Published: August 31, 2011
Richard R. “Rick” Wagner, 75, an antiques dealer who specialized in antique weapons, died August 15 at his home after a heroic struggle with pancreatic cancer.
Rick grew up in White Bear Lake, Minn., and came East to attend Dartmouth College. After graduation, he tried to make a living buying and selling antique weapons, but eventually went to work for Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance.
Relocated to Massachusetts, he was highly successful selling insurance to banks that they could retail to their customers. He was very resourceful, turning his car into a moving office by using dictating machines and a car phone that filled the whole trunk long before they were popular. He continued his interest in antiques by attending gun shows all over New England.
In 1989, he retired and became a full-time antiques dealer. His boyhood interest was in .22 caliber pistols, and by this time he had acquired all the early models and manufacturers. He published new research on Prescott, Copeland and the copies, evasions and infringement of makers trying to avoid the bored through cylinder patents.
He was both intuitive and perceptive about coming trends in antiques collecting. He began to acquire and deal in the weapons of the Middle East, Russia and Indo Persia when no one else was buying them. Again, he built a premiere collection that will be presented in a forthcoming book. He was always generous with his knowledge and believed that a book would be the best way to tell the “story” of his collection.
He could often be seen at a show displaying a weapon to a wide-eyed youngster and explaining what it was and why it was important. He would say to the parents that an earlier generation of dealers had done the same for him when he was a boy.
Rick was both extremely fit and handsome. He loved the water and always lived on a lake. A rope swing was not an option, but a requirement. He scuba dived all over the Caribbean, water skied and swam like a fish. He took up beach volleyball in his late 60s and played every weekend last year at Hampton Beach in the summer and Florida in the winter. Of course, he played with the 20-year-olds and held his own.
He had a flair for dressing. He was Jungle Jim at Brimfield, with khaki bush jacket and shorts, a cowboy at gun shows, a Scot at antiques shows, a Cossack, the man in black and the gentleman with his gold embroidered patch on his blazer. He wore many hats.
He was one of the first to develop an inventory of canes and walking sticks. He changed the name of his business from Sir Richard’s Antiques to Wagner’s Weapons and Walking Sticks and quickly became a major dealer for canes. In his 70s, he could still unload and set up a booth by himself, whiz around on his scooter and do all five days at Brimfield.
He suffered from indefatigable optimism: the food at most shows was very good, the crowd was light but motivated, the sales were slow, but he got good leads. Also, Rick had the restless desire to be doing something else at the same time he was doing what he wanted. He chartered a sailboat to Nantucket, but had to bring his scuba gear, his wind surfer and his inflatable motor boat. He had his fork in your plate as soon as dinner arrived, created new cocktails even using maple syrup, hunted and fished every season, drove his classic GTO, played volleyball on Saturday and poker on Sunday.
He got quite good at Texas Hold ’em and made the last table most of the time. He loved the game †”a minute to learn; a lifetime to master.” Deep into his illness, he continued to play locally and eventually with a group at his house.
He is survived by his wife, Janet Puccelli, his daughter Lisa Wagner, his sister, Caryl Clapp, and legion of friends who will miss him. A little bit of the fun in the antiques game has gone.
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