Published: February 5, 2008
Samuel Charles Pennington III, publisher of Maine Antique Digest, died February 2, several days after being admitted to the hospital there. He had been in deteriorating health, said his son, S. Clayton Pennington, editor of Maine Antique Digest (MAD).
Pennington was 78.
Born September 18, 1929, in Baltimore, Md., Pennington studied at Calvert School and Phillips Exeter Academy. He earned a degree in French at Johns Hopkins University. After serving in the Air Force for 21 years, he founded MAD with his wife, Sally, in 1973.
They briefly published the Waldoboro Weekly.
As MAD‘s senior editor Lita Solis-Cohen recounts in The Americana Chronicles: 30 Years of Stories, Sales, Personalities and Scandals, published in 2004 in honor of Pennington’s 75th birthday, the first issue was launched from the family’s kitchen table. The Penningtons’ five children helped with the mailing. After staff writers Solis-Cohen and David Hewitt joined the publication in the mid-1970s, their lively coverage of events in New England, New York and Pennsylvania helped transform the regional newspaper into a national one.
R. Scudder Smith, editor and publisher of Antiques and The Arts Weekly recalled, “Sam called me one day, right after he had started MAD, and asked if we would run ads for him announcing his publication. I said, ‘Certainly.’ He was very surprised because other antiques publications had turned him down. Over the years, we had occasion to discuss the antiques industry as we went on our own ways in the publishing business.”
Plain spoken and independent, Pennington, a career navigator and bombardier, combined a pilot’s daring with a newsman’s love of a story.
“He became a superb navigator in two unlikely worlds of his own,” said Dorothy Gelatt, a regular contributor to MAD.
Posted around the world during his military career, Pennington met his wife, MAD’s executive editor, in Texas. They married in 1958. Besides their children, they have 11 grandchildren.
Pennington discovered Maine in 1954 while based in Bangor. Visiting Maine in 1959, the couple bought a Federal house in Waldoboro. For nearly 15 years they used it as a vacation retreat.
In the late 1960s, the couple moonlighted as antiques dealers specializing in painted furniture. Pennington also contributed articles on antiques to other publications.
“Sam came into my shop with Clayton, who was just a little fellow then, and bought a red blanket chest for $65,” said Betty Berdan, who has known the Penningtons since the 1960s. “We did business back and forth and I saw Sam at shows. None of us had money, but Sam was always vibrant and fun.
“He stopped by one cold, dreary day to tell us that he was starting an antiques newspaper. We told him he’d starve to death. But he came around every month to get the ads and would often take over an hour picking out things to photograph. In the early days, he was on the road nonstop while Sally held down the business,” the Hallowell, Maine, dealer recalled.
Pennington’s many interests ranged from politics to education to fakes and forgeries. In 1988, with Frank J. Miele and Robert Bishop, director of the American Folk Art Museum, he organized “April Fool: Folk Art Fakes and Forgeries,” an exhibition of 40 folk art hoaxes at Hirschl & Adler Folk.
On one particularly civic-minded occasion, Pennington made a daring nighttime rescue of a horse and rider weathervane that had been stolen from the Hallowell Fire Department. After turning it over to the police, he called the Berdans. “You better come see it because you’ll never get so close again,” Pennington said.
Later he wrote Berdan, “Retrieving the Hallowell weathervane was not the smartest thing I’ve ever done †in fact it was downright dumb. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
Pennington never lost his enthusiasm for antiques or newspapers. Until a week before his death, he came to the office daily.
“He collected aviation memorabilia, bronzes and fish paintings. In the last couple of years, he bought medals by the bucket,” said Clayton Pennington.
In fact, Pennington had a covetous eye on David Hewitt’s collection of 250 model airplanes. “In one of our last conversations, Sam joked that if I died first, he would be at my auction,” said Hewitt.
Gifts in Sam Pennington’s memory may be made to Southern Maine Community College’s General Scholarship Fund, to the Waldoboro Food Pantry or to the Waldoboro Public Library.
A memorial service will be held in the spring.
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