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New Jersey collector sues auction house for breach of contract

If you're a collector of antiques or memorabilia, you place a high value on authenticity. When you fall in love with a piece that an auction house is offering, you trust that the source has been vetted and the item is exactly what the auctioneer proclaims it to be.

Sometimes, unfortunately, the source turns out to be untrustworthy. A New Jersey collector is claiming just that in his breach of contract and fraud lawsuit against an auction house and its president. The plaintiff says the defendants knew that some items they bought from a supplier were either unauthentic or questionable, but allowed the collector to buy them anyway.

The supplier is a former hip-hop artist who turned to sports memorabilia collecting when his music career went south in the early 1990s. He has supplied items to several auctions, such as an 1853 New York Knickerbocker Trophy Ball that the plaintiff purchased in 2003 from another auction house, which folded in the midst of an FBI investigation. The plaintiff claims that the auction house president named in his lawsuit, who was previously an executive with the now-defunct company, knew there were questions about the basketball's authenticity and should not have sold the item.

An FBI agent told the plaintiff that the executive and other auction house employees had reason to believe the ball wasn't authentic, despite the executive's numerous assurances to the contrary. The plaintiff finally had the ball tested along with another one he'd bought from the company; both were found to be fraudulent.

Ironically, the hip-hop artist-turned-collector runs a website dedicated to exposing fraud in the memorabilia industry. Yet he's the target of fraud accusations by the FBI, as well as a number of lawsuits. One of these lawsuits was the reason the auction house executive didn't disclose his concerns about the items the plaintiff purchased, the lawsuit says.

The auction house named in the lawsuit has attempted to get the case dismissed, saying it had disclaimed any warranties and that the statute of limitations had run out, but a judge denied the motion. This came as good news to the plaintiff, an attorney who owns a sports memorabilia collection that is said to be one of the best in the world. As an experienced collector, he knows better than most that if you pay top dollar for an item, it had better be everything the seller says it is.

Source: New York Daily News, "New Jersey federal judge allows lawsuit over authenticity of memorabilia supplied by Peter Nash, who was Pete Nice of rap group 3rd Bass," Michael O'Keeffe, April 15, 2012

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