Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2013 Issue

There Are Still Six-Figure Books to be Found in the Attics and Walls of Old Houses

Supergonzales

Superman was introduced to the world with a bang.

There's nothing quite like the story of finding a valuable old book in an attic, garage sale, eBay, or the like. Once in awhile, these dreams actually come true. One man who can attest to this is David Gonzales, from Minnesota.

Mr. Gonzales is a small contractor. Normally, he is hired to help people with remodeling projects. However, this time, with some money put aside, he bought a small home himself, a “fixer-upper” to fix up. The plan was to resell it when he finished.

His find was not in the attic or basement. It was fortunate he was a remodeler, as otherwise he never would have found it. When he started pulling the walls off his 1938 house, he found old newspapers which had been used as insulation. He also found something else. Hidden in the walls was a copy of Action Comics #1, published in 1938.

To those not aficionados of comic books, that may not mean anything. To those who are, it is the “holy grail” of comic book collecting. It is the most valuable comic book ever sold. A copy sold for over $2 million at auction recently. This comic is no joke. What makes it valuable is that Action Comics #1 introduced the character of Superman to the world. He remains without peer. There have been many other superheroes introduced over the years, and Batman could give him a run for his money, but ultimately, there is only one superest of the super, and that is Superman. Clark Kent could not have imagined what he was starting when first he put on a cape in a phone booth (aside: where does Superman dress now that everyone uses cell phones?).

Now, Mr. Gonzales' copy is not worth $2 million. That copy was the best one known, a 9 on the 10-point comic grading scale. This copy only comes in at a 2. Seventy years in the walls can do this to you. Actually, it was probably not so much the years in the walls, where darkness preserved its colors, but the lack of care exhibited in sticking it in the walls in the first place. It was somewhat brittle and not as clean and smooth as a copy off the rack. According to the wire services, something else happened after he found it. Reportedly, a relative handled it and wanted a cut of the money, leading to a dispute in which the back cover was torn. Doing that was the equivalent of tearing up thousand-dollar bills, many of them.

Nonetheless, Mr. Gonzales still realized he had something special here, though he did not know how special. He took the comic to a comic book dealer, and then to Comic Connect. Comic Connect is a noted online comic auction house. They recognized just how valuable it is. Even a first edition Superman with a 2 rating is valued at $110,000. They put it up for sale. Bidders recognized its value too. They saw $110,000 as way too much of a bargain for this copy. When the bidding closed on June 11, the price realized was $175,000. Mr. Gonzales could not have dreamed of even a small fraction of this amount to be made on the house. However, he is not selling it. The auction house reported that he plans to finish fixing the house, but “swears he will never sell it.” As for the money lost to the damage, he apparently doesn't mind. He told a reporter that money does not mean that much to him. He would rather work for his money.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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