David Iams, 79, of Port Elizabeth, N.J., a former Inquirer society columnist who also wrote about antiques and auctions, died in his sleep at home on Sunday, Nov. 12, a year after undergoing heart surgery. He had been in a period of decline, his family said.
Mr. Iams chronicled the Philadelphia social scene from 1986 until 2000, and covered hundreds of galas, preview parties, and other events each year before retiring in 2001.
Among his subjects were Main Line families such as the Biddles, Clothiers, Drexels, and Pews. But as society changed, he expanded his focus to include African Americans and the LGBT community, said his daughter, Sarah. He covered numerous events a day.
“Many recall seeing him on his bicycle, in his tuxedo, riding from event to event through Center City throughout the evening,” she said.
Knowledgeable and friendly, he had many sources in the auction and antiques businesses. He wrote about wildfowl decoys, paintings, glass bottles, antique toys, model trains and stamps as they came up for auction. His stories appeared in the Inquirer and on his blog, www.gavelsavvy.com.
After retiring, he freelanced for the Inquirer. On Dec. 14, 2007, for example, he alerted stamp collectors that a very rare item was coming up for auction.
“On Tuesday at its current location in Jenkintown, Apfelbaum will be selling a specimen of what is sometimes called the most famous stamp of all: the inverted Jenny. The 1918 24-cent carmine-and-rose airmail depicts at its center a biplane that was printed upside down,” Mr. Iams wrote.
“The stamp is one of just over 90 that exist today, out of the original 100 printed before the error was spotted, according to company president John Apfelbaum. One authority puts its value at $400,000.”
Born in Pittsburgh, Mr. Iams graduated from St. Paul’s School in 1955 and from Princeton University in 1959. While there, he was editor of the Princeton Tiger, a humor magazine published by undergraduates.
After college, he was recruited by peacetime Army Intelligence to serve in Verona, Italy. He was honorably discharged with the rank of lieutenant. He became a copy editor for the Baltimore Sun, but went back to military intelligence and moved with his family to Munich, Germany. He then moved to Darmstadt, Germany, and worked for a decade as an entertainment writer for the Stars and Stripes.
Mr. Iams was hired in 1978 as a copy editor at the Inquirer. He progressed through a series of writing and editing jobs until 1986, when he replaced longtime society writer Ruth Seltzer, who had died of cancer in June of that year.
It wasn’t a job anyone wanted. “You weren’t going to win a Pulitzer. You weren’t getting assigned to Washington, D.C.,” he told Main Line Today in October 2008.
In his society column, Mr. Iams stuck to writing what had happened at the social events and who was there. He avoided gossip.
In the last several years, much of his writing about auctions appeared on his blog. He allowed himself a lighter tone, even some whimsy. In a blog item dated June 1, 2016, he called an approaching Freeman’s auction “the stuff of dreams.”
“It’s an extravagant pipe dream,” he wrote, “but suppose you had it in your power to buy the 122 lots in Freeman’s sale of American Art at 2 p.m. this Sunday at the gallery on Chestnut Street? You’d be able to open a museum of your own, featuring the major art movements of the last century, the Brandywine School, to name just one.”
Mr. Iams had many interests. His friend columnist Stu Bykofsky said: “What I found particularly delicious — and where we became friends — was our membership in the King Kazoo comic Mummer club. He was a rooting, tooting, strutting Mummer at the same time he was the Inquirer’s society columnist.
“That had to be a first. And during the same period, he covered the annual holiday party thrown by Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal, and thus included gays into the world of Philadelphia society. At that party, he was no mere observer, but showed off his vocal gifts. He always had a twinkle in his eye, and you always felt better for being around him.”
Mr. Iams was a financial supporter of the Princeton Charter Club, Actors Fund of America, Career Transition for Dancers Inc., Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks.
He was a member of the board of Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center in Millville, N.J., and was active in the Orpheus Club of Philadelphia, Wheaton Village Museum, the Actors Fund of America, Bachelor’s Barge Club, and the Bay Atlantic Symphony.
As a father, he was “very sweet and funny,” his daughter said.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife, Dorothy McLaughlin Iams; a son, Tony; a sister, and a brother.
Interment will be on March 28, 2018, at Washington Crossing National Cemetery in Newtown, Bucks County.