When the Million Dollar Comic Went for Just a Hundred Bucks

Action Comics 1 debut of Superman2010 has been the year Superman has smashed records with sales of Action Comics #1 being made on ComicConnect.com of $1 million in February for a copy graded 8.0 by CGC and $1.5 million just a month later for a CGC 8.5. Today I popped into a time machine and read about times when it was just $100 book, and I’m sure condition wasn’t a concern, inside the pages of Newsweek Magazine, February 15, 1965.

In the article titled “Superfans and Batmaniacs” Newsweek notes that the “June 1938 issue of Action Comics, which introduced the immortal Superman to the lists of American folk idols … has since become a $100 collector’s item among the country’s band of first-edition comic-book fanatics.” Now 100 bucks was a lot of cabbage back in ’65, but I don’t think any inflation charts are going to try and sell me that my 100 then is going to net me a cool mill-plus today.

Newsweek spends over a full page discussing this strange breed of collector under their “Life and Leisure” banner likely shocking respectability at the time by comparing the comic collectors to rare stamp collectors. In an article where you can just tell the writer is restraining himself from using words like weirdo or nut-job it’s stated that “the movement has grown so large that last year Jerry Bails, a 31-year-old associate professor of natural science at Wayne State University’s Monteith College in Detroit founded the grandly named Academy of Comic-Book Fans and Collectors (membership: 1,200).”

“Comic-book cultists are fascinated by how the superheroes were born and developed,” Newsweek writes, before going on to spill the origins of Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel, I’d imagine far less universally known origins in 1965 than the folk hero status attached to at least Supes and Bats today. Pointing out the growth in these heroes’ popularity even back in 1965, Superman was then published in 9 different languages throughout 36 countries with a special shout-out given inside this article to Italy where he is called the Nembo Kid and doesn’t wear the red “S” on his chest because of Italy’s continued sensitivity about the concept of Supermen.

The article closes with a section titled “Disillusionment” describing purists worrying about their icons becoming camp. Batman serials from the 1940’s were then being shown “around New York at camp parties, and, in the words of writer Pete Hamill, ‘the clique slaps each other’s thighs in glee.'”

Further clouding the future for the comic collecting purists is the idea that some companies might be playing to this element: “A new hero called Spider-Man is a long-haired teen-ager named Peter Parker who lives with his aunt, keeps his ‘spidey outfit’ hidden in the attic …” Wow, period readers of this article are just under a year away from the appearance of the Batman television series, wonder how the purists of the day initially took to that!

Newsweek 1965 article about comic collecting

Why I Break Sets

Every so often, to a point approaching more often than not, when I announce that I’ve broke some fantastically rare or even relatively common set of cards I’ll receive a reply via twitter, blog comment, email wondering why I’ve done so. Usually the comment carries just enough flavor to let me know this is certainly the wrong thing to do.

Well, I did it with baseball cards way back when and I do it with movie cards today and I’ll do it with practically anything issued in set form. There’s one big giant obvious reason why I choose to sell items this way: the singles pay-out better over time; but there are several less obvious reasons why I do so, which I believe offer a service to the collector.

Since nearly 100% of what I currently deal with are movie cards this list will be specific to that particular area of collecting.

1) Many people collect only their favorite star. They don’t want an entire set of cards, they only want the Joan Crawford … or Jean Harlow … or Kay Francis … or Elizabeth Allan. Huh, who? I find it very interesting to track over time who does sell and who doesn’t sell. In an worldwide online marketplace you really only need a single collector to prove someone does sell–and you’d be amazed at the quality of classic movie star who doesn’t even have that one!

1936 Ardath Who Is This? Elizabeth Allan
Who is this winsome English beauty? Why Elizabeth Allan of course!

I ran a sale recently on some major leading ladies who never move for me. I thought perhaps I’d priced them too high, so I ran them at 30% off my typical prices. The actresses: Norma Shearer, Jeanette MacDonald, Janet Gaynor. These are huge names in the classic film world so the possibility existed that I’d priced too high based on my own perceptions and I reasoned that knocking 30% off the top should correct that factor. I sold exactly 1 item during the sale … and it was a 1920’s card of obscure silent film actress Katherine MacDonald, a card which had been marked on sale by mistake when I was discounting my Jeanette MacDonald cards!

2) Some people are actually building sets, and if they’re building sets they don’t need another whole set, they need singles. This was much more of a factor during my baseball card days when it seemed half of all collectors were building vintage sets card by card, but it does exist in the non-sports world, typically with the less common sets. These collectors have a need to be fulfilled.

3) Grading is my strength, not a weakness. I grade hard and I grade good. I admit I’m cocky about it, but until my eyes go I feel I have reason to be. It’s a lesson I learned back when I was doing some limited mail order sales through Sports Collectors Digest (SCD) back in the late 80’s/early 90’s. If you over-grade you might feel pretty good sending your item out to the buyer, but you’re going to feel pretty lousy when it returns with a nasty note from them demanding their money back. I sharpened my eye when I was mailing out rookie cards wholesale to other dealers back then, I wanted the entire lot to be accepted as was, with never a doubt of a single card coming back to me. I always got paid.

And I’ve continued getting paid online over the past decade by not only applying a strict grade in more than a single parlance (VG-EX or 4.5/10 for example) but following up with as many details as I can about just what is wrong. Sometimes these details can make an item seem much uglier than it really is, and I’m sure some of my details turn off some potential buyers, but the ones who follow through have been almost universally happy.

My favorite claim when a buyer tries for a larger discount based on a lower grade (after noting that the price would have been higher if it graded higher) is to politely state something to the effect of “My VG is the other guy’s EX+” or “My EX is the other guy’s EX-MT” with the other guy not being anybody specific. I’ve bought enough online to feel pretty confident in that statement and that’s not to indicate that I feel everybody over-grades, it is meant to indicate that I feel I under-grade.

4) Which brings me to my final point, definitely the touchiest subject. This one is by no means universal, but I’ve experienced this more than enough times as a buyer to know it’s a problem. It was a problem when I did baseball cards and beyond the thrill of the chase I fell it was likely the number 2 reason for building a set yourself.

