WOODBURY, Conn. – Longtime New England antique dealer Wayne Pratt died in his sleep July 25 following heart-valve surgery. He was 64.
Familiar to viewers of Antiques Roadshow where he specialized in furniture, folk art and Americana, Pratt operated galleries in Woodbury and Nantucket, Mass. According to his Web site, www.prattantiques.com, the firm has been in operation for more than 30 years. Pratt was an authority on New England high-style furniture, especially Boston and Rhode Island block-front case furniture.
His Web site goes on, “Pratt’s interest in antiques started at an early age. At seven, he bought his first Windsor chair and by age 15, he sold his first mechanical bank. Growing up in New England, he recalled that the flavor and architecture further whetted his interest in Americana. After a brief career in industry, Wayne followed his long-time interest in antiques and in 1969 started Wayne Pratt & Co. in Marlboro, Mass.”
Pratt figured in the corruption scandal that toppled former Conn. Gov. John G. Rowland. Pratt pleaded guilty in March 2004 to a federal tax charge related to his purchase of Rowland’s Washington, D.C., condominium at more than the market rate. Pratt told prosecutors that a friend, state contractor Robert Matthews, used him as a front man for the purchase.
Pratt also figured in a lawsuit over an original copy of the U.S. Bill of Rights. The document was a draft that President George Washington dispatched in 1789 to encourage North Carolina to ratify the U.S. Constitution. It had been missing from Raleigh, N.C., since the end of the Civil War and resurfaced in 1997 when Matthews brokered a sale in which Pratt bought it from two Connecticut women for $200,000.
When Pratt tried to sell the document in 2003 for $4 million, the "buyers" turned out to be FBI agents conducting a sting operation. They served a seizure warrant issued in Raleigh, N.C., by a federal judge.
Following a legal battle with the FBI, Pratt relinquished his ownership claim and donated it to North Carolina. In return, federal authorities agreed to not prosecute Pratt on criminal charges and dropped a federal lawsuit.
Pratt is survived by his wife, Sarah Shinn Pratt; two daughters, Jessica and Christina; and two sons, Henry and James. The family prefers donations be made to the Woodbury Scholarship Fund, PO Box 716, Woodbury, CT 06798.