Those who know me know I’m obsessed with documenting the authenticity of the items I collect and sell. Every week I spend countless hours on the phone, internet, and speaking to people in person to make sure EVERYTHING I offer for sale is absolutely genuine. And then I guarantee everything to be authentic with no time limit—a lifetime guarantee.
Unfortunately this is not the case with every dealer, and there is a lot of inauthentic material out there being passed off as genuine. As music collectibles continue to escalate in value, there is more motivation for unscrupulous people to be dishonest—and so it’s more important than ever to do your research, know who you are buying from, and get that all important lifetime guarantee.
I’ve been eager for some time to write about some inauthentic Bob Dylan material I purchased—but as there is a lawsuit pending, my lawyer advised me not to. Yesterday the New York Post wrote about the suit, and I now feel the need to respond without delay.
Last year, a highly regarded forensics expert advised me that some signed Dylan items I purchased from Peter McKenzie’s collection were not authentic. McKenzie was a teenager in 1961 when a then-unknown Bob Dylan slept on his parent’s couch for a few months. McKenzie had a number of early Dylan handwritten song lyrics from that era, and in 1991 began selling these as well as albums Dylan had signed and inscribed for him. He also contacted other friends of Dylan’s from the early 60’s, and brokered and sold some similar material for them.
In December, 2006 McKenzie contacted me for the first time after seeing an online listing for an item that had originally come from him. In January 2007, he contacted me again and offered to sell me two signed Dylan items, which I purchased for $9,000.
In mid 2007 a highly regarded New York rare book dealer who had previously sold me Dylan material offered me a number of Dylan items that had come from “Peter McKenzie’s collection.” I purchased 4 of these for approximately $40,000., and then contacted McKenzie, who confirmed that they had come from him.
Over the next few months, McKenzie offered to sell me many other Dylan items, and I purchased a number of these in a few separate transactions for a total of $44,000.
Every time I purchased something, McKenzie came up with something new to offer me, and I became concerned at the sheer volume of material that he was offering me. In this business, a seemingly unending supply of rare material is always a red flag. I knew his family had a relationship with Dylan in the early 60’s and he had sold some important artifacts, but at some point, logic would dictate, the supply would likely dry up.
One day McKenzie mentioned he’d bought something on Ebay and the amount he’d paid, and so I went online, found the listing, and saw his Ebay user ID. I was spending a lot of money with him, had become concerned, and thought it prudent to keep an eye on his Ebay purchases (which is publicly available information.)
A month or so later I saw that McKenzie had purchased three vintage Dylan albums in a short time on Ebay. I asked myself “If Peter McKenzie had known Dylan and had all this memorabilia, why would he be buying a copy of “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits” and two copies of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan ?”
An alarm bell rang a few weeks later when McKenzie offered me a “signed and inscribed” copy of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” which he told me he’d gotten 20 years ago from a mutual friend of his and Dylan’s. When he sent me a photo of it, it appeared identical to one of the copies he’d bought on Ebay a few weeks earlier, with an inscription and signature added. Both album covers had multiple scratches, imperfections, and flaws in exactly the same places—it seemed obvious that they were one and the same.
I had Peter send me the “signed” “Freewheelin’” on approval, and hired a highly regarded certified forensic document examiner (formerly with the US Treasury Department) to conduct a formal comparison of the Ebay “Freewheelin’” to the one Peter was offering me.
I also had him examine a group of other material I’d purchased from McKenzie, the rare book dealer, and other items from my personal collection. A forensic document examiner compares questioned items to “known examples” to determine whether or not a questioned item is genuine. Another top collector and I were able to provide over 100 pages of known authentic Dylan handwriting samples, including documents, published lyrics, and one of Dylan’s songwriting notebooks.
The forensics examiner concluded that the “Ebay Freewheelin’” was in fact the same album that McKenzie was offering me, with an inscription added after the fact. He determined that some of the items I had purchased from McKenzie and the book dealer were genuine, while others were found to be “not genuine.”
In short order, I hired a lawyer in New York (McKenzie resides there) who called and confronted McKenzie with the bad news. McKenzie denied that anything was not authentic, but asked to speak with me. He insisted he would give me a full refund and implored me to keep this “between us” (something I never agreed to do.) The book dealer, when contacted, expressed concern and made full restitution to me for the “not genuine” items they’d sold me from “Peter McKenzie’s collection.”
In a second lawsuit filed against McKenzie accusing him of selling non-authentic Bob Dylan items, plantiff Reed Orenstein (a longtime friend of McKenzie) states that McKenzie admitted to him that he had forged Dylan’s signature on the “Ebay Freewheelin’.”
For a number of months McKenzie continued to insist that he would make full restitution — but he never came up with the money. Eventually I decided the only way I would recover what I’d spent was to file a lawsuit. When I notified a number of dealers and Dylan experts about this, at my lawyer’s insistence I was careful to only relate the facts of the case, letting people come to their own conclusions.
When the New York Post called my lawyer last week, I initially refused comment, as it was my desire to litigate this case in the appropriate forum—the courts. As McKenzie has chosen to take this matter to the media, I now feel obligated to respond, if only to clear the record.
This case is ONLY about recovering the money I spent with Peter McKenzie. McKenzie claims that I’m suing him because I couldn’t sell the material–but other than one item I purchased on behalf of James Musser at Skyline Books, and a harmonica in a signed case later sold to Musser, I never tried to sell any of these items (in fact I planned on keeping most for my personal collection.) Both of the items James Musser purchased have been forensically examined and found to be authentic. In fact, I have spent approximately $14,000 on forensics in this case to date.
The article claims McKenzie has been selling me memorabilia since 1991—however I never spoke to him or communicated with him in any way before December 2006, and never purchased anything from him until January 2007.
I care very much about my reputation and good name. I’ve worked hard to build my business, and care passionately about my clients and fellow collectors. I’ve been a collector of rare records and music memorabilia for 37 years, and a record business executive for many of those. I still on occasion consult for record companies, as well as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, and the Experience Music Project in Seattle. I was a curatorial consultant to the recent museum exhibition “Bob Dylan’s American Journey.”
In other words, I don’t take any of this lightly. I’m very upset that I bought material that an expert found wasn’t authentic. But I’m very happy that I didn’t sell any of it—that would have troubled me terribly.
So there it is—the story in a nutshell. I hope people find this instructive, and once again, it’s a reminder that you can never be too careful. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions, do your own research, know who you are buying from, and always insist on a guarantee of authenticity, with no time limit !
June 24, 2008
Update: see post Dylan Memorabilia/Peter McKenzie Lawsuit Settled