MANHATTAN (CN) - A baseball memorabilia collector claims a New Jersey auction house took him for more than $600,000 for bogus goods, including two baseballs supposedly used in Civil War-ear championship games. Corey Shanus claims Robert Lifson and his company, Robert Edward Auctions, also inflated prices by falsely reporting auction results and sale prices.
Shanus describes himself in his federal complaint as "a world renowned collector of sports collectibles," who "holds one of the premier private collections of sports memorabilia."
Shanus says his working relationship with Lifson dates back to 2002, when Lifson worked for Mastro Net, an auction house from whom Shanus bought stuff for his collection.
Mastro Net, which went out of business in 2009, is not a party to the complaint.
Shanus says that while Lifson worked for Mastro Net, Lifson obtained on consignment "a large collection of sports memorabilia from an individual known as Peter Nash ('Nash') consisting of alleged rare 19th and 20th century sports collectibles."
In August 2002, Shanus said, he won the auction for an "1861 Grand Match Trophy Baseball," which was part of the Nash collection.
"Mastro Net represented the 1861 Trophy Ball to be 'a spectacular trophy ball from the earliest days of organized baseball' and to be 'handmade by future sports goods magnate, Al Reach, who is also recognized as being the first professional ballplayer,'" according to the complaint.
Shanus says he paid Mastro Net more than $60,000 for the 1861 trophy ball.
In the next 2 years, Shanus says, he continued to bid on baseball items from the Nash collection, relying on Lifson's representations that the collectibles were authentic.
In 2003, Shanus paid more than $161,000 for an alleged "1853 New York Knickerbocker Trophy Ball" which Mastro Net claimed was the "[e]arliest known trophy ball in existence" (brackets in complaint).
"According to the 2003 Catalogue, the 1853 Trophy Ball had been presented in 1903 to Henry Chadwick, a 'journalist and writer,' who, the 2003 Catalogue stated, was at the time 'the most respected figure in the game of baseball,'" the complaint states.
Shanus says Lifson told him the 1853 trophy ball had belonged to the Chadwick family.
For a 2003 auction, Shanus says, he hired a furniture expert to examine "an 1869 trophy casing that was being auctioned by Mastro Net containing a number of trophy balls purportedly from the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stocking baseball team."
Shanus says the expert told him that "certain components of the trophy casing, including certain nails and ribbons affixed thereto, represented modern enhancements and, therefore, could not have been affixed in 1869, thus calling into question its authenticity."
Shanus says Lifson assured him the trophy casing was authentic, and certain enhancements had been added to reinforce it.
He says Lifson put his suspicions to rest by showing him a letter allegedly written and signed by Chadwick, which attested to the authenticity of the 1853 and 1861 trophy balls.
Between 2005 and 2009, Lifson's new auction house, Robert Edward Auctions (REA), sold Shanus more items from the Nash collection.
"In December 2005, Shanus paid REA $105,000 for a silver trophy ball commemorating James Creighton, a New York baseball pioneer," the complaint states.
Shanus says he also bought the Chadwick letter for more than $11,000, and paid more than $19,000 for a score book inscribed and signed by Chadwick, purportedly from the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings Eastern tour.
He says he paid more than $4,000 for a CDV (an old photograph and signature example) of Duncan Curry, the first president of the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club, New York's first organized baseball team, which Lifson represented as "part of the incredible archive of handwritten notes from Henry Chadwick."
Shanus also bought an 1871 Fort Wayne Kekionga CDV for more than $43,000, an 1871 Washington Olympics CDV for more than $46,000, an 1874 Philadelphia Athletics Cabinet for more than $43,000, an 1838 Olympic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia constitution for $141,000 and an 1862 Knickerbockers salt print for more than $58,000, according to the complaint.
In February 2009, Shanus says, Lifson acknowledged that the Nash collectibles might not be authentic. He says the de facto acknowledgment came in a disclaimer to "Auction Terms," which stated: "'The Collection' is sold 'AS IS' and with all faults. The sale is made without recourse. 'The Collection' includes items that may be authentic in part ...'" (Ellipsis in complaint.)
Shanus says he "had never seen such a disclaimer in connection with an auction of sports memorabilia," which was "contrary to the terms and conditions of the prior REA auctions in which Shanus had participated and in which REA, in accordance with standard industry practice, had made express representations as to the authenticity and genuineness of the articles being offered for sale."
Shanus says he asked Lifson about "the origins of the Collection and the reasons for the unusual disclaimers," and that Lifson "stated for the first time, that there might be questions as to the authenticity of items that Lifson had previously obtained from Nash. Lifson also suggested, also for the first time, that Shanus should consider having the Trophy Balls tested for authenticity," the complaint states.
So he did. Shanus hired a material analysis company, which reported the 1853 trophy ball was not created until the 1940s or '50s, and that the 1861 trophy ball was not made until the 1920s or 1930s, the complaint states.
Shanus says Lifson knew or should have known that the Nash collectibles were counterfeit, but guaranteed their authenticity anyway. He adds that in 2006 Lifson withdrew from an REA auction an 1833 Olympic Baseball consigned by Nash after finding that a Chadwick signature at the base of the item might have been forged.
Shanus says Lifson sold fake items to other collectors, including "an allegedly antique Cincinnati Red Stocking trophy ball sold by Mastro Net to an investor named John Gianetti."
He claims that Lifson and REA consistently misrepresented their auction results and "caused the market for baseball memorabilia to be artificially inflated by falsely reporting record sales of rare baseball memorabilia," such as the "Fashion Course Trophy Ball," which the defendants falsely claimed had sold for $498,000.
He says the "Fashion Course Trophy Ball" and an item called the "Origins of Baseball Letter," which allegedly had sold for record prices, were never actually paid for and were later included in the Nash "as is" collection.
The materials analyst cited the presence of polystyrene - which was invented in the 1920s - in a so-called 1861 Trophy Ball, and the "rutile form of titanium dioxide," a white pigment introduced in the 1940s, in a so-called 1853 Trophy Ball, according to the complaint.
Shanus seeks more than $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages for fraud, lulling fraud, and breach of contract. He is represented by Tab Rosenfeld with Rosenfeld & Kaplan.
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