Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2012 Issue

Another Hugely Successful Comic Book Sale

Heritagebatman2-12

The first appearance of Batman took in over half a million dollars.

When our mothers threw out our old comic book collections years ago, we all breathed a sigh of resignation, and moved on. It was not until many years later that we really began to wonder if she did the right thing. Comic books began to show up as collectibles, bringing in prices worthy of investing in a few decades of storage in the attic. In short order, those triple digit prices began climbing to six digits. The wonder turned to astonishment. In the past few years, we have seen comic books pass the $1 million mark (usually for a first appearance of Superman), and last year one even surpassed $2 million. It may be baffling, but the time has come to move past bewilderment to understanding.

In late February, Heritage Auctions held a comic book sale. Most of the top items came from the collection of Billy Wright, an obscure collector who began buying comics as a child in the late 1930s and kept them for the rest of his life. Wright died in 1994. Somehow, he managed to hide them from his mother (actually, it appears that Wright's mother was one of those people who saved everything he owned, perhaps the sentimentality explained by Wright being an only child). Wright had no children and never talked about his collection. His grand-nephew discovered it years later while cleaning up the basement. Even then, it took a while before he realized the value of what he had uncovered.

Nothing in Billy Wright's collection broke the old record price for a comic book, not even close. At just over half a million dollars, the top item was less than one-fourth the all-time record. No, what made this auction special was the total volume of dollars bid. Almost $8.8 million was taken in during the auction. This really says more than does a couple of obsessed collectors chasing a first appearance of Superman. What this auction showed is the depth of comic book collecting. It takes more than a few very wealthy, intense aficionados to pull this off. It requires a substantial base of dedicated collectors. Comic book collecting has come of age.

The numbers, really, are quite astounding. How often is there a sale of regular books that takes in $8.8 million? What printed books can bring in $2,161,000, as did a copy of Superman last year? Other than an Audubon elephant folio, or a Shakespeare first folio (or a Gutenberg if one ever appears for sale again), not many. This is even more remarkable considering comic books were printed in large quantities (often hundreds of thousands if not more), they are relatively recent, come with no dust jackets, expensive bindings or anything better than cheap paper, and the expensive copies aren't even signed or inscribed. They are just comic books that could be bought for a dime six or seven decades ago. How many printed books with such attributes sell for the prices we are seeing for comic books today?

The explanation surely resides with their familiarity to the current crop of collectors, often from, or close to, the baby boom generation. This is what they grew up with. These are the “books” they purchased when young, read in their rooms at night, collected on their shelves (until Mom threw them out). Comics are a part of their lives. Some people collect others' lives, but increasingly, we collect our own lives, especially our childhood. While I have no statistical evidence to support this, I'm going to go out on a limb and say more of us read Superman than Proust when we were young. I'm not saying this is a good or a bad thing. It just is. Consequently, if we are very wealthy, we shell out $2 million for Superman, but something less for Marcel.

