The Beano, one of the so-called New Big Five comics from Scottish publishing company DC Thomson which dominated the immediate postwar years, is the world’s longest-running comic weekly.
A trend-setter when it was first printed in July 1938 – embracing colour and focusing on the funnies more than drama – it published its 4000th issue in August 2019.
From Dennis and the Softies to Lord Snooty, The Beano remains a key cultural reference for many Brits, something that will be recognised at the august surrounds of Somerset House with an exhibition of items plundered from the Thomson archives, plus contemporary artwork inspired by some of its most memorable characters. Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules runs from October 21 to March 6.
A similar level of nostalgia exists in the collecting world where demand outstrips supply for early editions, annuals, original artwork and free gifts. Here, with the help of a selection of 10 items sold by Malcolm Phillips (above) of Comic Book Auctions, we provide some of the market-defining prices for Beano collectors across the past two decades.
1. Beano No 1 (1938): £15,200 in September 2015
Priced at 2d, the first issue of The Beano was released on July 26, 1938. It carried as a front cover story, Big Eggo the Ostrich with Little Peanut, a caricatured Afro-Caribbean boy, to the masthead. It was an immediate success, selling roughly 443,000 copies.
However, today there are only around 30 surviving examples of Beano No 1, not enough to satisfy the number of avid collectors. Prices for good copies rose in the 21st century, reaching a high watermark of £15,200 for a ‘very good’ example sold to a Scottish collector in 2015 in a timed online auction on thesaleroom.com.
It was offered with the four-page promotional flyer that was issued with No 1 and No 2 and slipped inside copies of Hotspur, Adventure, Rover, Skipper and Wizard.
A mini comic in its own right, it is worth £200- 300 on its own but much more when it is sold together with a ‘parent’ comic.
Trophy comics such as this can attract the attention of a wider collecting audience: prices for British comics still pale in comparison with Golden and Silver Age American comics and in relative terms represent value for money. The last Beano No 1 offered for sale (£8700, 2019) sold to a buyer of comic rarities in Singapore.
Although not priced at quite the same level, some of the other very early issues of the comic are rarer still. A smaller print run means fewer examples of Beanos 2-10 survive.
2. Beano No 1 (1938) with Whoopee Mask: £6820 in February 1999
Only one example of the felt fabric Whoopee Mask given as a free gift in Beano No 1 is known to exist.
Phillips said: “When the vendor, a charming elderly gentleman from Cardiff, first showed the comic to me over a cup of tea in our office, the mask fell out of the comic onto the floor in front of me. ‘I thought you’d like that…’ he said. I was speechless.”
This was the item that put Beano collecting on the map when, to national news coverage, it was sold for £6820. It would bring more than £20,000 today.
The record for any British comic, also held by Comic Book Auctions, remains with the Beano’s slightly earlier DC Thomson stablemate. In 2004, CBA took £18,500 for a copy of the December 1937 first issue of the Dandy that still retained the promotional free gift, an ‘Express Whistler’.
3. Beano No 36 (1938) with free gift Big Bang Fun-Gun: £950 in September 2015
The ‘free gifts’ issued with early editions of The Beano were intentionally sporadic. Indeed, due to rationing, issue 90 (offering a liquorice ‘black eye’) would be the last issue with a gift for close to 20 years.
As this copy of Beano No 36 suggests, the survival of any of the early gifts adds massively to the appeal and the value. As a general rule, all copies of The Beano from the 1930s-40s are considered scarce, particularly those published in wartime when paper was rationed and recycling encouraged.
4. Lord Snooty and His Pals wartime propaganda artwork: £1200 in November 2014
Drastic changes occurred behind the scenes of The Beano during the Second World War: staff left to join the forces, paper rationing caused other New Big Five comics in the DC Thomson stable to fold and The Beano went fortnightly until July 23, 1949.
Its pages proved a splendid propaganda tool. Comic strips would encourage readers to help adults with the war effort and featured protagonists outsmarting the Axis leaders. It is rumoured that the Nazi high command were far from amused and even considered sending the Luftwaffe to bomb the factory. December 1945 marked a milestone: issue 272 became the first Beano issue to sell over a million copies.
