A Pennsylvania man who says Willie Mays memorabilia he bought in at auction 15 years ago isn’t what it was purported to be has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court. Michael Jacobs is asking for more than $750,000 after a proposed sale fell through because of the opinion rendered by an authenticator that a Mays jersey and travel bag were fake.
Jacobs is suing the estate of Barry Halper, New York-based Sotheby’s, which conducted the sale of items from the Halper Collection in 1999, and Grey Flannel Auctions, which was listed as the original authenticator of all uniforms and apparel in the auction catalog. He’s claiming misrepresentation and fraud, negligent misrepresentation, unfair trade and unjust enrichment.
Jacobs paid $63,000 for what the auction catalog stated was a signed 1951 Mays rookie jersey and another $8625 for a travel bag attributed to use by Mays during the early part of his New York Giants career. In 2012, Jacobs says he approached Lelands and requested an appraisal. Jacobs’ attorney says Lelands offered to buy the jersey for $675,000 if it would pass authentication by MEARS but an examination by that company indicated the Mays jersey was actually a blank Giants jersey that had been altered. Lelands also believed the stenciled lettering on the bag didn’t align with the style used by Mays in photos from the era and cast doubt on its authenticity as well.
How long should an auction company be held responsible for memorabilia later determined to be not what was advertised?
Sotheby’s offered a five-year guarantee on authenticity and told Jacobs by letter that it couldn’t offer him a refund because that time had long since expired.
“Expertise and scholarship change over time and we cannot comply with your request for a refund of the purchase price,” a Sotheby’s attorney stated in response to one of Jacobs’ letters.
The case was filed in Philadelphia on Wednesday.