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Local man’s caped-crusader comic sure to sell for supercash

  • COURTESY OF HERITAGE AUCTION GALLERIES OF DALLAS
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A Hawaii man’s original copy of a 1939 comic book featuring the origin story of "The Bat-Man" could fetch a record-breaking price at auction next month.

Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas, which is handling the sale of the rare comic book, said last week the bidding already was up to $448,125, even though the sale catalog had yet to be mailed out. According to Barry Sandoval, the auction house’s director of operations for comics, the current bid means the item is assured of earning at least the second-highest price ever paid for a comic book at public auction.

Interest in the issue of Detective Comics No. 27, dubbed the "Aloha copy," should build when the comic book goes on display at the San Diego Comic-Con later this week, further whetting the appetites of collectors to submit their bids in time for the Aug. 5 and 6 Signature Comics and Comics Art Auction.

AUCTION INFO

The comics auction will start 8 a.m. Hawaii time on Aug. 5, and according to Barry Sandoval, bidding on the "Aloha copy" is expected to occur sometime between 8:30 and 9 a.m. Live video from the auction room will be streaming at www.HA.com/live.

"The vast majority of comic fans have never seen a Detective 27 in person," said Sandoval via e-mail. "It’s a real piece of pop culture history."

With all this attention on this rare original, it should be no surprise the Hawaii consignor wishes to remain anonymous and declined a Star-Advertiser request for an interview.

But a news release from Heritage Auctions said the mystery man was a college student when he bought the comic book in 1974 for $1,200 from a now-defunct local bookstore. In the man’s attempt to authenticate his investment, he tracked down the woman who had sold the Batman comic book to the store and confirmed she had bought the book from a local newsstand back in ’39, the release said.

"One day I went to a bookstore and the owner had just gotten it in," the Hawaii man is quoted as saying. "I went to the bank and pretty well emptied my savings. This was about 90 percent of all the savings I had put away from working part time since eighth grade. I give my father credit — in most cases, parents would have asked, ‘Are you crazy?’ But my dad just said, ‘It’s your money,’ and my friends just shook their heads. They couldn’t believe it."

Now the comic book is encased in a collector’s sealed plastic slab, waiting for a new owner — and to make the Hawaii man a whole lot of money. According to the news release, the consignor plans to use a significant portion his windfall to pay for his son’s college education.

ALL OF THE activity surrounding the "Aloha copy" was spurred on by two big-money sales of rare comic books in February, when an original copy of the first book featuring Superman, Action Comics No. 1 from 1938, sold for a cool million in a sale conducted by a New York City auction website. That amount was topped later that month when Heritage Auctions helped a consignor sell another copy of Detective Comics No. 27 — originally purchased for $100 in the late ’60s — for a record $1,075,500, the highest price ever paid for a comic book.

Just as the Hawaii man authenticated his purchase of the original comic book, Heritage Auctions had to do the same when the company got its hands on the "Aloha copy."

"We get many, many calls from people who have one of the many reprint editions of the comic, which are basically worthless," Sandoval said. "But this seller was an active collector at one point, so he knew the correct terminology to use and he had some other vintage comics as well. So my colleague David Tosh, who took the seller’s original call, had a pretty good idea that this was the real thing even before the seller e-mailed us a picture. From the picture we knew for sure it was the real thing."

Even then they had to make sure the comic book had no restoration work done on it, because "restored copies are worth much less." The Certified Guaranty Co. graded it 7.5 out of 10, Sandoval said.

"To really appreciate it, you would have to put it next to an average comic from that era. Most 1930s comics are in terrible condition. People just read them with no thought to future value. So, for example, usually on a Detective 27, all of the yellow areas on the front cover would be very smudgy, corners would be creased and that kind of thing," he said. "This copy does have tiny defects here and there. … For example, there’s a tiny tear at the top staple.

As for what the "Aloha copy" could finally sell for, Sandoval said it’s anyone’s guess.

"We are in uncharted territory since only one other (Detective No. 27) has ever been in this auction price range before. That is the real beauty of auctions: The price is not set artificially, (and) it’s the bidders who determine it."

 

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