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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Dick Sprang file copy of Batman No 1. Sold for $21,850. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
I’m sitting at my desk looking at 8-by-10 photos of comic book covers. In walks my 7-year-old. He takes the photos out of my hand and studies them with the same reverence I see when he watches “Scooby-Doo” on TV.

“Where did you get these,” he blurts out? “This is really cool.”

“They’re photos for a story I’m writing on comic books.”

“I thought you just wrote about dumb stuff,” he says.

So there it is. Even his mom can hit a homerun sometimes. Comic books link generations just like family photo albums and penny candy. Not to mention the added draw of beaming readers up into a terrestrial sphere of superheroes and daring exploits.

Newspaper strips were actually the first examples of American comics. But the first series of comic books sold from newspaper racks, in stores, were the Famous Funnies, featuring humorous characters like Joe Palooka. Comics like these appeared in 1934, for 10-cents a copy, and were published monthly for 20-years.

The real heyday for collectors started in 1939 with Action Comics No.1. It’s hard to ignore a brave man with supernatural powers, and that’s what Superman No.1 did for the comic book industry.

“Superman and Batman are the universally recognized heroes in the comic book industry,” says Jerry Weist, comic art consultant, Sotheby’s, New York. “But Superman comics are probably more valuable. Superman No.1 remains the turning- point comic book for the industry.”

On June 5, 1998, Sotheby’s held their eighth annual sale of comic books and comic art. The sale boasted more than 500 lots of comic books, original cover artwork and early newspaper strip art totaling $740,427.

A Superman No.1, 1939 comic book with covers detached and a 3-inch tear at the spine sold for $8,625. A collection of 32 Superman comics from the ‘40s and ‘50s realized $3,737.

The top lot in the comic book auction was The Dick Sprang (Batman artist) file copy of Batman No. 1, 1940, completely unrestored, selling for $21,850. This copy is the finest unrestored example of Batman No.1 Sotheby’s ever offered.
Other lots in the auction included Charles Schulz’s original art for Peanuts, Sunday page, May 1983, $2,300. Doc Winner’s Original Art for Popeye, Sunday page, 1938, sold for $1,380.

“The comic book collecting field has slowed in the last few years, but has never experienced a dramatic decline like coins and stamps,” says Weist. “The production of comic books is down, and 30 percent of the specialty stores carrying comics have gone out of business in the last five years.”

The big boom era for comics happened between 1981 and 1989. You could open any newspaper back then and see four-or-five comics like Batman, being made into movies. This helped fuel the comic book industry.

Like other collecting fields, the market contracts periodically, but never takes a nose- dive.

“The language of comic books draws people in and takes them back to childhood,” says Weist. “The artwork and writing reflect the culture. There’s an enormous range of interest here.”

How can you predict value?

Cover price and condition are the critical components. The comic books produced before 1958, in good condition, are what collectors look for.

If you see a 10-cent price on the cover, it was made before 1962. A 12-cent price indicates a printing date of 1963-65. Any higher price on the cover would require excellent condition to be of much value now.

Q. I have a marble bust of the goddess “Daphne.” She is 24 inches high and weighs about 250 pounds. The statue was given to my mother in the early-1900s. No signature. How can we clean her? What about value? H.F.Y. North Versailles, Pa.

A. Signature and age mean everything here. Take her outside in the sunlight and look closely once again for a signature.

You might want to have someone look at this sculpture firsthand. She may have significant value, and it would be worth the cost of an appraisal to find out for sure.

Be careful cleaning this bust. I would suggest a little distilled water on a damp cloth.

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