SUPERHEROES SUPER SELLERS: COMIC BOOKS AREN'T JUST KIDS' STUFF
Detective Comics No. 27 sold for $68,500. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
When I was a kid, it only took the spin of a wire rack at the neighborhood drugstore to open a world of intrigue and adventure. For 10-cents I could swoop down on the bad guys with Superman, hang out with Archie’s pals and gals, or ride off into the sunset with The Lone Ranger. Life never seemed so manageable.
Maybe that’s why comic books remain so much a part of childhood history and magic. If I blurted out a list, I bet you could remember exactly where you were when you read one of those comics. The memories just seem to hang around.
They hang around so much so that comic book collecting has become a pop culture mania. Estimates report more than 100,000 collectors around the country who buy, sell and trade. Cherished characters like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have even made the leap from mere paper to the big screen. The phenomenon seems to get bigger and bigger.
Comic book collecting allows people to open up a part of their childhood. “There is a passion about owning that keeps the market balanced as well,” says Jerry Weist, Sotheby’s specialist. “Comics have never experienced the kind of crash that stamps, coins or stocks have. People don’t panic and dump their comic books. The market may slow down and catch its breath, but never crashes.”
The auction room at Sotheby’s June 13 and 14, 1997, comic books and comic art auction included a cross-section of people. There were parents and children as well as doctors, lawyers and a professional classical musician.
“The myth of the comic book collector as the 17-year-old, white, overweight male just doesn’t hold up anymore,” says Weist.
There was some speculation before the sale about how things might go. Weist pointed out that the comic book market has softened in the last few years after a 1985 to 1995 boom.
The auction totaled $1.71 million. There were 632 lots offered and 79 percent sold. What helped was an extraordinary group of 4,000 comic books from the private collection of Dr. Jerry Buss, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team.
Golden Age comics, particularly unrestored examples, sold well as did Silver Age cover art and early newspaper strip artwork. Among the top lots were rare and historic examples including Fred Ray’s original cover artwork for Superman, No.17.
This is the earliest known surviving example of a Superman comic cover that has ever gone on the block; it sold for $36,800. “Ten years ago that piece would have sold for $7,500 or less,” says Weist.
Other lots included The “Cosmic Aeroplane” copy of Adventure Comics No. 40, July 1939. No. 40 is considered the rarest of all character origin issues within the DC Golden Age and brought $12,650.
Also, “Detective Comics” No. 27, May 1939. This copy was offered for sale at Sotheby’s first auction in 1991. It’s considered the finest unrestored copy on the market and sold for $68,500.
This auction offered something for every level of collecting. “The All-American Comics” Nos. 24, 28 and 29 with “Wonder Woman” No. 2, brought $920. Also, “Leading Comics” Nos.1, 8, 10, 13 and 36, realized $690.
If you want to get into the comic book collecting game, “study the field,” says Weist. He recommends “The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide,” published by Avon Books. “There is a lifetime of research inside.”
Q. I have enclosed a photo of a vase made by Doulton Burslem. I can’t find any information about it. Can you help? Carol Coletta, New Kensington, Pa.
A. If you look up Doulton Burslem in reference books, you’ll come up empty handed. If you look for Royal Doulton I think you’ll find the information.
Royal Doulton has been producing utility-type stoneware since 1815. The first factory was located in Lambeth, England. In 1882 a second factory was built in Burslem, England. Out of this factory came the notable character jugs, figurines and series ware.
Some of the different series include the Kingsware line introduced in 1899 and made until 1946. These flasks and flagons usually picture drinking scenes. They were designed as advertising items, limited editions and commemorative pieces.
Dickensware was made from 1911 through the 1940s and pictured many of Dicken’s favorite characters. There was also a Robin Hood and Shakespeare series.
Your Doulton vase is worth about $300-$500.
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