Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2010 Issue

The One-and-a-Half Million-Dollar Comic Book

Action1super

The $1,500,000 comic book.


By Michael Stillman

It may be a comic, but this story is no joke. If you weren't mad at your mother for throwing out your old comic books before, you may be now. A copy of an old comic sold on the online auction site Comic Connect a few weeks ago for $1.5 million.

Of course, this was no L'il Lulu, no Nancy and Sluggo. This was Superman, Man of Steel (though this comic book was no steal). It was the first appearance of America's first superhero, Action Comics #1, published in June 1938. Just a year ago, a copy of this comic book sold to the drummer from the rock band System of a Down for the astronomical price of $317,000. Who would have thought at the time it was a bargain? In March, the $1 million mark for a comic book was pierced for the first time when another copy of this first edition sold for a cool mil. (this comic may be desirable, but it doesn't appear all that rare). Superman was outpaced a few days later by Batman, whose first comic sold for $1,075,000. Superman was not about to be outdone by his rival, hitting the $1,500,000 mark a short time later.

Can Bruce Wayne top that? Not any time soon, according to Comic Connect co-owner Vincent Zurzolo. "This new record will be hard to break," he explains, "because this particular Action Comics #1 is literally the single most valuable comic book on the planet." Certainly as of today it is the most valuable. Additionally, this copy grades a bit higher than the copy sold for just $1 million. It spent 50 years hidden inside a pile of other 1930s magazines, protected from air and light, before being discovered. It was then purchased by the previous owner, who held it for 17 years before selling it to the auctioneers. Who knows what it will be worth when the latest owner decides to sell.

Explaining the amazing price, Zurzolo said, "Some of today's most successful entrepreneurs were yesterday's comic geeks. They don't want a Van Gogh or Picasso. They want collectibles that mean something to them. Our society is built on pop culture. Superman, Spider-Man, Batman...they're the icons now."

When first issued, this comic sold for 10 cents. For those keeping track, that's a 1,500,000,000 (1.5 billion) percent return on investment. Annualized, that comes out to something in excess of 20 million percent per year. I doubt even a Gutenberg can match that.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> MITCHELL, John (1711-1768). A Map of the British and French Dominions in North America. Copperplate engraving with original hand color. London, 1755. $250,000 to $350,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Brown Pelican (Standing), Plate 251. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London, 1827-1838. $175,000 to $225,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Fish Hawk or Osprey, Plate 81. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London: 1827-1838. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> GONZALES DE MENDOZA, Juan (1545 - 1618). <i>The Historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China…</i> London, 1588. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> VERBIEST, Ferdinand (1623-1688). [World Map] Kun-Yu Ch'uan-Tu. Engraved twelve sheet map with vertical sections joined to form six sheets. Korea, Seoul, c. 1860. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> SANGGI, Chong (1678-1752). Korean Atlas. Manuscript map on mulberry bark paper. C. 1750-1790. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Plate 66. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London, 1827-1838. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AKERMAN, Anders (1721-1778). & AKREL, Frederik (1779-1868). Pair of Celestial and Terrestrial Globes. Stockholm, c. 1800. 23 inch diameter, each. $60,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> BENNETT, Lieut. William Pyt (d. in action, 1916). AN IMPORTANT AND APPARENTLY UNPUBLISHED SERIES OF GELATIN SILVER PHOTOGRAPHS OF LHASA AND TIBET TAKEN DURING THE CELEBRATED YOUNGHUSBAND MISSION OF 1904. $60,000 to $80,000

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