Artwork from this period is scarce and very collectable: much from the Thomson storerooms was thrown into skips in the 1960s-70s before the collecting market began in earnest.
This wartime artwork by the prolific Dudley Watkins was published in November 1943. Hitler listens to a BBC radio broadcast and learns that Lord Snooty, Snitchy and Snatchy have built an aeroplane out of scrap aluminium. The Fuhrer sends Goering to capture it but he’s scared of ‘der Spitfires’.
December 1945 marked a milestone: issue 272 became the first Beano issue to sell over a million copies.
5. Magic-Beano Book (1943): £5600 in May 2017
With the demise of DC Thomson’s Magic comic after 80 issues, its key characters, Koko, Peter Piper, The Tickler Twins and Sooty Snowball, co-starred in this first Magic-Beano annual. The propaganda back cover features Tootsy McTurk’s ‘V’ for Victory sign in morse code.
This copy with ‘bright unblemished fresh boards and spine with minimal wear’ is the highest grade copy ever offered at auction.
Early Beano annuals, the first issued around the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, were published in relatively small numbers due to paper rationing. However, as a bound book rather than a paper comic they survive in decent numbers. Condition is thus the key factor in pricing.
6. Magic Lollipops original artwork strip from Beano 358 (1949): £165 in March 2019
The Beano was a pioneer in that it only contained comic strips in the style of American papers ‘gag-a-day’. The prose-written adventure stories and serial fiction that were common to most other British comics were shelved.
Little remembered today but a regular in the 1940s was The Magic Lollipops drawn by Allan Morley (1895-1960). The example came from the collection of comic book art owned by comedian Bob Monkhouse (1928-2003).
7. Beano No 452: £200-400
The end of the war ushered in a new era for the comic, debuting a new generation of troublemaking kids: Minnie the Minx, The Bash Street Kids (originally named When the Bell Rings), Roger the Dodger and Dennis the Menace.
Anarchic edgy characters pushed sales of The Beano to soar over a million.
Beano No 452 (March 17 1951) heralds the first appearance of Dennis (he was not the regular front cover feature until 1977). Depending on condition a copy can make between £200-400. Other 1951 issues typically cost around £15-25 each.
8. Dennis The Menace original artwork by Davy Law from Beano 477 (1951): £1200 in November 2009
Dennis was the brainchild of Davy Law (1908- 71), who gave the mischief maker his distinctive red-and-black-striped jersey, outsized shoes, and devilish grin. The character was an immediate hit.
Artwork from this period is equally scarce as much was destroyed when DC Thomson moved in the 1970s. Some was saved by Dundee residents who took folders of material from skips outside the building.
Law, who went on to create Beryl the Peril, a similarly anarchic female character, for the Topper in 1953, drew the Dennis the Menace cartoon strip until 1970.
9. A complete run of 52 issues from the year 1952: £2950 in September 2018
Condition is everything in comic collecting. Typically most will be offered for sale with a grading and reference to imperfections such as tears, loose pages or rust marks from staples. The ‘investment grade’ comics are those rated ‘very good’, ‘fine’, ‘very fine’ or ‘near mint’.
Pricing increases incrementally. The rarity of comics in excellent condition can mean a price tenfold that of a less fortunate survivor.
The copies in this complete run of 52 issues from 1952, bound together in a single volume, are rated ‘very fine’ to ‘near mint’.
10. Biffo the Bear front cover artwork for a summer special: £3410 in September 2010
Biffo the Bear, another Dudley Watkins creation from 1948, debuted as cover star on the 327th issue, replacing Big Eggo whose appeal had begun to wane. He was the mascot of The Beano for several decades.
This rare full-cover artwork was made to promote a summer special which was also included in the lot along with the original comic.
Phillips said: “The actual comic is dated June 28, 1969, so Dudley Watkins would have drawn and painted the cover a fortnight or so prior to publication – one of the last pieces he drew for The Beano as he died later that year on August 20.”
Similar Watkins front cover artworks featuring Biffo’s adventures have sold for £700-2700.