Published: October 1, 2019
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack
CRANSTON, R.I. – On Saturday September 21, Bruneau & Co conducted one of its regularly scheduled auctions of comic books and pop culture toys, such as those of Star Wars characters. To say that it was another world from those auctions usually discussed in Antiques and The Arts Weekly would not be unfair. One of the first things you would notice is the age of the buyers. There were not any teenagers, but it seemed that only one buyer in the audience was over 50, as opposed to Americana sales, where nearly everyone is over 50. You would also have noticed that the better comic books cannot be examined or handled – each is encased in a heavy “tamperproof” plastic case with a condition grade from one to ten noted on a label, along with a serial number, also encased in the plastic. What this means is that a buyer might spend thousands of dollars for a comic that they cannot read or handle. Two companies are in the business of grading and securing comics, and their charges vary, depending on the value, usually costing from $35 and up. You might also notice that seemingly minute differences in toys have substantial effect on value. You might expect that value of comics would be based upon condition and rarity, but there is another important consideration: does the comic in question include the first appearance of a character who later becomes very popular, such as Superman or Batman?
The auction was composed of two parts, starting with an uncataloged sale of about 250 box lots, which Kevin Bruneau, who founded the company in 2015, moved through in a little more than an hour. Buyers had to be present for this portion of the sale. There were several lots that were sold “by the yard.” The term refers to standard white boxes used for storage and known to the trade as “yard” or “half yard” boxes. A yard box might contain about three hundred comics, and some sold for as little as $20 to $50. The cataloged portion of the sale, about 375 lots, gave buyers the choice of the internet, phone or absentee bidding, in addition to bidding in the sales room. Travis Landry, the company’s director of pop culture, takes the podium for this portion of the sale. He oversees the three or four pop culture sales annually and also is involved in the cataloging, intake and overseeing the 12 sales a year of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century decorative arts.
Prices in all fields of collecting are subject to ups and downs over time, and in some fields, “brown” furniture for example, prices achieved prior to 2008 have dropped considerably. Comic book values also change but with far more volatility than most other collecting fields. As Landry explained, “comic values can be more akin to day trading. If a studio announces a movie will be made featuring a particular comic character, or with a particular star, comic books and toys may be produced to take advantage of the studio marketing of the movie. Value of those may spike, in anticipation of further increases in value when the movie is released. Sometimes the movie is cancelled, sometimes the announced cast changes, or the movie does poorly at the box office. Any of these events, and others, can directly lower the value of the comics. Social media postings and commentary can also affect prices, if, for example, a Facebook post comments favorably or unfavorably about a movie, cast member, etc.” Landry said, “You really have to pay attention to the variety of factors that enter into value. Values sometimes change daily. These various factors are being evaluated by collectors – often investor is a better word – all over the world, so opinions may vary widely as to the ultimate worth of a particular comic. Comics with the first appearance of a character who later becomes popular are always in demand.”
An example of the importance of “first appearance” was demonstrated in this sale. The highest priced lot in the sale, finishing at $10,950, was a copy of Marvel Comics’ Amazing Fantasy #15 from August 1962. The book featured the first appearance and origin story of Spider-Man and the first appearance of Aunt May, Uncle Ben, Flash Thompson, and Liz Allen. The year 1962 is in the Silver Age of comics, and this encapsulated copy was graded 1.8 (on a scale of 1 to 10), indicating that this particular copy was flawed, but it still brought more than $10,000. As you might expect, condition has an enormous effect on value. A copy of the same comic graded 9.4 sold in 2016 for $454,100, while another, graded 9.6, sold for $1.1 million in 2011, making the issue one of only three comic books to have broken the million-dollar mark – the others being the debut of Superman in Action Comics #1, of which three copies have sold for more than a million dollars each; and the first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics #27.
Other first appearance issues were also the highest priced lots in the sale. Batman #37, November 1946, included the first appearance of the Jokermobile, and it had the first Joker cover. It was graded 8.0 and earned $4,602. Marvel Comics’ X-Men #1, September 1963, realized $4,248. Graded 3.0, it featured the first appearance and origin of the X-Men, including Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Angel, Professor X and Magneto. Rounding out the four highest priced lots was Marvel Comics’ Daredevil #1, April, 1964. It featured the origin and first appearance of Daredevil and the first appearance of Karen Page and Foggy Nelson. Graded 7.0, it reached $3,894. There were hundreds of other graded and encapsulated comics and all sold.
In discussing the subject with Landry, he mentioned that Bruneau participates in several Comic Cons, including the Rhode Island Comic Con, an annual three-day event. Attendance last year was 92,000. In concept, similar to an antiques show, but with features to appeal to a much wider audience. Many stars of television shows of yesteryear, as well as the stars of superhero movies of today, are on hand, selling photo ops and signing autographs. As an example, for $80, you could have your picture taken with William Shatner (Captain Kirk), and for another $85, you could get his autograph. These fees are in addition to the admission prices, which range from $35 for a regular admission to a VIP package priced at $179. It truly is another world.
Comic books are often referred to as being from one “age” or another. A quick summary: The Golden Age (1938-56) includes the first appearance of Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman and others. The Silver Age (1956-70) included Spider-Man, and the Bronze Age (1970-85) continued with the same and new characters, but storylines changed, including references to real life events. It was during the Golden Age years that westerns, sci-fi and detective comics appeared.
The sale included more than comic books. There were several Star Wars toys in original packaging, some trade cards, character lunch boxes and vintage tin toys. Selling for $885, the highest priced toy lot, in original unopened packaging, was a 1983 Kenner Boba Fett, from Star Wars: Return of The Jedi, on a 65 unpunched back, graded 70 (toy grading scales differs from comic grading scales). Of interest to collectors of the Star Wars figures is the back of the card on which they are mounted. The backs picture the number of toys available in the series at that point in time, some include special offers, some include additional text, etc. This back pictured 65 toys. The toys indicate the title of the movie, in this case, Return of The Jedi. The number of toys produced and the points of interest to collectors, including color variations, is staggering. Travis Landry estimated that more than 300 million Star Wars toys have been produced to date. A complete 1984 Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Imperial Shuttle, mint in the box, sold for $189. The box showed just minor wear. Character lunch boxes generally sold in the $100 range. Most popular was a 1982 ET: The Extra Terrestrial box, with original thermos bottle and original sales tag and instructions for the thermos, which sold for $142. Just a few dollars less was a 1974 lunch box with thermos that earned $130.
A few days after the sale, Landry said, “We’re seeing these sales steadily increase in gross dollars. This one finished at over $140,000, and that’s about ten percent higher than the last one, even though there were fewer lots. We’re aiming to include more higher value toys and comics in the future sales. We’ll probably do four of these next year. We’re participating in a several Comic Cons, and that helps increase our exposure and brings business our way. I’m also a comics appraiser on the Antiques Roadshow, and that’s great exposure. This upcoming season will be my fourth. To me, one of the biggest surprises of the day was the $1,000 price we got for the lot of eleven 1954-55 Tales From The Crypt comics. I had estimated them at $200/300. I think one of the best buys of the day was an original limited edition lithograph of the iconic Magic: The Gathering “Black Lotus” trading card artwork. That trading card is the holy grail of MTG collecting, and this print was signed and numbered 75 of 100 in the margin by illustrator Christopher Rush. Someone got a very good buy at $1,650.”
For additional information, call 401-533-9980 or visit www.bruneauandco.com.
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