimshaw, antique marine collectibles, antique Nantucket lightship baskets and antique paintings.
Along with being a featured expert for several scrimshaw whaling symposiums at the Kendall Whaling Museum and the New Bedford Whaling Museum, he was the subject of numerous magazine and newspaper articles dealing with the market trends of marine antiques and scrimshaw collectibles.
He served as an appointed advisor to the Nantucket Historical Association for the last 30 years. He was a source for top marine collectors and museums and was chosen to be a marine vetter at the prestigious New York Winter Antiques Show.
Madden was active in the formation of the famous Kennedy Collection and also the special whaling exhibit at the Berlin Technological Museum in Germany. At the time of his passing, he had one of the largest inventories of marine pieces, with Internet sites that included madreviews.com †documenting the many fine restaurants and hotels discovered during his travels; paulmaddenantiques.com; and thenantucketshop.com.
“He was an artist first, then an antiques dealer,” said Parke Madden. “Whenever he traveled, he brought along his sketch book and painter’s kit. I think he had a great eye.” Madden sketched and painted landscapes and still lifes, said his son, and had art shows in Nantucket.
Richard Kahn, owner of Kahn Fine Antiques, Chatham, Mass., spoke of Madden as “one of my closest confidantes, mentors and one of the most knowledgeable dealers I’ve come in contact with in my 30 years of professionally dealing.” There was a friendly rivalry among the two men †usually having to do with the number of Internet sales during the week, for example †and they shared an ongoing dialogue about what was going on in the trade.
“His knowledge and expertise in scrimshaw and whaling objects was legendary,” said Kahn, placing Madden, who, he added, was always confident in his opinions, within the top two or three most knowledgeable dealers in the field. “The impact of his death in the field of scrimshaw is immeasurable,” said Kahn. “It’s left a huge hole in the antiques field, a major loss.”
Bob Wilkins and Suzanne Courcier, Yarmouth Port, Mass., antiques dealers, knew Madden “for as long was we’ve been in business, which is 34 years,” said Wilkins. The couple met him on a trip to Nantucket, where he had a shop. “We were immediately impressed with him and the quality of his merchandise,” said Wilkins, “and when he moved to Cape Cod in the 1980s, we grew closer and became friends.”
What was especially interesting about Madden, according to Wilkins, was that he was so multifaceted. “He was the last of the true scholar/dealers, and was at the top of his field in America. But at the same time, he was in the avant-garde. He was one of the first to see the vast potential of the Internet and created a very sophisticated website. His interests, too, were wide ranging. He traveled extensively and was a gourmand.”
Wilkins said his friend justifiably presented himself with confidence. “He had a commanding presence, a big, basso profundo voice and could dominate the room. Yet, to those who knew him well, he could also be self-deprecating, genuine and humorous. We will miss him.”
A lasting connection Wilkins and Courcier derived from their long association with Madden comes in the form of an early Nantucket basket in Windsor green, one of their first purchases and among their most prized possessions. “When we purchased the basket from Paul in 1976, he told us that if we ever wanted to sell it, he would like to buy it back,” said Wilkins. “What that illustrated for us †and we have used it as a guidepost all these years †is that in order to be a great dealer, you have to sell great stuff, sometimes you even have to sell the things you’d rather keep to achieve that goal.”
Barbara and Charles Adams of South Yarmouth, Mass., were also early friends of Madden, having met him during his time doing business on Nantucket and continuing to rub elbows with the knowledgeable dealer at shows sponsored by the Cape Cod Dealers Association (CCDA). “We sold to him and bought from him over the years,” said Barbara Adams. “He was always one of the first ones to pay his [CCDA] dues and he came to every event. He would always greet Charlie and me with ‘Hi, kids!’ He had a lot of knowledge, was friendly to all the dealers and he always sold to the best dealers. Paul will be missed on the Cape.”
Echoing that sentiment were Roy and Sheila Mennell of the Bradford Trust. The Harwich Port, Mass., dealers said there will be a big hole to fill at the Cape Cod and Marion antiques shows, where Madden’s uncanny eye would unfailingly discern a treasure that had been overlooked by others. “I never saw him leave a show empty-handed,” Roy Mennell said.
Peter Smith, owner of the Sandwich Antiques Center, where Madden’s scrimshaw, silver and other antique treasures took up about a half dozen display cases, wrote, “I find myself with an overwhelming need to write something on the passing of my dear friend Paul Madden. The king is dead. He leaves behind a giant hole in our community, our business and especially in our hearts. The sense of loss is matched only by thoughts of how large he lived his life. Paul was a great man. An icon to me and a man whose company I cherished.
“Here at the Sandwich Antiques Center we had the pleasure of seeing Paul almost daily. His enthusiasm for his trade, his generosity with his knowledge and his ability to tell a story †of which he had many †were all traits that kept us captivated.
“My level of respect and admiration for Paul is unequalled in this community and it dawns on me that there are many with like sentiments. I know of few people who have touched so many and have left behind so much of themselves.
“I miss him now, but I dare not think of how I will miss him when I look for him and he is not there. Goodbye, my friend.”
Madden was also a good friend to antique samplers specialist Henry T. Callan of East Sandwich, Mass., who shared his thoughts on the imprint left by Madden. “Paul loved life,” wrote Callan. “He traveled extensively but always enjoyed returning home to Sandwich, which meant security and comfort.
“We enjoyed friends, good cooking and fine wines. At parties, he proved to be a good story teller, sharing experiences from his long life as an antiques dealer. He could fascinate his audience for hours at a time. His laughter was deep and showed a great sense of humor when delving into the foibles of humanity. He knew how to amuse and how to hold an audience. People enjoyed him.”
Madden, however, was also a private person, added Callan. “He mingled with everyone but confided in few. He enjoyed knowledgeable persons but had little patience with people of ordinary minds. He educated the willing and sensitive and pleased customers with years of good service. These will be among his memorials.”
Stuart M. Frank, senior curator at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, said Madden was “a titan, a tremendous influence in the world of scrimshaw and marine antiques, generous-hearted, opinionated and †at his best †relentlessly amusing. I doubt that there is any one of us who hasn’t benefited, directly or indirectly, from his astute insights, wise counsel, leonine personality and often controversial opinions. He has been a mentor and helpmate of collectors and curators for decades, and I, for one, will miss him mightily.”
Frank said the 2009 Scrimshaw Collectors’ Weekend, which is set for the weekend of May 17, will be dedicated to Madden’s memory, and he plans to set aside one session for “scattershot show-and-tell” by anyone who wishes to tell an anecdote or two about “My Life with Saint Paul,” or show a picture or two of scrimshaw acquired from him or with the benefit of his advice.
Madden is survived by his wife, Diane Chase Madden, son Parke and two young grandchildren.
Parke Madden said he hopes to keep the business going, although plans are uncertain at this time.
There will be a memorial service at the First Church of Christ, 136 Main Street, Sandwich, Mass., on Sunday, October 26, at 4 pm.
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