We have a new record: A copy of Action Comics #1, graded CGC 9.0 with white pages and the best graded copy ever evaluated by grading service Comics Guaranty Corporation, has sold for the highest price ever paid for a comic book. The auction for the 1938 comic, featuring the first appearance of Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, closed just moments ago at the price of $3,207,852.00.
In a rather fascinating turn of events, the new purchase was made by Metropolis/ComicConnect, themselves well-known dealers of vintage comic books, and auctioneers of the previous record-holder — the Nicolas Cage copy of Action Comics #1 which they auctioned in 2011 for $2.16 million. It is unknown at post time whether or not they have made this new purchase on behalf of a client, whether they intend to keep it for themselves, or put it up for sale at a later date [Update – Stephen Fishler subsequently told CBS News, "We'll find a happy buyer for it. It could be an investor, or a hard-core comic collector who has been trying to buy."]. Notably, Metro/CC owners Vincent Zurzolo and Stephen Fishler are no strangers to making a splash as buyers at major comic auctions, having been the winning bidders on the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #328 for a record $657,250 in 2012 at Heritage Auctions, to name one example.
It is the first comic book to break the $3 million barrier, and the sixth comic book to sell for over $1 million. The previous record holder, the Nicolas Cage copy (also a CGC 9.0, but with a Cream to Off-White page quality designation), sold for $2.16 million in November 2011 from ComicConnect. ComicConnect also sold an Action Comics #1 CGC 8.5 for $1.5 million in March 2010, an Action Comics #1 8.0 for $1 million in February 2010, and an Amazing Fantasy #15 (first appearance of Spider-Man) CGC 9.6 for $1.1 million in March 2011. Heritage Auctions sold a copy of Detective Comics #27 CGC 8.0 for $1,075,000 in February 2010.
Remarkably, the record sale for a comic book has jumped by nearly a factor of ten in the past five years. Before the million dollar barrier was broken in early 2010, the record sale for a comic book stood at $350,000 for seven years — set by the Marvel Comics #1 CGC 9.0 Pay Copy in 2003, a mark later equaled by the Flash Comics #1 CGC 9.6 Edgar Church copy the next year. Then, on February 22, 2010, the Action Comics #1 CGC 8.0 Kansas City copy sold for $1,000,000. High end record sales of many key Golden Age and Silver Age comics have climbed sharply since that time.
Many serious collectors like to know the backstory of their prized possessions, and high grade copies of Action Comics #1 have had their share of interesting histories. The Nicolas Cage copy was stolen from Cage's home, and was missing for a decade before being recovered by police from a man who found it in a storage locker. The Edgar Church copy, part of a treasure trove of high grade comics purchased in 1977 by Mile High Comics owner Chuck Rozanski, has been sitting ungraded and virtually unseen in the hands of a private collector for decades. No decent scan or photo of the Church copy — widely considered the most valuable comic in existence — has ever been made public on the internet, though the few knowledgeable individuals who have seen it claim it is undoubtedly the best copy known to exist.
The new record-holding Action Comics #1 CGC 9.0 was purchased from the family of the original owner in the late-70s by longtime vintage comics and collectibles dealer Joe Mannarino. As Mannarino tells it:
I decided to take the leap of faith and fly down to West Virginia where the books were located. I should also state that the owners had a full knowledge of the value of comic books because they were looking for thousands of dollars. I now believe what had prompted their call may have been the announcement or rumor of a Superman movie in 1976 or 1977.
I rented a car and drove seemingly straight up to a small town at the top of what was probably the Blue Ridge Mountain range. After the normal amenities, I was shown a hope chest, which is a cedar lined chest that normally sits at the foot of a bed and contains linens and such. When I had the opportunity to see the books, I was surprised that there were so few, only about thirty five and that they were very eclectic. A Planet 2, Action 2, Disneys, Fox books, Dells, Westerns, War, no real rhyme or reason. The books were not in plastic bags just stacked but sure enough, there was the Action 1.
I was immediately struck by how flat the book was. It seemed smaller that any golden age book I had seen from that period. I thought that it was perhaps a modern reprint that I was unfamiliar with as compared to the Famous First Editions or the 1976 non-glossy reprint. I opened the book to count the pages and was immediately struck by how white the pages were. As I probed a bit more, I learned that the book had been in the same chest for as long as anyone in the family could remember and that it had belonged to their father who had since passed. I compared it in size to the other books and everything checked. Just a remarkably conserved book.
In more recent years, the book was purchased by Darren Adams of Pristine Comics, who was the seller in this ebay auction. Like most vintage comics sales of this magnitude, there's been some extensive discussions among high-level collectors, dealers, and experts regarding exactly where this book falls in the pecking order of, well… best comic book ever.
Addressing some extensive debate and controversy as to its ultimate designation as a CGC 9.0, how it compares to the Nicolas Cage and Edgar Church copies, and its place in the history of the vintage comic market, Adams has noted:
Over the past few decades the rumor of this possible existence of a newsstand fresh copy of Action Comics #1 would surface. A NM copy with perfect White pages that everyone always dreamed of stumbling upon. Well, as announced last month one such book does exist. Well, this is THE BOOK.
Joe gave it a NM- grade back then and CGC gives it a grade of 9.0 with Perfect White Pages today. One thing I think everyone can agreed upon is that it is significantly nicer than the Cage copy. Not to take away from the Cage copy, this copy just happens to be a very strong 9.0.
Whomever wins this book on Sunday will be the envy of the hobby for many years to come. While it will be interesting to see what the book sells for tomorrow, perhaps the bigger question is what will it be worth in the future? When it turns 100 years old and has retained Perfect White Pages, what will this copy be worth then? For any of us over 40, and I'm 52, you know how fast 24 years passes. Even today, three decades after the sale, Mr. Anderson's infamous purchase [Mark's note: he's referring to collector Dave Anderson's purchase of the Edgar Church copy, and its nearly-iconic longtime status as the most valuable comic in the world] back in the 1980's is still discussed as one of the most important moments in vintage comic book history, and rightfully so. I feel that years from now, this Sunday will someday be looked upon with such regard as it pertains to this comic book..
Envy of the hobby for many years to come? I think there's no doubt about it. Congrats to Vincent Zurzolo and Stephen Fishler — this is quite a coup no matter what they ultimately intend to do with the comic. I for one am envious indeed.