Published in Connoisseur Magazine
IS THERE AN HONEST MAN IN ANTIQUES?
You bet. He is Sam Pennington of the Maine Antique Digest.
By Patricia Lynden
…Once you meet Sam, you see how only he could come up with such an eccentric little paper. Dressed, as always, in old khakis, open-neck shirt, and high-top L. L. Bean shoes, he shows you around the three stories of the attractive new Digest building on Main Street in Waldoboro, Maine (population: 4,000). As he walks, he talks -- of everything. He tells you far more than you want to know about every one of the antiques he has around, speaks proudly of the dental plan he recently added to his employees' benefits, recalls one salmon years ago that he fished for "caught and threw back about thirty times" -- and describes with feeling the grinding poverty suffered by many Maine natives. And suddenly it all becomes clear. The Digest is a literal extension of the man: homey, unpretentious, far-reaching, principled, talkative, and ultimately likable. It is no surprise that he has no competition.
What is surprising is the route Sam took to arrive at his fat little trade paper. He served twenty-one years as an air-force officer and Vietnam bombardier. Yet, he turns out to be a born newsman. He has the requisite nose for skulduggery and the irreverence to follow stories wherever they lead -- even if they touch the all-important advertisers who could harm his enterprise, and despite complaints around the trade that publicizing wrongdoers is bad for business. Of course, and for good, business reasons, Sam covers the auction scene, dutifully reporting on the merchandise and the prices it brings; that is the bread and butter of the antiques world. But what Sam loves most and does best is to find and break investigative stories, many of them of national significance, which the general press then discovers in M.A.D. Sam loves to tell about the crooks and fakes and other forms of chicanery that the antiques business inspires, and he does it often and in the most marvelous detail.
It was he who got and kept the inside track on the decade's best forgery story. Mark Hofmann, the Mormon church member and Salt Lake City rare-documents dealer, forged several embarrassing "early church" letters, which he sold to Mormon church officials. He also forged the "Oath of a Freeman," a lost document and the first work ever printed in this country. To avoid detection, Hofmann murdered with pipe bombs two people. Sam's correspondent David Hewett, one of M.A.D.'s two full-time reporters, wrote exhaustive stories about Hofmann's brilliant forgeries, coverage that left the major dailies far in his wake. Since the forgeries fooled top experts, Sam cheerfully ran some long letters to the editor from the fooled experts themselves…