Okay, a set usually comes with a single grade, or sometimes a range of grades, such as ranging between VG and EX, and yes, this can be accurate. From the best dealers you’ll find a set listed with a general condition plus qualifiers, ie: EX with cards # 4,7,29 in G-VG with light creases. I applaud such detail and I return to buy more from such conscientious dealers–if you want sets, it may take some trial and error, but find them.

But how many times have you bought say an EX-MT set of cards to find the 3 or 4 best cards in the set are damaged? I’ve seen it often enough to factor it into the price I’ll pay when dealing with somebody I don’t know. Look for the details, typically grading that seems vague is vague for a reason, sometimes that reason may simply be time limitations, but I’ve noticed occasions where I believe it’s not.

There we go, now I’ve got a post I can send people right over to the next time I’m asked why (or how dare I) break up a complete set. And we’ll exit with a link to a pretty rare set I recently broke up, 1935 Secrets Magazine Film Star singles available right now on eBay.

1935 Secrets Bette Davis

No, I Swear It Really Is All About the Articles, Playboy Magazine Back Issues

Ah yes, Playboy Magazine, I have fond memories, as if that’s a strange recollection for a man my age to have. Actually I do have old Playboy Collecting stories as around the time my Dad was collecting comic books back in the 70’s he was collecting men’s magazines as well. His collection stopped around 1980 and so it was probably around that time, no later than ’81, when I was nine and he had stacks upon stacks of nudie mags spread around the living room … and I entertained myself absorbed in this brand new world until he snapped at me asking what I was doing and I gave the now tired response of just reading the articles.

Playboy Magazine November 1965 James Bonds Girls Cover

In the mid-80’s when Dad was looking to sell I took what I felt was the appropriately jaded position of mocking my 8th Grade English Professor when he came to the house as a prospective customer. Well, not to his face, but I still chuckle thinking about it as he tried selling us on the fact that he was mainly interested in the literature inside those skin magazines. Dad eventually unloaded the collection to a fellow baseball card dealer during those card show days I so fondly look back upon, getting $1,000 cash and a few hundred in trade which he kindly passed my way.

But time marches on and suddenly half of my own business is dealing in magazine back issues and what title do I love to stock as much as any other? 1960’s issues of Playboy, and yes, it’s for the literature and the literature alone that I do so!

Playboy Magazine December 1965

Just this week I was pleasantly surprised to receive a dozen issues of Playboy from my favorite years, 1965-66, that were in such immaculate condition I felt like I’d just returned from a time machine trip to a Johnson Era newsstand. Forget that the pages are immaculate and the centerfolds are firmly attached, these are so nice that when describing them I’m noting dust-free covers and shiny staples in the binding. Bee-yoo-tees, they are, inside and out, and despite, yes, taking a quick gander at Catherine Deneuve in the buff, circa 1965, I swear, scout’s honor, it’s all about the lit.


  • Serialized portions of two James Bond stories by Ian Fleming, The Man With the Golden Gun over several 1965 issues; Octopussy in 1966
  • Serialized fiction by Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov
  • Fiction by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Fiction by Henry Miller
  • A Lee Harvey Oswald article by John Clellon Holmes
  • Interviews with Bob Dylan, Peter O’Toole, Bond himself, Sean Connery, among others
  • A wonderful nostalgia article by Jules Feiffer titled The Great Comic Book Heroes: Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel and all the rest of that marvelous crew; whence they came, who created them, and why they occupied a special place apart in the fantasies of our youth.

Plus them pictures. Sure, I may take a gander at Ursula Andress, er, I mean Catherine Deneuve, when paging through and noting contents, but the real meat inside vintage 1960’s issues of Playboy isn’t in the skin, it’s in the lit. I swear!

I’ll get you a couple of dinners out of this … you like Wendy’s?

1980 Topps Rickey Henderson Rookie CardThanks Dad, thanks to all you Boomers. I knew you guys were ruining it, but heck, I was pocketing cash at the time myself, so who am I to complain. If you’ve read some of my past Inherited Values pieces you know I like to wax romantically about the purity of baseball card collecting when I was a kid, oh especially about 1979-85, and then interject some tale of how I soiled it through love of money. But man, I hadn’t realized it’d come to this!

I was talking with the father of a couple of the kids I’d grown up with recently and after his mother-in-law had passed away he was doing the house clearing ritual in advance of offering it for sale. He knows I’m an avid eBayer so of course he mentioned a bunch of antique items he thought would be worth a mint. As I kind of hem and hawed him along he let drop that he’d already let a few of the local antique shops sift through this stuff and he’d cashed in some, so right there I basically did a memory wipe because if there was any cash to be had out of these passed down possessions I was sure those cagey folks had found it. Then he mentioned baseball cards.

Oh, they didn’t come over from the house. They were his. Once he mentioned Mickey Mantle I zeroed in on him and had to at least see them. Well, major disappointment #1, they weren’t his cards, they were his kids, and far from the stockpile of 50’s treasures I’d imagined was instead a box crammed with the same damn cards I got my start with at shows back in the 80’s. Yeah, no Mantles. The oldest son is a few years older than me, and it showed inside this box as everything ranged between 1975-1981.

It was interesting to note that the older the card the poorer the condition, but actually everything from ’78 and up was much better than expected. The stuff from ’75? Well, I know I used to have the occasional card saved in my back pocket which would one way or another find the washing machine. It looked like these kids managed that trick every day throughout the summer of ’75 because that’s the kind of shape each and every card from that season appeared to be in.

So I randomly sorted through about 1,000 cards noting that at least they’d never been picked through before. “There’s lot of $2 and $3 cards in here, but those will never sell,” I told him. Now I haven’t handled baseball cards in a serious way since about 2003, and even then my prime hey day was about 10 years past. I dealt, and I dealt a lot between about 1985-1993. My re-entry to the hobby through eBay in 2000 allowed me to get reacquainted and realize that all those cards which formed the foundation of my youthful empire weren’t worth jack unless they’d been slabbed by PSA with a grade of 9 or higher.

But I assumed some of the good stuff was at least still somewhat in demand.

