Dr. Christopher Babcock paid more than $500,000 for what he thought were rare gold and silver coins a dozen times from a dealer in New Jersey.
Babcock, an oral surgeon in Louisville, thought the coins were not the quality advertised and demanded his money back from by Anthony's, an online rare coin dealer in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Anthony's sued Babcock in New Jersey and Babcock filed suit Wednesday in Louisville.
The lawsuits contain allegations of "bait and switch" sales techniques and fraud.
"Disputes of this kind are not infrequent," said Dave Harper, editor of the coin collecting newsletter, the Numismatic News in Iola, Wis. "Assessing quality and value are at the heart of being a coin collector."
Anthony's employee Marc Guitman, who is named as a defendant in Babcock's lawsuit, referred questions to his attorney, Scott Porter Jr.
Porter described Babcock's dealing with the coin dealer as "no less than buyer's remorse and bizarre."
"My client's conduct here has been exemplary and very professional and responsible," Porter said. "His only goal here is to resolve this frivolous claim and move on."
Babcock's lawyers in New Jersey and Kentucky did not return repeated messages.
The conflict began in November 2008, when Babcock found Anthony's on eBay, then bought a variety of coin collections from the company over the next two years. Among the purchases were 502 silver dollars, a 1903 $1 Louisiana Purchase coin and a multitude of gold and silver coins from foreign countries.
The two lawsuits lay out a series of charges, counter-charges and attempts at reconciliation.
Anthony's started selling online in September 1997. On eBay, it has achieved the highest possible rating based on customer feedback -- a "top rated seller."
After making a dozen purchases, Babcock claims he discovered that many of the coins sent to him were "stamped" coins, not from the U.S. mint and having no significant value. Babcock said many of the coins, including 14 $20 gold coins and 10 foreign gold coins, didn't have the proper weight or volume, but were advertised as authentic.
Anthony's sought to work out an exchange with Babcock, even though he held on to the coin collections for nearly two years -- beyond the one week normally allowed by the company.
In a November 2010 email, Guitman told Babcock he wasn't taken advantage of.
"In fact, I am sure that the entire collection is worth more than you paid by now," Guitman wrote. "We can easily figure something out if you kept deals intact."
By January 2011, Babcock and Anthony's reached a deal allowing the doctor to return certain items and pick out $25,000 worth of replacement merchandise. The swap, though, created more problems.
Anthony's claims Babcock promised to return gold coins, but instead sent silver coins "not even close" to the value of what was sent in exchange in February 2011. Then, Guitman said, Babcock sent an email Feb. 16, 2011, saying: "I'm sitting here looking at photos of your white, two story house with your Toyota sequoia in the driveway."
Guitman took the email as a threat.
Anthony's sued Babcock in September, seeking unspecified damages. By April, Anthony's had offered a settlement that would allow a third-party appraiser to inspect the coins in question, determine fair market value and issue a binding decision about their worth.
In a letter to the judge April 17, Babcock lawyer James A. Plaisted described Babcock as "long suffering" and the company's settlement offers as "empty."
In a follow up letter, Porter said Plaisted made "silly and preposterous claims" about the settlement and noted that with a rise in the price of gold, Babcock would likely make "a handsome profit."
"As an accommodation, knowing that my client bears no liability to the doctor, my client has agreed to buy back the coins at fair market price, but the doctor refuses this overly generous offer," Porter told The Associated Press.
Harper said independent examiners are frequently used in settling disputes over the quality of coins and he didn't understand why Babcock would turn down such an appraisal.
"That doesn't make sense to me," Harper said. "That's the central issue always, the quality of the coins."
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