MAD MONEY: MAKING FUN OF VIRTUE HAS ITS OWN REWARD
Mad cover art to No. 231 sold for $3,162. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
The gap-toothed, grinning kid with the face from an old postcard never seems to stop squeezing the blemishes of the powers that be.
Some call Alfred E. Neuman an American folk hero. Others call him an imbecile. Whatever you might think, this acidic mascot helped win over the hearts of millions in MAD Magazine and boosted circulation to staggering heights.
Today the magazine is published nine times a year and read around the world in more than 26 countries. Mad is sarcastic, puncturing, funny, outrageous, and philosophical.
“MAD wiped out pomposity from American lecterns, pulpits, print and screen,” says Joe Orlando, vice president and associate publisher of MAD. “When you hear that giggle from the back of the room, it’s MAD laughter.”
That giggle helped lighten up a culture dealing much too seriously with issues ranging from the Cold War to racism. “What, me worry?” is Neuman’s stock line. MAD’S political and social satire was made to order for caustic views of the universe.
Before MAD all comic books were fantasy. The original MAD comic book filled a void with sarcasm and parody. The magazine shifted the focus from superheroes like Captain Marvel to everyday heroines like Angela Lansbury. Rooted in reality, people could relate.
“I’d always being doing satire in school, in the streets, it was my kind of clowning,” says Harvey Kurtzman, originator of MAD magazine.
“When I wanted to win popularity, I’d draw a cartoon...So I proposed the format for MAD, I proposed the title, made little sketches and showed them to Bill Gaines (publisher), and he said, “Go ahead!” The format would make fun of comic books as they were at that particular period.”
This was 1950, the beginning of a pretty uptight decade. Kurtzman’s scathing irreverence of mass media and celebrities found a nesting place in the dissent of high school, and college students.
By 1955, Gaines converted MAD to a 25-cent black and white magazine. Circulation hit 2 million in the 1960s. Alfred E. Neuman’s timeless face showed up for the first time in July 1955.
Over the years, MAD’S target has pretty much stayed the same. Any kid who watches TV and goes to the movies can grasp the point in a hurry. As the subscription card says, “Yes! I want fun! I want humor! I want excitement! But since I can’t get any of those things, I’ll take a subscription to MAD.”
More than 200 collectors packed Sotheby’s main salesroom on Oct. 20, 1995, hoping to snatch a piece of original artwork from MAD magazine. Nearly all of the 400 pieces in the auction sold.
This included cover art of MAD’S Alfred E. Neuman to hilarious satires of major film stars of the 1970s and 1980s. The sale totaled $8.3 million.
The star lot of the day was Norman Mingo’s “Cover Art to the Ninth Annual Edition of The Worst of MAD,” dated 1966. Alfred E. Neuman and caricatures of every major rock`n’ roll star of the 1960s, including Elvis, the Beatles, and Frank Sinatra appeared.
The lot went to a private Chicago collector for $19,550. Don Martin’s “Color Poster Art for The Beatles” from MAD Super Special No.2 sold for $7,475. Bill Gaines’ desk from the MAD office brought $7,475.
Q. I have a Nippon vase that originally belonged to my mother and before her my grandmother. How do you go about valuing Nippon? Suzanne Cavanagh, Carnegie, Pa.
A. It’s a good feeling to reach for a book that’ll pretty much tell you everything there is to know about Nippon. The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Nippon Porcelain is such a book.
The recently published third series features colored photos of vases, dinnerware patterns, tea strainers, celery dishes, sugar shakers, compotes, chocolate sets, tankards, etc. The book also lists current prices and techniques that were used in making Nippon and highlights the unusual examples.
Published by Collector Books, you can probably pick it up at a Border’s bookstore near you. If you’re serious about Nippon, it’s worth taking a look.
Most older pieces of Nippon date from 1890 until 1921. Prior to 1891, items imported into the U.S. were not required to be back stamped with the country of origin. This was the Nippon era.
In 1921, the government reversed its position and decided Nippon was a Japanese word and the pottery must be marked “Japan” or “Made in Japan.” Like most laws there were loopholes and sometimes during importation only the box carrying the piece got marked. So you will see unmarked Nippon too.
A marked piece of Nippon usually fetches a higher price than an unmarked piece. As with any collectible, you want to study each example you see in terms of quality and condition. This will tip you off to the choicest examples.
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