I stopped my sorting at a 1979 Topps Ozzie Smith rookie. I said to my pal’s Dad, “That’s a good card.” I took a deep breathe and said, “Now this used to be an $80 card back when I did this. In this condition it’d be worth about $40-$45. I’d imagine you could still get at least $20-$25 for it.” Then as I sorted through this late 70’s bounty I started pulling all the cards of George Brett, Robin Yount, Nolan Ryan and the big rookies. Besides Ozzie I spotted Paul Molitor, Andre Dawson, a halfway decent Rickey Henderson and a Yount rookie from that washed out group of ’75’s, but back in the day it was a $175-$200 card NM, I figured even beat it had to be worth something.

1978 Topps Paul Molitor Rookie Card
A pair of Molitor rookie cards. Good stuff, no?

And so I said, “There’s enough here where I could probably get you a couple of dinners out of this. You know, some decent pocket money.”

Now even though I’ve been dealing pretty much exclusively in vintage movie collectibles and magazine back issues for the past 7 years or so, I did have a clue of what had happened to the baseball card market–after all, I saw it begin to collapse and that fall was largely responsible for me finding something else that I loved to sell. So I told him, “You know, the shame of it is these cards are 30 years old now and they were worth more, a lot more, 20 years ago. You know, when you were a kid your mother threw your cards away. That’s why they’re still worth something. But you saved your kids cards and so did everyone else. Honestly, I don’t know what they’re worth but it’s probably not going to be more 20 years from now.”

I cringed giving this speech. It felt like I was BSing him, but I knew I wasn’t.

“Can you sell them for me?”

Hooked. Of course, I can sell anything. “Sure,” said the big shot.

“You can keep half.”

Cool. I pulled about 35 cards and walked away figuring we had to be looking at $75-$100 each. The only work involved was scanning them, which took under an hour. I composed the listings in less than an hour too. I grade tough, but I’ve been grading my whole life so I graded quick. The first shoe dropped as I was listing them.

Originally I thought I’d put them all in one lot, start it at $9.99 on eBay and watch it get tons of bids. Then I thought, well, maybe I’ll do a little more work, list them all as singles and eke the most possible money out of them that I can. So I checked eBay’s completed items to see what the same cards were actually selling for.

Beans! They’re junk! Little more than worthless! They were so cheap that I had to resist spending a couple of hundred dollars and just putting my boyhood collection together for myself. A couple of dinners I told him, gawd, I was thinking steaks, he’s going to be lucky to get a few burgers out of this deal.

Lot of Nolan Ryan cards 1976-1980
Apparently not anymore it's not.

I split them into lots, mostly by player, with one mixed lot of the leftovers. I wound up with 9 lots, each with a $9.99 opening bid. Even after seeing how little they were selling for I figured at least 7 of the 9 lots would sell and 2 or 3 of them should get bid up … hopefully by a few increments.

Well, as of this writing we’re waiting for late action. I listed the lots on Sunday, and finally today (Tuesday) the Paul Molitor lot received a bid (2 mid-grade rookies and 1 similar second year card). One of the other lots has a few watchers. The rest? Nada.

I’m left laughing nervously at what this poor guy is going to say if I wind up handing him a 5 dollar bill and saying, “Here’s your cut.”

Here’s a fun article from Slate in 2006 relating a similar experience. I tried to check an online price guide tonight to see if they still had the nerve to say these were worth anything and what I discovered is that all of the online price guides charge a subscription fee. Nice, at least they’re (presumably) making a little money. Tuff Stuff, which I was never really a fan of, does have up a pdf with their guide from June ’09 which leads me to believe somebody still thinks there’s some value in these late 70’s cards, just apparently not the people who are willing to pay hard cash for them.

I have mixed feelings about this collapse. Part of me is happy to see supply and demand bring about a return to reality and create a marketplace where I could if so inclined put together most of my childhood collection for a few hundred dollars. That’s nice and it’s the kind of thing I do every so often (like the box of late 70’s Funk & Wagnalls Animal Encyclopedias that I haven’t looked at since I bought but feel real good about knowing that I have again!). But there’s another part of me that knows I’d still be working for the man if I didn’t start my teen-aged baseball card business and get hooked by the entrepreneurial spirit those early days instilled in me. Then again, I guess if a kid wants to make a buck today there are alternatives.

Here are the apparently ill-fated 9 baseball card auctions, ending on eBay this coming Sunday night, March 28.

John Steinbeck on Antiques

After dwelling about how much I missed reading Steinbeck on one of my blogs I recently dusted off a favorite from the bookshelf and found myself immediately absorbed and quickly turning pages just like the old days. But when I came to an abrupt halt during the very start of Steinbeck’s journey in Travels with Charley in Search of America and realized I had to share. Here’s John Steinbeck’s take on antiquing back in 1962, the original publication date:

“I can never get used to the thousands of antique shops along the roads, all bulging with authentic and attested trash from an earlier time. I believe the population of the thirteen colonies was less than four million souls, and every one of them must have been frantically turning out tables, chairs, china, glass, candle molds, and oddly shaped bits of iron, copper, and brass for future sale to twentieth-century tourists. There are enough antiques for sale along the roads of New England alone to furnish the houses of a population of fifty million … If the battered, cracked, and broken stuff our ancestors tried to get rid of now brings so much money, think of what a 1954 Oldsmobile, or a 1960 toastmaster will bring–and a vintage Waring mixer–Lord, the possibilities are endless! Things we have to pay to have hauled away could bring fortunes.

“If I seem to be over-interested in junk, it is because I am, and I have a lot of it, too–half a garage full of bits and broken pieces. I use these things for repairing other things. Recently I stopped my car in front of the display yard of a junk dealer near Sag Harbor. As I was looking courteously at the stock, it suddenly occured to me that I had more than he had.”