At the top of the Heritage auction was Detective Comics #27 from 1939. This one featured the first appearance of Superman's top competitor over the years for preeminent superhero status – Batman. Batman added a bit of strangeness to the typical, all-American type of superhero represented by Superman. As a result, he fit more easily into the darker images that made him the bigger draw at the box office in recent years. Bruce Wayne does better at the theater, though Clark Kent is still the top draw in comic books. This first of Batman took in $522,813, well beyond its estimate of $200,000.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 13:</b> Emil Cardinaux, <i>Winter in der Schweiz,</i> 1921. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 13:</b> Evelyn Rumsey Carey, <i>Pan American Exposition / Niagara / Buffalo,</i> 1901. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 13:</b> Arnost Hofbauer, <i>Topicuv Salon,</i> 1898. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 13:</b> Alphonse Mucha, <i>Job,</i> 1896. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 13:</b> Georges de Feure, <i>Le Journal des Ventes,</i> 1898. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 13:</b> Alphonse Mucha, <i>Cycles Perfecta,</i> 1897. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 13:</b> Edward Penfield, <i>Orient Cycles / Lead the Leaders,</i> circa 1895. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 13:</b> Adrien Barrère, <i>L’Ideal du Touriste,</i> 1903. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 13:</b> Willem Frederick Ten Broek, <i>New York / Wereldtentoonselling / Holland – Amerika Lijn,</i> 1938. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 13:</b> Dwight Clark Shepler, <i>Sun Valley / Union Pacific.</i> $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 13:</b> Sascha Maurer, <i>Flexible Flyer Splitkein / Smuggler’s Notch,</i> circa 1935. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 13:</b> Louis Bonhajo, <i>Vote / League of Women Voters,</i> 1920. $2,000 to $3,000.
  • <b>Morton Subastas: Auction of Books by Explorers and Travelers, Maps, Landscapes, Science, and Religion<br>Tuesday, January 28th, 2020<br>5:00 p.m. (CST)</b>
    <b>Morton Subastas, Jan. 28:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> London, 1859. First Edition. Letter Addressed to Dr. Ogle and Envelope Signed by Charles Darwin. $278,000 to $333,000.
    <b>Morton Subastas, Jan. 28:</b> Ortelij, Abrahami. <i>Epitome Theatri Orbis Terrarum.</i> Antuerpiae: Exstat in Officina Plantinian, 1612. Rare Edition. $5,560 to $6,670.
    <b>Morton Subastas, Jan. 28:</b> González de Mendoza, Juan. <i>Histoire du Grand Royaume de la Chine, Situé Aux Indes Orientales.</i> [Genève]: 1606. $1,670 to $2,230.
    <b>Morton Subastas: Auction of Books by Explorers and Travelers, Maps, Landscapes, Science, and Religion<br>Tuesday, January 28th, 2020<br>5:00 p.m. (CST)</b>
    <b>Morton Subastas, Jan. 28:</b> Chapman, Conrad Wise. <i>Landscape of the Valley of Mexico.</i> Oil on wood. Signed and dated. $26,120 to $30,560.
    <b>Morton Subastas, Jan. 28:</b> <i>Thesaurus Exorcismorum...</i> Coloniae, 1608. Collection of Six Works of the Most Important Franciscan Exorcists of the 16th Century. $1,670 to $2,230.
    <b>Morton Subastas, Jan. 28:</b> <i>Saggio delle Transazioni Filosofiche della Società Regia.</i> Napoli, 1729-1734. With a Map of California by Eusebio Kino. $1,120 to $1,440.
    <b>Morton Subastas: Auction of Books by Explorers and Travelers, Maps, Landscapes, Science, and Religion<br>Tuesday, January 28th, 2020<br>5:00 p.m. (CST)</b>
    <b>Morton Subastas, Jan. 28:</b> Scherer, Heinrich. <i>Delineatio Nova et Vera Partis Australis Novi Mexici, cum Australi Parte Insulae Californiae...</i> Münich, ca. 1700. $850 to $1,120.
    <b>Morton Subastas, Jan. 28:</b> Santacilia, Jorge Juan-Ulloa, Antonio de. <i>A Voyage to South America. Describing at Large, the Spanish Cities...</i> London, 1760. $890 to $1,120.
    <b>Morton Subastas, Jan. 28:</b> Limborch, Philippi. <i>Historia Inquisitionis Cui Subjungitur Liber Sententiarum Inquisitionis Tholosanae...</i> Amsterdam, 1692. $1,340 to $1,670.
    <b>Morton Subastas: Auction of Books by Explorers and Travelers, Maps, Landscapes, Science, and Religion<br>Tuesday, January 28th, 2020<br>5:00 p.m. (CST)</b>
    <b>Morton Subastas, Jan. 28:</b> Castro, C. - Campillo, J. - Cumplido, I. - Lauda, L. - Rodríguez G. <i>Mexico and Its Surroundings.</i> Méx, 1855-56. $5,000 to $5,560.
    <b>Morton Subastas, Jan. 28:</b> <i>Medical Gazette. Periodical of the National Academy of Medicine of Mexico...</i> México, 1864 - 1943. Pieces: 169. $1,340 to $1,560.
  • <b>Bonhams:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>Measure for Measure</i> (extracted from the First Folio). London, 1623. Sold for $52,575.
    <b>Bonhams:</b> HAWTHORNE, NATHANIEL. <i>Fanshawe, A Tale.</i> Boston, 1828. FIRST EDITION OF AUTHOR'S FIRST BOOK. Sold for $47,575.
    <b>Bonhams:</b> THOREAU, HENRY DAVID. <i>Walden; Or, Life in the Woods.</i> Boston, 1854. FINE COPY OF THE FIRST EDITION. Sold for $12,575.
    <b>Bonhams: </b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies.</i> London, 1685. THE FOURTH FOLIO, Brewster/Bentley issue. Sold for $43,825.
    <b>Bonhams:</b> STEIG, WILLIAM. Original maquette and 58 finished drawings for <i>The Agony in the Kindergarten,</i> one of Steig's most important books. Sold for $12,575.
    <b>Bonhams:</b> KING, STEPHEN. <i>Carrie.</i> New York, 1974. INSCRIBED FIRST EDITION, OF AUTHOR'S FIRST BOOK. Sold for $1,912.50.
    <b><center>Bonhams<br>Consignments invited (2020)</b>
    <b>Bonhams:</b> APPLE MACINTOSH PROTOTYPE. 1983. The earliest known Macintosh with "Twiggy" drive, one of only two known working machines. Sold for $150,075.
    <b>Bonhams:</b> LOVELACE, AUGUSTA ADA. Sketch of the Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage Esq. London, 1843. FIRST EDITION, JOURNAL ISSUE, MOST IMPORTANT PAPER IN EARLY DIGITAL COMPUTING. Sold for $15,075.
    <b>Bonhams:</b> APPLE-1 COMPUTER. Signed by Steve Wozniak, used in development of Apple II. Sold for $175,075.
    <b>Bonhams:</b> DARWIN, CHARLES. 1809-1882. <i>On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection.</i> London, 1859. FIRST EDITION. Sold for $131,325.
    <b>Bonhams:</b> BOOLE, GEORGE. <i>An Investigation of the Laws of Thought.</i> London, 1854. Sold for $12,575.
    <b>Bonhams:</b> SHANNON, CLAUDE and WARREN WEAVER. <i>The Mathematical Theory of Communication.</i> Urbana, 1949. Sold for $27,575.

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