Rapper, Auction Giant Embroiled in Bitter Sports Memorabilia Dispute
Baseball collectors and amateur historians may recognize the name Peter Nash from his book on 19th Century baseball players or from his dealings in memorabilia from the same time period. Anyone who's been a fan of rap or hip hop music for at least 20 years almost certainly knows him better by another name.
As Prime Minister Pete Nice, Nash joined forces with MC Serch and DJ Richie Rich in the late 80s to form the seminal New York rap group 3rd Bass. Years before Eminem would legitimize the idea of the white rapper, Nash helped pave the way. The group burst on the scene in 1989 with songs like "Steppin' to the A.M." and "The Gas Face," but is probably best known for its 1991 send-up of radio friendly rappers - Vanilla Ice in particular - "Pop Goes the Weasel."
Nash left the music business some time ago, but he's in the news again thanks to his ongoing feud with the head of one of the sports memorabilia industry's most well known and outspoken figures, Rob Lifson. Though the two men used to do business together, they're currently both pursuing legal action against each other as the result of a series of nasty allegations.
The first clash between the duo was a financial one. Nash used to use Lifson's company, Robert Edward Auctions, to sell items from his area of baseball expertise. After borrowing money from REA that Lifson accused him of failing to repay, Nash filed suit claiming items he put up as collateral were sold without his knowledge. A New Jersey Superior Court judge sided with Lifson, awarding him a judgment for over $750,000.
Nash has fired back by attempting to paint Lifson as the link between a number of high profile memorabilia pieces that have recently been found to be stolen or fake. Included among these were photos stolen from the Boston Public Library and other items once belonging to the late Barry Halper, whose collection sold for millions of dollars in 1999 at an auction partially handled by REA.
With the FBI investigating more memorabilia that was supposed to have been sold on MLB All-Star Weekend that may have been stolen from the New York Public Library, Nash has made an even more damning claim: that Lifson was arrested for trying to steal from the NYPL in the 70s and may be the source of the hot goods.
Lifson recently denied any involvement.
"I want to set the record straight regarding untrue accusations promoted (via rumor and innuendo) by a very few individuals who wish to attempt to hurt my reputation by suggesting that I am responsible in any way for the theft of any of the missing items that have been stolen over the years from the collection of the New York Public Library," Lifson said in an e-mail to the New York Daily News. "It is simply not true. In fact, I have for many years worked extensively with the FBI and with numerous institutions to successfully help facilitate the return of stolen items when they have surfaced (including items that have been stolen from the New York Public Library)."
Lifson's name has been prominent in the industry for decades. He began dealing in baseball cards before he was even in high school and officially formed REA in 1990. Helping to authenticate the Rosa Parks Bus and inventing the "ten-minute rule" to help big money auctions come to a fair end for all bidders are just two of his claims to fame.
REA has also taken a stand against resubmitting graded cards to get better scores and card alterations of all kinds. Lifson personally has spoken out against what he feels are shady practices in the hobby, but his tactics - like calling out people in the authentication business by name that he doesn't think are trustworthy - rub some of his competitors the wrong way. In a field where reputation is so vital, just the spectre of wrongdoing may be enough to harm Lifson's business.
With the legal struggles between Nash and Lifson still ongoing and more items from the Halper collection continuing to come under scrutiny, the unlikely saga of the ex-rapper and the auction house president still has more chapters to be written.