There’s a lot there. Steinbeck kind of got it but largely missed it all at once. He’s disgusted by the pure amount of junk available, and it’s this very availability which makes it junk from his perspective. Here he’s dead-on to a certain degree–yes, there’s a lot of garbage out there–yet at the same time this is a case where his layman’s eye suffocated the imagination as certainly had he looked deeper into that pile of “battered, cracked, and broken stuff” he’d have unearthed more than a few gems.
John Steinbeck First Day Cover

The line about the ’54 Oldsmobile and other specific items of his time was funny both then and now for different reasons. But it’s this mindset that, for example, caused my grandmother to throw out shoe boxes filled with my father’s baseball cards. It’s only in recent years where we’ve begun to think about everything in terms of future value. That is we who are the confirmed pack rat. Ironically it’s this mind set which leads to a lack of value, something I’ve already observed when dusting off keepsakes hidden away in the 1980’s. Oh, it’s not universal, certainly items of value do exist which were manufactured in the past 20-25 years, however what I’m condemning is the manufactured collectible whose supply often far outreaches demand.

Returning to Steinbeck’s time and how his junk turned into treasure over the passing years: scarcity was created because Steinbeck, my grandmother, and yours too, paid to have their junk hauled away. Once the nostalgia boom hit the next generation had to work even harder to hunt down the very items their elders had carted to the junk yard. I am, of course, simplifying this all into a greater idea, but in the end it was his viewpoint which helped to create value.

Finally, what collector hasn’t found himself at a show or in a shop having that sudden realization that my stuff’s better than this guy’s stuff! This is how dealers are born!

The Final Days of Babe Ruth as Covered in The Sporting News

Babe Ruth and William Bendix for The Babe Ruth Story
In between the two issues covered in this post came the August 11, 1948 edition of The Sporting News which includes this full page ad for Louisville Slugger bats featuring Babe Ruth in street clothes with William Bendix, star of the recently released The Babe Ruth Story

I currently have a couple of the more important issues of The Sporting News in my possession, but decided to try and generate a little excitement with them on eBay so they’re only going to be mine now through Sunday. Since they’re soon headed out the door I thought it’d be a good time to take a little better look at them and soak up some of that classic content.

While The Sporting News has evolved with the times to cover all sports, these two issues are from the period when it still proclaimed itself “The Baseball Paper of the World” just under its masthead. Volume 1, Number 1 was published in 1886 and over the years the format evolved from text-only to include photos and eventually several cartoons in each issue by renowned sports artists such as Lou Darvas and Willard Mullin. I’ve had a hard time laying hands on any issues before the mid-1920’s, but actually those issues through the late 30’s are a tougher sell as the sports paper was very different in both and size and format, despite at heart being the same baseball paper of the world.

For more information here’s a History of The Sporting News that I wrote some time back for one of my sites, Collecting Old Magazines.

Vintage issues of the 1940’s and 50’s have become some of my favorite items to handle as I find them ridiculously undervalued by comparison to most sports memorabilia. Maybe there’s just too much–each issue is packed and you’d be hard-pressed to come across an issue where multiple future Hall of Famers aren’t covered. Issues from this period measure approximately 12″ X 16.5″ with all the condition sensitivity of a 60-70 year old newspaper. The latest round of Sporting News papers I’d acquired were in spectacular condition with the overriding detraction being age toning–not surprising, but in the case of this group nowhere near as heinous as I’ve seen from some other copies which have passed through over the years. These beauties just have a little tone to their color, I’ve seen them where you can’t page through without bits of the edges flaking off.

Note to potential buyers looking at this post while it’s still fresh: Each of the issues that I’m going to specifically talk about below do have a major flaw–there’s a single page in each with cut-outs. Each issue had several pages including all the box scores for the previous week, well, I guess our original collector liked to clip the good ones! There’s more detail on this in each of the listings.

The issues I wanted to look at here are the June 23 and August 25, 1948 issues of The Sporting News. The Babe Ruth issues.

June 23 features a legendary photograph of the Bambino on the cover, unusual because most covers featured a cartoon by this time, at the 25th Anniversary of Yankee Stadium. While the photograph is not the Pulitzer Prize winning photo by Nat Fein, it is very similar and in fact likely the exact same shot, just taken by a different photographer (Bob Olen of the New York Daily News). The picture in question shows Ruth, at this time ravaged by the cancer which would soon kill him, standing at home plate of the Stadium leaning on a baseball bat to support himself as if it were a cane.

Babe Ruth at Yankee Stadium 1948
Babe Ruth at Yankee Stadium on the Stadium's Silver Anniversary as covered by The Sporting News

The issue includes quotes from many of the Yankee old-timers on hand to celebrate the Stadium’s anniversary. Here’s a snippet of what Ruth himself had to say:

“Look at this uniform I’m wearing. I’ve had it a helluva long time. It fits me, which proves it’s old. All the newer uniforms I wore when I carried a lot more weight. I’m happy with this gang. They’re my real friends, yesterday, today and tomorrow. I remember we used to be together 154 games a season. If you can still like a guy after all that time he must be all right. I liked them then; I like them now.”

Following are some quotes from sportswriter Dan Daniel’s main coverage of the day’s events. I’ve included them out of order from the original article, but I think in the way I’ve excerpted them they tell a better story for our purposes:

“From first to last it was Babe Ruth Day. The festivities having to do with the old titans of Yankee history started a 2 and finished at 4”

“The event was billed as the silver anniversary of Yankee Stadium, which was dedicated on April 18, 1923, with a game in which Ruth hit his first homer in that park, and beat the Red Sox, 4 to 1.”

“Ruth’s old No. 3 was not only retired, never again to be worn by a Yankee, but his uniform and his number were sent to the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y.”

Babe Ruth's number retired at 25th anniversary of Yankee Stadium
At the bottom of page various photos of Babe Ruth on June 23. At the top a cartoon shows Ruth's uniform being run up a flag pole. June 23 issue.

“And so No. 3 has passed from use by the Yankees, just as No. 4 was retired when Lou Gehrig went from the championship scene and on to his tragic end.”

“There was a harrowing pathos in the air the day doomed Lou Gehrig bade the fans in Yankee Stadium farewell … But nowhere at no other time did baseball see the sort of thing that was put on display in Yankee Stadium on the afternoon of June 13, 1948.”

“It was the last time the Babe ever will stand at the plate, swinging a bat, with his eyes on those right field stands.

It was the last time that the arena will echo to the roars of the crowd, the last time that cheers for the Babe in the old livery will reverberate through the rafters in which he became famous, and in which he remade the game.”

“As the Babe walked away from the mike, tears streamed down his face. There was a lump in many a throat, and there were some 50,000 in the park, despite the early rain.”

