The $402,111 bid in tonight's highly-publicized auction of the original cover of Superman #14 would have been a new record for American comic book art — had the piece sold.
The iconic cover by artist Fred Ray is the most important early Superman cover known to still exist, and was saved from the trash by legendary Batman artist Jerry Robinson in 1942. Original comic art was routinely thrown away at the time. Another famous piece from his collection — the cover of Detective Comics #69 by Robinson himself — also failed to meet the auction reserve after reaching $213,000.
The result didn't surprise some vintage art experts, as Robinson had apparently been exploring the possibility of a sale for some time but was understandably reluctant to split up the contents of his world-class collection, which he has also loaned out for exhibition in recent times. Most auction watchers were expecting strong reserves on the two pieces. In early 2009 Robinson told the Los Angeles Times:
"There are hundreds of pieces," Robinsons said, and among them is the classic Superman by Fred Ray with an eagle perched on the arm of the Man of Steel. "There's nothing like [this collection] anywhere else in the world, but I'd like to sell it intact. I won't do an auction. I spent 70 years bringing all of it together I don't want it dispersed now."
The current record for American comic book art was the sale of the Frank Frazetta cover of Weird Science-Fantasy #29 for $380,000 this past June in a private transaction.
Comic Connect, the auctioneers of tonight's comic and art sale, made a splash earlier this year by selling a high grade copy of Action Comics #1 for $1.5 million.
Although after-auction negotiations are not unheard of in these matters, tonight's no-sales are a bit of a let-down after a torrid year for key comics and art — the title splash from X-Men #2 by Jack Kirby also failed to meet reserve after reaching $72,000. However, a treasure trove of proofs, sketches, and other material from the estate of little-known but highly regarded and influential Golden Age artist LB Cole was quickly absorbed by collectors and historians.