FREEVILLE, N.Y. — A Tompkins County-based auctioneer has been ordered to pay nearly $70,000 for taking items on consignment from a museum and not paying what was owed. Auctioneer David Hall, owner of National Book Auctions and Worth Auctions, is at the center of other legal action and many complaints by consumers with similar stories of consigning items and allegedly never receiving payment.
In two lawsuits in Tompkins County Court, Hall is listed in court records as the owner of Bid Club, Inc. and JLF Holdings, LLC. One of the lawsuits also states that those two corporations, as well as Worth Auctions and Hall, are doing business as National Book Auctions.
Worth Auctions and National Book Auctions, based in Freeville, are still active and holding auctions. The Ithaca Voice spoke with several people who consigned items, watched them sell in auctions online, but never received payment. Though some people said they have had positive experiences with National Book Auctions in the past, interviews indicate a shift in the past couple of years.
If this story sounds familiar, it’s because National Book Auctions and Worth Auctions are not the only local auction companies consumers have voiced concerns with lately. Last week, the New York Attorney General’s Office announced that Finger Lakes Estate and Auction will have to pay back over $230,000 to consumers who consigned items with them and did not get paid.
In April, Wayne Storey, of Buffalo, brought a large collection of books to National Book Auctions in Freeville. By his estimate, Storey said the books were worth between $1,500 and $2,000. He said he dropped off the books and signed a contract. He then said he saw a number of the books come up in two successive auctions about three weeks after he dropped the books off. After no update for a couple months, Storey said he reached out by email and phone to find out when he would be paid. But Storey said he has never heard back from Hall or the company.
Prior to his experience selling books, Storey said he had a long, satisfactory working relationship with National Book Auctions. His experience selling with them has left him feeling “perplexed and flabbergasted,” he said.
The Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office has received complaints about National Book Auctions and Worth Auctions, District Attorney Matthew Van Houten said. He said their office is working with state police on possible criminal prosecution.
In two instances, people who submitted large amounts of books and artwork have escalated their cases to legal action, records in Tompkins County Court show.
In the case of Putnam Museum & Science Center, based in Davenport, Iowa, the museum is seeking about $69,000 after they sent 16 pallets of materials to David Hall and National Book Auctions and allegedly did not receive full payment. The pallets contained 4,000 books, 250 rare books dating from 1502 to the 1900s, hundreds of almanacs and periodicals, 32 oversized art books, 80 bound and loose newspapers and 600 sound recordings, court records show.
All the items were sold “upon information and belief” in June 2016, the lawsuit states. In August 2017, the museum retained counsel to demand payment. And on Sept. 1, 2017, Hall acknowledged in a letter, included in court documents, that there was a balance due and on Sept. 22, 2017, mailed a check for $10,000 as a first payment and wrote, “Our proposal is to continue issuing payments at the rate of $10,000 every two weeks until the balance is paid in full in a few months.” However, Hall did not send any further payments, the lawsuit states. An exhibit attached to court records shows Hall wrote in an email that the museum’s proceeds came to $79,264.25.
On Monday, a judge ordered that Hall, JLF Holdings, LLC (aka National Book Auctions), and Bid Club Inc. award the Putnam Museum $69,264.25 plus interest from Sept. 1, 2017. (Read the complaint from the case below filed in May 2018)
David Hall and companies he is associated with are also being sued by a trust that alleges Hall did not pay out after items were consigned. He is being sued by Grippi Revocable Trust, an “inter vivos revocable trust” settled by the late Salvatore W. Grippi, who was an artist and professor who died in November 2017. He taught at Ithaca College among other schools.
The property consigned included hundreds of items including art by Grippi, antiques, rare books and furniture worth “tens of thousands of dollars,” the lawsuit states. Items range in price from $15 to $4,500. In total, the lawsuit is seeking no less than $500,000.
The Better Business Bureau revoked National Book Auction’s accreditation in April. The website for the company lists an “F” rating with 23 complaints. There are also four alerts featured on the company’s page. In one alert, it says the business has a “pattern of complaints” concerning late payments for the sale of books.
Groton resident Michael Jacobs had a similar experience to Storey selling rare books to National Book Auctions this year. Jacobs said he has been collecting books most of his life and decided to take some to National Book Auctions because he had a good experience with them several years ago. In August, Jacobs said he brought 18 rare books and a 21-volume book set to the auction site in Freeville. He said he met with Hall, signed a contract and “everything seemed fine.”
By watching auctions online, Jacobs said he could see that some of his books had sold. When he tried to confirm whether his books had sold, he said it was difficult to reach him. When Hall did respond in October, Jacobs said, Hall allegedly brushed him off and said he didn’t have the time to look into it. This experience led him to look at online reviews on the Better Business Bureau and Yelp, which show many similar complaints.
Stephan Williams, of Vestal, consigned 25 guns with Worth Auctions in May. Williams said he told Hall he had been out of work with a back injury, so he said Hall agreed to fast-track the auction, which he did. Williams said he saw the guns sell in several auctions and said he is owed over $9,000. Though Williams said he was promised a check several times, he has never received any compensation from his items.
“What he did is theft, plain and simple,” Williams said.
Both National Book Auctions and Worth Auctions are still active online. Their websites say they’re accepting new consignments of collectible books and ephemera. There is an auction coming up Nov. 25, the website states, and a catalog featuring items in the online auction. They are listed on liveauctioneers.com and invaluable.com.
Paul Battisti, an attorney who is representing Hall, said he had no comment at this time.