Just two months later the August 25, 1948 issue of The Sporting News would include a special Babe Ruth Section, 8 pages in length, honoring the game’s greatest hero after his death at age 53 on August 16. The coverage looked back at the Sultan of Swat’s life and times with a special concentration on his playing career. Numerous photos illustrated the article and regular Sporting News advertisers, such as Spalding and Hillerich and Bradsby, manufacturers of the famed Louisville Slugger baseball bats, created special Ruth related ad-copy in tribute to the man who changed the game.

First page of The Sporting News special section covering the death of Babe Ruth
The first page of The Sporting News' special 8-page Babe Ruth section included in the August 25, 1948 issue. Ruth actually didn't make the cover of the main section.
A montage of Babe Ruth photos
A full page montage of Babe Ruth photos inside the August 25, 1948 edition of The Sporting News
Hillerich and Bradsby Babe Ruth Memorial Ad
Advertisers pay their respects. In this case Louisville Slugger manufacturer Hillerich and Bradsby take out a full page facing the first page of the tribute section.

If you stick to the book, the only Price Guide I have on these is the 3rd Edition of the Standard Catalog of Sports Memorabilia (2003), which is at least a great guide in identifying content of each issue. They quote the June 23 issue at $300 and the August 25 at $500.

Since I’ve already talked about my feelings about Price Guides in this space it shouldn’t be surprising that I’ve started my auctions at $9.99 each with no reserve. Remember, mine do have half a page cut-out in each, but at the same time, let’s see how much these babies are really worth!

The Sporadic Collector: My Comic Book Collection

More than a handful of people who’ve known me have joked that I’d sell anything. While I don’t believe that’s true I will admit to looking for margin in just about everything I buy because you never know, one day you might want to move it. Shoot, I’m looking for wholesale prices on dinner even, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be looking to flip it later.

When it comes to collecting and collectibles I’m much more cutthroat than I am in other areas of life. The years have taught me that today’s collection is tomorrow’s profits, a jaded sentiment though I suspect it’s often the case. I’d remarked in my last article about poorly conceived investment portfolios which usually produce either a loss or another new dealer at the end of the rainbow. While I do admit to the existence of a much purer type collector who collects solely for pleasure with no immediate thoughts of cold hard cash, experience arouses in me a suspicion that they will very likely hit a wall at some point and look to cash out. I could list the reasons, but I’d rather point you to Worthpoint where Harry Rinker is currently in the middle of an excellent series about Why People Stop Collecting.

Despite all of that there is one area of collecting in which I’ve never succumbed to the dealer’s lure, it’s what I consider the purest of any of my hobbiest’s pursuits, and as you might imagine by the title of this piece it’s comic books.

The Flash Rebirth

I am the sporadic comic book collector, blissfully ignorant of hobby terms and practices and participating only through my purchase power which over the years has unleashed itself at drug stores, newsstands, hobby shops, and eBay, until finally I found a great online resource that I’ve already cemented as my future point of purchase by finding my way back after one of my regular collecting sabbaticals.

Collecting sabbaticals? Yes, because while I do have a comic book collection and it does include comics which date back to my formative years in the 1970’s it’s a hobby which has never been able to demand my attention for more than 6-8 months at any one time. By then I’ve moved on, either towards other interests or in the interest of choking off my bleeding wallet. But by this point I’m sure that I shall one day return for another 6 months or so of deep immersion inside those ever more vibrant pages which seemingly cost just a wee bit more each time I’m sucked in. Could be after I log out of here, might not be til 2015. I don’t know, all I know is it’s coming again … sometime.

My father collected comic books and while his collection was liquidated just prior to my memory bank kicking in there are a handful of comics that survived his sell off to form the nucleus of my own collection. Dad collected from the 60’s into the mid-1970’s, and as with other collecting interests I’ve seen him bite into over more recent years he did so both methodically and somewhat obsessively. He collected exclusively DC titles and somehow passed that interest down to me. He collected as I do, when I am, and that’s by purchasing all of the current issues of collected titles as they’re released and then allotting any spare funds to back issues. His collection consisted of complete runs of the main DC titles: Batman, Detective, Superman, Action, etc., down to the early 1950’s. He sold them all in bulk to a local magazine shop for 10 cents per book.

I had to take a deep breathe after typing that last line.

But hey, it was the 70’s and I suppose at the time he was probably pretty lucky to get much of anything for them. Well, still, a dime apiece seems light even in retrospect, and you can bet I still get to hear about it every time I mention the bug biting me again.

My collecting usually gets sparked up when I catch wind of something big going on in the DC Universe. I believe most recently it was the return of Silver Age Flash that got me going. While I like my comics to look nice I really don’t dwell too much on condition–I’m in this game for the stories. So if a Very Fine copy isn’t in stock I’m happy to settle for a VG. Shoot, if it’s an issue missing from a run I’d take it with the covers off, though I’ve never had too!

Each time I dip my feet into this world I find something new to obsess over. I can recall that it was Green Arrow during my early 90’s foray, Jonah Hex mid-decade, and a couple of years ago it was Adam Strange. Usually what happens is that initial interest is somehow stirred and then I’ll pull my existing collection out of storage and just start reading. Maybe I’ll catch a reference to a character or even a cross-over appearance and then curiosity is aroused and I’ve got to pursue that heroes past exploits as far back as my budget allows.

I’d mentioned earlier that my comic book collecting had never sparked the dealer in me, but I do however have one recollection of selling out. It was just a single issue that had come from a small stack leftover inside my grandparent’s house. It wasn’t from Dad’s collecting days as an adult, but a leftover from his youth. It was beat and beat bad. I mean it did have covers, but they were more or less hanging onto the binding by a thread. The comic was Fantastic Four #2 and it made me curious enough to peek inside a comic book price guide for the only time I can recall. I’m operating solely on memory here and this was nearly 20 years ago, but I want to say it booked about $1,800 at the time. I happily pocketed $75 from a local shop where I was a walk-in who’d never visited before.

Why’d I sell? Fantastic Four is a Marvel book, wasn’t interested!
Issue number 2 of The Fantastic Four

On Condition: Do you just want it or do you want it pretty?

