If you are a comic book collector who has been collecting for a considerable amount of time, then you have a story similar to the one I’m about to tell. The reverse of it is also true–those instances when you had an opportunity to come into a bevy of old comic books but the moment somehow got away from you. (I can remember when I was a child, my grandmother telling me about how a neighbor of hers had sold her son’s comic books at a garage sale that week for a nickel apiece, and how they had moved so quickly, the price was swiftly raised to 15 cents a piece. And how I stewed over the fact that she hadn’t thought to buy any of them for me. What wonders might have been in that assortment of comics?)
But inevitably, if you do this for long enough, if people know that you collect old comic books, there is some point at which you step into a real windfall. This is my story.
It happened around 1988 if I’m remembering it correctly. I was active in a number of fanzines and APAs, and was also trading video tape copies with other collectors as I pursued my interest in Japanese Anime. So I don’t remember the reason why I was at the Post Office that weekday afternoon, but it was probably in order to send out a package involving one of those things. This was back during my college days. There was a bit of a line in that Newark, Delaware post office that day, so the whole process was taking a bit of time. And that more than anything is why I saw it.
There was a guy a ways ahead of me who was packaging up a Golden Age issue of HUMAN TORCH COMICS to send through the mail.
I’m not 100% certain after all of this time, but I believe it was this issue, #27, that he was packing up. Now, I wasn’t an outgoing or talkative personality at that point in my life, so it must have been the allure of that book and its hypnotic call to me that led to what happened next. I went over to the guy and struck up a conversation with him, totally out of character for me. I told him that it was a nice book, and he related that he was trading it for another rare comic–I forget which at this point. The guy was older than me, in his late 30s or 40s I would guess, and I got the impression that he didn’t have anybody locally to talk to about his hobby, so he was enthusiastic to carry on a conversation about his comic book collecting.
He (it’s been long enough now that I sadly forget his name. I’m a bad person.) was the first person that I knew of who operated as a collector in a speculating fashion. He wasn’t buying any new comics, but he was reading the Comics Buyer’s Guide newspaper every week, and was well aware of the value of different older books. He also wasn’t sinking a lot of money into his hobby per se–I remember that he was married with at least one, possibly two kids. So the way he went about things was that he was “trading upwards.” He would buy a particular old book, and then work to trade it for something better. In this manner, he only ever had a relatively small assortment of comic books in his possession at any given time, but the core of his collection was growing ever more valuable and interesting to him. This approach on his part was part of what inspired the stunt I did on my old Marvel blog where I traded five random junk comics with fans across the globe until I wound up with a FANTASTIC FOUR #1.
Anyway, this fellow told me that he had a bunch of books that he was looking to unload, stock that he’d gotten in trade that he had no use or interest in (he was very much focused on Golden Age material first and foremost) and while he had already submitted a classified ad to the Buyer’s Guide offering to sell his wares, if I wanted to I could come over to his place that weekend and take a look at what he had. And so I made arrangements to do so.
My memory is that he lived in a single floor Ranch-style home in a decent but not affluent part of the State. He was ready for my arrival and had a long box set up on his dining room table. He told me that he was looking to get $50.00 for it–which I believe was more cash than I had come with. But I took a look through the box–and my eyes bugged out just a little bit. It was an assortment of Silver Age comic books, all of them super hero titles, all of them Marvel and DC books, all from the early 1960s. There were around 150 books in total–which meant that he was asking for a sales price of three-for-a-dollar.
I raced out to a local ATM machine to pull out fifty bucks and was back in a shot. And I took that box of Silver Age comics home with me. It was a treasure trove, one that took me a month or two to read through. Among the books that were in it were things like AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #7 and #17, GREEN LANTERN #7 and #8, FANTASTIC FOUR #29-32 and JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #15-20, among others. It was a windfall the likes of which I haven’t experienced since, and it came my way entirely thanks to being in the right place at the right time, and opening my mouth.
After going through the whole of the box, I found that I had doubles of six books–they were all back issues that I had purchased myself earlier. And so I wound up selling them to another comic book reader I knew who worked alongside me at the Roy Rogers fast food restaurant where I part-timed in order to make ends meet. And while you might reasonably suspect that I made a very nice profit on those six books, the truth is that I let him have them for two bucks–the same three-for a buck price that I’d gotten them for. That only seemed right to me.
I wound up talking to that collector again occasionally–he would call me from time to time when he’d gotten other stuff in hand that he was looking to unload. But nothing else ever came close to this lot in terms of rarity and abundance. A lot of it wound up being books I already had and didn’t need, and so I couldn’t help him out by taking it off his hands. But he was a nice fellow throughout, and I suspect simply happy to have somebody else to talk about this stuff with. That said, the age difference definitely made me feel uneasy, so it wasn’t a friendship I pursued that avidly.
All of this is really just background and preamble to the fact that I’m going to be starting to write about these 150 or so comic books under the heading of Windfall Comics (or WC) beginning tomorrow. That ought to give me a lot of material to go over, and at the rate I’m slowly moving through my buying history in the BHOC installments, we’ll all be dead before I could get to these books otherwise. So these entries should start out with one tomorrow and continue semi-weekly from there out.