The Promise Collection: One of the Greatest Comic Finds of All Time

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When Bleeding Cool heard about the accumulation of Golden Age comic books known as the Promise Collection, this 1951 Life Magazine photo of American troops reading comic books during the Korean War was the first thing to come to mind.  While World War II was part of what forged the modern American comic book industry into what it is today, it was what came next that made us realize that we often don't leave comic books behind when we grow up.  The story behind the collection of 5,000 Golden Age comics, 95% of which are blisteringly high grade, is the tale of a young boy who grew up reading comic books during World War II, went to fight in the Korean War, and never returned. Heritage Auctions will be bringing this historic collection to market beginning with their 2021 June 17 – 19 Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction.

Detective Comics #140, Phantom Lady #17, Captain America Comics #74 from the Promise Collection
Detective Comics #140, Phantom Lady #17, Captain America Comics #74 from the Promise Collection

The consignors of these comics wish to remain anonymous, but Heritage Auctions has revealed some details behind the origins of the Promise Collection and its name:

In the early 1950s, a young man called Robert was drafted by the Army to fight in Korea. His younger brother, known as Junie, enlisted in the hopes of keeping watch over Robert. Junie had but one request of his big brother – that Robert take care of his collection of funny books should anything happen to him in battle.

Robert knew how dear those books were to his brother. So he promised him: Yes, of course. He would take care of those funny books. If something happened. God forbid.

Then Junie was killed in action. He was 21 years old.

Robert came home from the war and fulfilled his promise to his brother.  The comic books were carefully boxed up and put in an attic, where they stayed for over half a century.

When their names become known, the collecting community remembers the original fans who have passed their collections down through the decades to be appreciated in the modern day. Readers and collectors such as Edgar Church, who amassed a collection of nearly 15,000 comics 1937-1957, Davis Crippen, who bought and saved some 13,000 comics 1940-1955, and Lamont Larson, who collected over 1,000 comic books 1936-1940, are all legendary names within the collecting hobby.  The modern collecting community fondly remembers these names and others and discusses them often.  Robert and Junie will be added to this list of legends.

The Promise Collection becomes the 61st pedigree collection recognized by CGC.  What is a pedigree collection according to CGC?  Essentially, the collection must have been bought from the newsstands by the original owner, it must consist primarily of comics from the 1960s or before, it must be a collection of at least 1,000 comic books, and it should be primarily high grade. CGC introduced a special label for such recognized pedigrees in 2019.

This collection surpasses these criteria in every regard, and the quantity of very high-grade comics present here is one of the incredible aspects of the Promise Collection. Those who have seen these comic books in person have been impressed, to put it mildly.

Heritage Auctions Senior VP Ed Jaster notes, "The collection's depth and scope is almost unparalleled. I expect nearly two-thirds of the books will stand as the finest-known copies for any particular comic represented in the collection."

"When Ed and I first saw the collection, it didn't take us long to realize that it had all the earmarks of a top-tier pedigree: great colors, off-white or better pages and consistent high grades," agrees Heritage Auctions VP Lon Allen. "It's hard to overstate how unbelievable this collection truly is. Each box we open contains more and more treasures from the Golden Age of comic books, comics that I only previously dreamed I would come across in near-mint to mint condition."

"When I first heard about this incredible collection that Lon and Ed were bringing in I was jealous not to be there at the moment of discovery," Heritage Auctions Comics Buyer / Consignment Director Rick Akers adds. "I have, like many collectors, always dreamed of coming across an untouched trove of comical gems from the 1940s. As these books came in, before being sent to CGC, I was able to look through several boxes of Timely and esoteric titles and my breath was taken away with the glossy inks and white pages. The Promise Collection experience is definitely the highlight of my time in comics up to this point and I think this one will be pretty difficult to top."

The numbers we know so far back up these lofty claims: While about 300 listings from the collection are expected for Heritage's 2021 June 17 – 19 Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction, as of this writing there are over 250 Promise Collection comic books added there so far.  Nearly 50% of those listings are CGC 9.6 or 9.8. There are numerous CGC 9.8 White pages listings.  These are indeed staggering numbers for a Golden Age collection.

Heritage expects to auction the Promise Collection beginning in June 2021 and continuing through 2022. Bleeding Cool will have much more to say about this collection in the weeks and months to come, but for now, we'll list a few of our favorites from the June auction:

  • Detective Comics #140 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1948) CGC NM+ 9.6 White pages: The first appearance of the Riddler.  The sole highest-graded copy on the census at CGC 9.6, and with very few high-grade copies hitting the public market over the past 20 years. In April 2021, a CGC 7.5 copy sold for $40,800.
  • All Select Comics #11 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Timely, 1946) CGC NM/MT 9.8 Off-white to white pages: First appearance of the Blonde Phantom. The top census copy at CGC 9.8, with only 7 listings on the census above CGC 8.5, which rarely trade hands.
  • Phantom Lady #17 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Fox Features Syndicate, 1948) CGC NM+ 9.6 Pink pages: At CGC 9.6, the sole highest-graded copy of a highly desirable comic book featuring Matt Baker cover and artwork. A CGC 9.4 copy sold for $121,000 in 2019.
  • All-American Comics #61 The Promise Collection Pedigree (DC, 1944) CGC NM+ 9.6 Off-white to white pages: First appearance of Solomon Grundy. The second highest-graded copy on the CGC census, but copies above CGC 7.5 unrestored are almost never offered up for public sale. A CGC 7.0 copy went for $30,500 in 2020.
  • Captain America Comics #74 The Promise Collection Pedigree (Timely, 1949) CGC NM- 9.2 White pages: The weird, wonderful and highly sought-after "Captain America fights the Red Skull… in Hell!" cover story.  The highest-graded copy on the CGC census at CGC 9.2, with the second-highest listed at CGC 8.0. Almost no copies above CGC 7.5 have been sold at public auction in over 20 years, with a CGC 7.5 copy selling for $27,000 in 2019.

One of the most significant comic book collections to ever surface, the Promise Collection is impressive and historic in every regard. Heritage Auctions will be bringing this historic collection to market beginning with their 2021 June 17 – 19 Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction.

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About Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.
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