Condition, condition, condition, of course, the three most important facets of any collectible, but is it really? Well, in the sense of just how collectible an item is, sure it is, but as to what matters most to collectors I find it’s not necessarily so. I’ll qualify that statement further; to the experienced collector, one who’s amassed articles in any particular niche for any amount of time it is paramount. But frankly I’ve concerned myself much of late with the burgeoning collector and the starter collection.

Here’s the thing about that card with a crease or magazine with torn cover–it’s a lot more available than the pristine vintage item and so, obviously, it’s much cheaper. As a dealer it’s put me in an awkward position. You see the junk turns over much quicker than the prizes. I’ve tried very hard to sell beautiful rare vintage pieces in the $200 range, often settling for $100-$125 after enough time passes, but at the same time that same item, say it’s a magazine with a single page cut out of the middle, sells quite easily for $40-$50, which quite honestly is likely more than it would be worth. I don’t mention this as an isolated incident, it’s more of a chronic pattern.

The American Magazine September 1922
Despite an early article by F. Scott Fitzgerald and another piece inside by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle this piece obviously comes with some Scotch Tape issues. Still it sat for only a couple of weeks and sold for my full marked price of $69 and change.

The most difficult spot this put me in is on the buying side of my business. I routinely pass on items offered at very fair rates just because I know I can’t afford to tie myself up in a handful of beautiful items for a long period of time when I can use the same money to leave with a satchel of similar but, call them broken, items that will move like wild fire at the right prices.

But I don’t frown upon the buyers of these imperfect collectibles, no, firstly I appreciate them because they help me make my living, and so, yes, there is an admitted financial stake involved, but more so what I love most about my low to mid-range grade collectors is that I’m very often catching them just as their passion has sparked.

There is plenty of time later to upgrade and hunt perfection, but I’m catching them coming in the front door. They are not buying to build a poorly conceived investment portfolio which usually produces either a loss or another new dealer at the end of the rainbow, but they are buying either from their heads or their hearts, an interest or a passion.

Please don’t get me wrong–I’m not a junk dealer, and sometimes items that squeeze through the front door will leave out the back tied inside a Hefty bag, but I am not above listing the occasional magazine with a coffee ring on the cover; scotch tape at the binding; an otherwise pristine tobacco card with a dim impression at each of the four corners from a previous mounting; or even a magazine stamped “library edition” if it is otherwise in strong shape. I do try to draw the line at anything with water damage, ink scribbles, clipped corners or other malicious defacements, though if specific items are rare or otherwise desirable I may relent.

The key in upholding my reputation is total disclosure. This is why every single card, from the $1 common to the $100 key to the set are subjected to the same scrutiny under high light come grading time. It’s why I make an effort to turn every single page of a magazine passing through here and tell you so along with what I’ve seen in any online listing. A picture may be worth a thousand words but when it comes to buying and selling online the devil is in the details and the most valuable of those details are text-based.

With my baseball card background I grade everything passing through here along a similar system to the traditional American card grading system (P,F,G,VG,EX,EX-MT,MT) and attribute a corresponding numerical grade (1-10) alongside the more traditional nomenclature. I do the same for magazines because I feel it offers more detail than the usual bookseller’s terms.

Here’s a look at my guide, whether you agree with it or not I like to think it offers a brutally honest point of reference for anyone otherwise not understanding my grade (I used to include this in each of my eBay listings, but yanked the reference about a year ago for fear they’d shut down my listings because of the outside link).

On the other end of the spectrum I am especially harsh. I don’t believe I’ve ever used the term MINT or 10/10 in any listing I’ve posted online these past ten years. On the flip side I’ve bought my share of “Mint” items, but I’ve done so expecting EX (5/10) and being ecstatic when I actually receive an EX-MT (7/10) item. I’ve used NM-MT (9/10) though rarely and reserved for items which look so good you’d think I’d printed them myself (no, I don’t do that, it’s all vintage). Typically a high grade item in my stock is going to mark out EX+ (6/10) to EX-MT (7/10) and it really thrills me to see somebody leave feedback remarking on the fantastic condition of such items.

1948 Dinkie Grips Clark Gable and Deborah Kerr
This card is gorgeous grading NM and rare and I must say priced pretty fair considered those two factors. Oh yeah, there's that Clark Gable guy too, he's pretty famous. It's been sitting without an offer for close to a year now. Go figure.

Harsh grading has been one of the keys to my online success. Part of me knows I could bump items a point or even two up my scale, raise prices to reflect such and still satisfy 90% of my customers, but I’m quite honestly making what I make and pleasing nearly a universal audience (after all, there are always a few cranks).

I grade a movie card issued during the Silent Era under the same conditions and curve as baseball card from the Steroids Era; I grade a Civil War era issue of Harper’s the same as I do a Reagan era issue of Time. I try to avoid terms like really nice for its’ age, though I’m sure I’ve succumbed to this phraseology on occasion when I’ve been overwhelmed by something myself. Still, that same era carries a grade like any other.

In the case of condition rarity falls under the same spectrum as age. Just because the item is super rare any crease through the cardboard and we’re talking about a G-VG piece at best. You can price it rare, but please, grade it standard.

What do you say?

  • Is condition the top factor you consider when adding a piece to your collection and if so are you a seasoned collector?
  • Are you a newbie who just wants the item the first time you see it, scotch tape or no?

Though perhaps of greater interest from my perspective:

  • Are you a new collector who won’t settle for less than the best?
  • An experienced collector who picks their spots knowing that poorer condition is sometimes a trade-off for rarity and knowing when that applies?

I’d be interested to hear because after a lifetime of hearing the mantra condition is king practical experience has caused considerable doubts.

Colorful 1935 Dixie Premium Photos awesome eye candy for collectors

After recently acquiring a batch of 1935 Movie Star Dixie Premium Photos … and, of course, making them available for sale … I wanted to revisit the popular collectibles one more time, something I see I most recently did last April on the VintageMeld.

