One of the great debates in vintage comic book collecting circles is over just how many comics from the 1930s-1960s are left out there in the world, undiscovered. I read one theory recently — actually a pretty compelling one — which postulated, for example, that all the copies of Action Comics #1 that still exist will have been found and surfaced in the collecting community in some manner by 2050, and that copies which have not been found by that point are for practical purposes gone forever.
But with the American comic book industry getting its start in the mid-1930s, the original generation of American comic book readers are now in their 80s at youngest, and passing on. The math does dictate that the discovery of new Original Owner collections (so called because the collections were bought off the newsstand by the original reader and kept intact as a collection all these years, and not pieced together second hand by a later collector) will inevitably slow down.
And yet, every time I think we've seen the last interesting find, another one surfaces. Today's example comes to us by way of retailer Greg Bartholomew of All American Comics and Cards, with stores in Warren and Boardman, Ohio. Bartholomew has been in business for 18 years, but he's never seen a collection of comic books like the one he discovered recently — a group of early Batman, Detective Comics, and others that start in that all-important pre-World War II era. The collection includes Batman #1-4, Detective Comics #28-36 and several other comics.
As much as I enjoy learning about pioneering comic book makers, I think it's also important to preserve what we can about the earliest generation of readers. The man who bought and read these comics, and saved them for decades, was born in 1924 and read comic books during his high school years. He enlisted in the military after Pearl Harbor, and his reading habits after that point (or at least, the comics he was able to save or have saved for him) necessarily became more sporadic. The man was a longtime Ohio resident, and while it is unknown if these comics where purchased from a newsstand in that area, Bartholomew believes this was likely.
The heart of the collection includes many of the most important Batman comics there are — including his earliest appearances in Detective Comics — minus one of the big ones. It seems that there is no Detective Comics #27 (the first appearance of Batman) in the collection. As Bartholomew notes, "The reason I believe the 27 was missing is that he initially bought comics here and there and had picked up a Detective #23 then a #26. There was not much fanfare for Batman since no one really knew who or what he was. He must have missed issue #27, and picked up #28 and liked Batman and continued to collect."
Though there is no #27 (or #37) in this case, a run of pre-Robin Detective Comics #27-37 — which includes contributions from key Batman architects Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson — is the stuff of legend among vintage comics collectors today. They contain a darker, more intense Batman that formed the core of the character before Robin's arrival lightened the tone of the title. Of course, they are also incredibly rare. It is known as one of the most sought-after runs in all of comics collecting.
Did this original reader pick up comics here and there and then decide he was primarily a Batman fan? Perhaps we'll never know, but Bartholomew says the man's family continues to sort through his belongings, so it's possible that we'll eventually find out that he was a Superman fan as well.
In the interest of helping to preserve the provenance of the collection, here's a list of what it's known to contain so far and the CGC grades they received. Many of these books are being made available in the ComicLink November Feature Auction which starts November 4, with others to be auctioned at a later date.
Batman #1-4 and #9
Detective #23, #26, #28-#36, 44, 47, 51, 53, 54, 55, 57-62, 64, 65 and 70
Marvel Mystery #29
All American Comics #8
Batman #1 2.5, #2 2.5, #3 2.5, #4 5.0 and #9 6.0
Detective Comics #23 0.5, #26 1.8, #28 1.5, #29 4.0, #30 3.0, #31 3.0, #32 4.0 #33 2.0, #34 3.0, #35 4.0 and #36 1.8.