Treasures: Super prices no comic con
In 2010, a hard-up American couple found a box of vintage comics in the attic when they were clearing their home out for the receivers. Amongst a number of comics of no particular value was a first issue of Action Comics, dated 1938. It showed Superman smashing a car on the cover and was then valued around $1.5m.
Superman certainly saved their day.
"Really valuable American comics are rare in Ireland because we didn't have the distribution," says Robert Curley of Sub City in Dublin. He grew up with the brightly coloured superheroes of Marvel Comics, available in Irish newsagents in the 1960s and 1970s. And yes, miracles do happen.
"When I opened my first stall in 1993, a woman in her 70s came in with a pile of comics that she had inherited from someone whose house she used to clean," says Curley.
"I didn't have the money to buy them so I went to the owner of the market and asked him for a loan. It was a mixture of innocence and cheekiness, but I sold enough of the comics to pay him back that same afternoon. It was a dream experience."
One of the comics was Fantastic Four #48 (1966) -the comic in which the Silver Surfer made his first appearance. "I wish I'd kept it," he says. Now, the comic could be worth €1,800.
The first appearance of a key character will always increase the value of a comic. Amazing Fantasy #15, featuring the first appearance of Spider-Man, is the Holy Grail of Marvel Comics and worth around €20,000. In contrast to scarce American titles, British comics came into Ireland by the crate-load, especially The Beano and The Dandy, both published by DC Thompson & Co in Dundee. Sometimes they were imported from Scotland, with import duty added. Before decimalisation, a tuppenny comic cost thruppence in Ireland.
"You can tell if an early comic was printed for the Irish market because it has a light red circle on the front cover with a 1d stamp," says Malcolm Phillips of Comic Book Auctions in the UK. "But this doesn't detract from the value. The stamp adds to the history of the item and an Irish collector might pay more for a comic with the stamp."
This September, Phillips sold a first issue of The Beano online for £17,300 (€24,000). The vendor had bought it at auction for £3,850 (€5,000) in September 2009 and, following the strong performance of early Beanos at auction over the last few months, decided to put this one up for sale. The comic was estimated to sell between £4,500 (€6,235) and £5,000 (€6,928) but competitive bidding pushed the price up. Eventually, it went to a Scottish collector. Only 16 or 17 first issues of the Beano are known to survive.
"Never be without a Beano!" went the strap line across the front of the best-known comic title in these islands since 1938. So true. The Beano, The Dandy and a scattering of other titles were the staples of childhood for some of us of a certain vintage through a golden age of largely British-produced comics, now faded and torn.
So when it comes to finding a big pile of old 30, 40 or 50-year-old comics in your attic, what might they be worth? It seems they can be worth thousands. Or they can be worth nothing. Just because a comic is old doesn't mean it's valuable. The big question for anyone who has uncovered a long-lost childhood stash is how do you tell the difference?
The first step to valuing vintage comics is to learn about the genre. So, before you try to sell your stash, spend time reading up on the Bash Street Kids or the Silver Surfer. I can think of worse ways to spend a wet weekend, even if the comics turn out to be worthless.
The Beano first came out on July 30, 1938 with a four-page flyer and a free Whoopee Mask. This particular comic still had its original flyer, but not the free gift, which might have added another ¤10,000 to the price. When a comic has the original free gift attached, it adds to the value but this is very rare. The first issue of The Dandy from 1937, with the free tin-plate whistle still attached, would be worth around €28,000.
The comics were defined by the distinctive work by artists like Leo Baxendale (the Bash Street Kids, Minnie The Minx) and the mysterious Dublin-based adventure artist Paddy Brennan (General Jumbo, Shipwrecked Circus) who contributed only on the basis that he would never be identified or interviewed.
"The first issue of a comic is always going to be the most valuable," says Phillips. "But the second is often rarer. There are at least 20 known copies of the first issue of The Dandy but less than 10 of the second one."
In the same way, issues of The Beano and The Dandy from the 1960s tend to be worth more than 1950s issues. This is because DC Thompson reduced the production of both comics between 1960 and 1964 when they brought in the competing titles, Topper and Beazer. Wartime issues are also more valuable as The Beano and The Dandy were published on alternate weeks because paper and ink were rationed.
Early issues of DC Thompson titles like girls' magazine, Judy, first published in 1960, and Princess Tina, published by IPC, are also collectible.
Condition is paramount and vintage comics are systematically graded. The best possible grade is Near Mint (NM) which means you can't tell it isn't new, but the system isn't entirely easy to follow.
Fine (F), for example, is a higher grade than Very Good (VG). There's a beginners' guide to the grading system on eBay, and websites like the UK version of the Comic Book Price Guide offer a reliable way of estimating the value of vintage comics. It costs around €20 for the year.
Ideally, a collectible comic will look as new as possible, without stains, rips or foxing. Rusting around the tin-plate staples is inevitable, although Phillips points out that early collectors anticipated this and removed the staples. Others had their early issues bound in a hard-backed volume. This doesn't detract from the price, even if the pages are trimmed, as the comics stay fresh in the binding.
For more info, see compalcomics.com, subcitycomics.ie, comicpriceguide.co.uk.
In the salesrooms...
An interesting set of medals is coming up for sale in Weldon's next auction, which takes place on Tuesday, November 3 at 2pm.
They were awarded to J Brunt, who worked in the Royal Irish Constabulary in the early years of the 20th century and he won them for his performance in the tug of war.
In 1902, he won a gold medal for tug of war in the Galway RIC Sports. The following year he retained the title. Each medal is for sale separately and estimated between €200 and €400.
He won four gold and silver RIC medals for tug of war in Ennis (1902 and 1903), Longford (1903) and Balmoral (1918). In 1911 he won gold and silver RIC medals at the Alhambra Shield Challenge (€200 to €400).
The auction also includes a large collection of Victorian jewellery and a number of pieces of modern jewellery. Full details on www.jwa.ie.
A 20p piece dating from 1985 has sold at Whyte's for €7,200. The coin was part of a sale of History, Literature and Collectibles which took place on October 17.
It was a rare example of a trial piece, produced before the coin was issued and given to various companies and organisations so they could check that the new coin would work in vending machines, telephones, and meters.
Only around 50 of 500 coins issued were not returned, which makes it one of the rarest modern Irish coins. It is even more coveted than the 1943 florin. This one came on the market via Telecom Éireann where someone, presumably, pressed Button B. Other top lots included the Easter Rising medal awarded to Patrick Farrell of the Irish Volunteers, which sold for €6,400 and a cased pair of Pádraig Pearse commemorative medals by Paul Vincze, which fetched €5,200.
The gong from the men's mess at Richmond Barracks, made from a shell from the HMY Helga, sold for €2,600.
The Taaffe family archive, a collection of letters and documents relating to one of the leading families of the Catholic landed gentry, sold at Mealy's Autumn Sale for a hammer price of €7,000 (€8722 including fees).
The collection, which carried an upper estimate of €5,000, included a number of letters written by George Taaffe from Sebastopol, where he served with British forces during the Crimean War.
Other interesting results included a carved Celtic limestone wall panel (above) (€3,500).