1935 Katharine Hepburn Dixie Premium Photo

That post is more centered around Tom Popelka’s excellent Dixie Premiums Checklist book which is my go-to guide whenever I pick up a batch of Dixie’s. As Tom writes in his entertaining forward where he otherwise tells stories of collecting Dixie’s as a youth:

Most collectors do not know which year a premium or lid belongs in. There is also a lack of knowledge of how to identify the year a premium was issued … Other oddities exist as well.

Mr. Popelka’s checklist indentifies not only all of the Movie Star Dixie Premiums issued between 1933-1953, but also includes checklist pages for each of the non-film related Dixie issues such as Zoo Animals, America Attacks, Defend America, other World War II themed issues, and the highly valued Baseball Dixies.

By the way, you may have noted the quote I’ve included above refers to a “premium or lid.” This is what really makes this a fascinating issue to me. Lids were commonly available–they refer to the cardboard lid on your little cup of Dixie Ice Cream. Pop it off and there’s Clark Gable, Ginger Rogers or even Jimmie Foxx staring back at you.

1943 Roy Rogers Dixie Lid

While the lids are also popularly collected today what makes the premiums more, well, premium, is how one originally came to acquire them. Either by mail or, as Mr. Popelka tells of us own experience, through redemption center–it took a dozen Dixie Lids to acquire one Dixie Premium Photo. Thus beyond the advantage of the overall attractiveness of the larger Premiums there’s a rarity factor at work which actually makes them still a bargain at several times the price of the Lids!

1934 Ann Dvorak Dixie Premium Photo

I found my copy of the Dixie Premiums Checklist secondhand online, but at the time of that 2009 VintageMeld post Mr. Popelka gave me permission to include his address for anyone wishing to purchase a copy directly from him. For details write:

Tom Popelka
P.O. Box 3130
Temple, TX 76505-3130

To see some of the Dixie Premiums I’ve handled, beyond those currently available, please see my archived pages at things-and-other-stuff.com which show off the early black and white 1934 Dixie Premiums, which were issued as two separate sheets, and more of the colorful 1935 Dixie Premiums. The 1935 page also includes a gallery of later Dixie Premiums below and some of the pricey sports stars (Foxx, Bob Feller, Sammy Baugh, Bronko Nagurski, etc.) at the bottom of the page.

1938 Jimmie Foxx Dixie Premium Photo

If you’re looking to collecting something more than just cards at a great value on your dollar I can’t heartily enough recommend the challenge of either the Dixie Lids or Dixie Premiums. They’re fun, mostly affordable and yet at the same time challenging to piece sets together. To get a leg up I think one of your first purchases should be Tom Popelka’s excellent checklist which I’ll continue to recommend as the topic comes up!

History through Sales: Trading card of early film star Mary Fuller

I love it when my customers get talking. You never know when it’s going to come, a conversation could break out after a $5 transaction with as much likelihood as it will over a $100 and up piece. My most recent conversation was brief, after sale of this item:

Mary Fuller Kromo Gravure Card

But while brief this exchange of e-mails did inspire me to do a little digging out of which I discovered film star Mary Fuller, shown above on a circa 1917 Kromo Gravure trading card out of Detroit, was more important to film history than I ever supposed.

My buyer, to the best of my knowledge, is not a regular collector of movie cards and ephemera, but had her curiosity aroused through her job at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC, where Miss Fuller, who died in 1973, just happens to be buried.

After I replied to her e-mail, my customer suggested I check out a video featuring Mary Fuller if I had the 12 minutes to spare. Well, I did, and I was surprised to find the clip was from the famed 1910 Edison production of Frankenstein starring Charles Ogle as the monster (which I knew) and Mary Fuller as Elizabeth (which I obviously didn’t know).

Here it is:

On a related note, while putting this post together I came across FrankensteinFilms.com, which has to be the most fantastic site about Frankenstein out there! I really risked getting sidetracked when I got bogged down inside their pages!

Anyway, I was curious if there was more to Mary Fuller than Edison’s Frankenstein, which she actually wasn’t even credited in. The IMDb credits her with over 200 film appearances after coming to the screen from the stage, but her career was over by 1917 and other than Frankenstein, I must admit I don’t believe I’ve seen her in anything else.

That’s when common sense took over. Early last year I had the great pleasure of exchanging e-mails with the owner of The Picture Show Man website and I wound up by asking him for some reading recommendations (his movie and book release lists are not to be missed!). I’m about halfway through one of the top titles he’d mentioned, Million and One Nights: A History of the Motion Picture Through 1925 by Terry Ramsaye (affiliate link), originally published in 1926. You want to know how much early film history is packed in this title? Well, I’m on page 440 and the story, which runs chronologically, has only reached 1907.

Mary Fuller on a circa 1916 MJ Moriarty Playing Card
Mary Fuller on a circa 1916 MJ Moriarty Playing Card

I can’t even say I’m surprised but when I checked for “Fuller, Mary” in the index to A Million and One Nights it actually spit back some page numbers at me. I’d expected these entries to be about Frankenstein, but instead I once again learned something new.

Mary Fuller had starred in What Happened to Mary (1912), which holds the honor of being considered the forerunner of the movie serial.

Here’s some of what Ramsaye has to say about it:

Edward A. McManus and Gardner Wood, in the year of 1912, were engaged in promoting circulation for The Ladies World, a McClure publication. Out of the editorial department came a project for a continued feature to be built around a mythical heroine known as Mary, and to be introduced with a cover design by Charles Dana Gibson. There was to be an unfinished story and a prize of $100 for the best answer to What Happened to Mary?

So The Ladies World would publish the story, minus the ending, and Edison would produce a film which included the ending. I wasn’t clear as to whether the film would be inspired by the winning reader entry or if the winning entry would be the one which came closest to a pre-selected ending, but either way, a novel idea.

In noting that Mary Fuller was cast as Mary, Ramsaye writes, “She was now a full fledged Edison star.” Of the stories, the first, The Escape from Bondage, was released July 26, 1912. In mentioning that the second Mary feature was titled Alone in New York, Ramsaye points out that “each installment of the What Happened to Mary? series was independent and complete. It was not a serial. The magazine stories and the screen releases did not synchronize accurately, but it was none the less a successful promotion.”

