Bid to $1.05m (£813,955) in a November 21-23 sale held by Heritage (20% buyer’s premium) was the finest known copy of the very first Marvel comic.
Even at that price it is not quite in the same league as the first Superman comic, a copy of which made $3.2m on eBay some years ago, but it is certainly the most expensive Marvel comic ever sold and set a house record for the Texas saleroom.
Published in 1939, it featured the first appearances of the Human Torch, Kazak and Angel, along with the first news-stand appearance of Sub-Mariner. The cover art reproduces the work of SF/pulp artist Frank Paul and that of several other ‘Golden Age’ comics illustrators is featured elsewhere on its pages.
This exceptional copy also had what is known as a Windy City pedigree, the name given to comics from a collection that was introduced to the market by a Chicago dealer, Gary Colabuono, but had been assembled by a Pennsylvania postman. Beginning in the 1940s, he purchased every #1 issue he could of both comic books and magazines.
To put that grade in perspective, there is only one other comic among ‘Golden Age’ issues that has been rated 9.4 by the Certified Guaranty Company (CGC), the world’s largest and most widely accepted comic book grading service.
The original black and white version of Neil Adams’ cover art for Issue No 251 of DC’s Batman comic (published in September 1973), one that included the return after several years of what was described as a “more lethal than laughable” version of the Joker, made $500,000 (£387,595).
Batman was nevertheless edged into third place in the Heritage price lists by an iconic work of a very different kind.
Sold at $575,000 (£445,735) was what the saleroom called Robert Crumb’s “Stoned Agin!” cultural icon. An image that many Americans would recognise, even if they had not heard the name R Crumb, it was described by Heritage as the classic, hippy-era defining artwork and one of the most recognisable images to ever appear in their auctions.
“If you were in your late teens or twenties any time during the 1970s, you likely saw this absolutely iconic image posted up on a wall somewhere … it’s what your parents warned you would happen - getting high will make your head melt!“
Making its very first market appearance, this was the holy grail for serious Crumb collectors. The signed artwork was acquired directly from its creator around the time of its initial publication in 1971 and was traded for some rare old blues 78s, which Crumb began collecting in his teens.
In dollar terms at least it is not quite the most expensive Crumb lot ever seen at auction. In May 2017 an artwork for one of his earlier creations, Fritz the Cat – seen cosying up with his girlfriend, Charlene, in a 1969 publication – made $600,000 (then £465,115) at Heritage.