So while Ramsaye explicitly states “not a serial” he does immediately lead in to the serial it inspired, The Adventures of Kathlyn starring Kathlyn Williams, which most definitely was a serial. As for Mary Fuller, following the 12 chapter What Happened to Mary she’d star in a sequel, the 6 chapter Who Will Marry Mary?

See that, Mary Fuller had previously been just another silent actress to me, but a spark of outside interest and look at all I’ve learned! You can be sure the next time I list an item depicting Miss Fuller there will be a lot of early film history racing through my mind.

Mary Fuller on a 1916 paper supplement issued with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat
Mary Fuller on a 1916 paper premium issued with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat

Baseball Card Collecting Purity Shattered at Age 6

To me collecting has always been about amassing and organizing, maybe a little displaying, definitely learning, and combining those last too a little bit “I know something you don’t know,” which is by all means a mature enough reason to start this story when the bug first bit, age 6.

My entry into the world of collecting came as it did for many kids, and in the case of my generation most of their fathers too: baseball cards. Oh, they’re so boring today with so many more exciting items having become accessible for collectors, but if you’re a six year old boy and it’s 1979 then there was nothing more accessible to collect than the baseball card.

Looking back, as with most memories of childhood, it was very pure. To be quite honest if you took my computer away and I wanted to take up baseball card collecting today I wouldn’t know where to go to get started. But I remember where I got them back then, often it was the five and dime, sometimes the grocery store, but what sticks out most as I write this, perhaps because it seems so unusual to me now, was the ice cream man. For some strange reason I can recall like yesterday peeling open a wax pack and pulling out a Mickey Rivers card, maybe because Mick the Quick was the only beloved Yankee I got, who knows.

Dad's deeply dented checklist
Dad's deeply dented checklist

My 1979 Topps baseball cards were interactive. I can recall keeping my cards sorted by team and laying them out in front of the television when a game was on. I’d place the 9 fielders in the appropriate positions and one by one bring the opposing batters forward as they came to the plate on TV. And sure I’d advance the batter base to base when appropriate as well. This led to my Yankees being the most beat-up of the entire bunch, but guess what, we didn’t care about condition then.

The cards were educational too, of that I have no doubt. I learned long division once I figured out dividing hits by at bats yielded a players batting average. That led to a fascination with math which filled the hours by my inventing my own stats for my own baseball career which probably often wound down when I was over the hill in baseball years by, oh, right about now.

Eventually I had amassed enough cards to presume I had the full set of 726. I took to sorting them and pulling the doubles out for trade later. I actually remember sitting on the back porch with Dad one day as he did most of the work putting everything in order and actually using the checklists for their designed purpose–marking each empty box with a sharpened pencil. I can also remember how red his face turned when I became distracted and knocked the table over, but the less said about that the better.

Now I didn’t buy my cards for the gum, but don’t think that that slab of pink didn’t offer some small inducement. I’ll even confess to growing nostalgic many years later and popping a 15 year old piece of gum in my mouth–the corners were sharp and it tasted like pure sugar. It didn’t last very long. About all that had held up was the familiar sweet aroma.

Finally I can recall the day the purity was drained from my newly found hobby. My buddies and I used to flip and match cards, winner taking the amassed stack, and while a small form of gambling that was all right, it was still pure. No, the day everything changed was the day one of us picked up one of the earlier editions of Beckett’s annual price guides.

I still remember the trade and since my guy eventually made it to the Hall of Fame I still hold that I won the deal on talent. If I didn’t know now what the price guide told us back then I’d still do the trade and I’d be right every time.

Rollie's still got that 'stache
Rollie's still got that 'stache

I was going to get a Rollie Fingers card, who besides being the top fireman of the day with World Championships in Oakland behind him and already us kids whispering in reverence, “He’s a Famer,” also had/has one of the best mustaches ever and it was captured firmly on cardboard for all time to the owner of this particular baseball card. This was quite an inducement, especially at a time before any us could grow our own mustaches.

The price was Bump Wills. Why did my friend want a Bump Wills card? I’m not even sure if I’d heard of Bump’s father, the much more successful ex-Dodger Maury Wills, at the time, but if I had I’m sure I used it as evidence. There was nothing unusual about this card. His stats read mediocre. The rookie card craze of the mid-80’s had yet to hit, but even so this was Wills’ second card anyway. My friend peered into the Beckett book, his brother leaning over his side snickering in a way that as I recall it makes me want to find them right now and play some cards.

Why? Now there’s no time limit on a deal, but still after several minutes of deliberation we were obviously reaching the critical juncture. Finally my friend and possessor of the Fingers card asked the fateful question: “Deal?” A deep breath on my part before responding, “Deal.” And so it was done.

Immediate laughter, and I apologize for all of the detail, but you’re not yet familiar with Bump Wills’ significance in the world of late 1970’s baseball cards you’re about to discover just why this was so traumatic, so very horrible, that I still believe I can recall every single detail on the 30th anniversary of the harrowing event, unembellished, of course.

“What is it?” I asked, knowing I’d had to have, in some way, goofed. They showed me the Guide.

The Bumper with his proper team
The Bumper with his proper team

The 1979 Topps cards had a pretty full photo of the ballplayer taking up most of the card’s space with a banner running along the bottom edge of the card spelling out the player’s team. Bump Wills was a Texas Ranger and my card said “Rangers” just as it should have across bottom. But this was the corrected version of an error card which in all other ways was the same as my card but read “Blue Jays” across the team banner, pre-supposing a rumored trade which never did occur if I recall the story correctly.

But the error card was only worth about a dime, which was fine, Rollie Fingers booked about a quarter. My memory is a little foggy here, but I believe the corrected version, the rarity which I had just dealt off, booked three whole dollars! Now in 1979 there wasn’t much booking for 3 bucks, at least not a lot of what we had, we were dealing in the cents column most of the time.

I’d been had! I’d dealt the prize of my budding collection without even knowing it!

From that day forward no deal was completed without consulting “the Book.” No more were deals based on wants, needs or even likes. Trades were balanced except on the rare occasion somebody would overpay for a card they needed for a set, or to complete a team set, or just a random hero Yankee–very rare times. Those deals still retained some of what made collecting so much fun, but the almighty dollar, or more accurately an otherwise unknown third party’s stated value, became the rule of the day across our childhood.