First Batman comic sells for $500,000

Detective Comics #27, sold for $492,937Robert Irwin bought a copy of Detective Comics #27 at a Sacramento newsstand in 1939 for a dime. He was 13 and an avid reader of comics. This one issue was the only one he kept past childhood. Thursday he sold it at auction for $492,937.

Detective Comics #27 features the first appearance of “The Batman.” Although 250,000 copies of the comic were printed in 1939, only 150 are known to be extant today, hence the big price tag. Mr. Irwin kept his in excellent condition over the years, but even so it’s still not the top of the market for this particular issue. Earlier this year, Heritage Auction sold a near-mint copy for $1.75 million.

In fact, it was that sale that inspired Robert Irwin to finally sell his copy. He had rediscovered it 6 years earlier and he knew he had something special when a collector offered him $100,000 for it. He turned down the offer and held on to it for another 5 years.

As impressive as the sale price is, that’s not the part that gives experts the biggest thrill. It’s the backstory, the fact that the boy who bought it when it was new in 1939 is the man who sold it in 2010.

Although he has seen comic books sell for more than a million dollars, Jaster considers this auction a once-in-a-lifetime kind of sale at the auction house.

“I’ve been here for nine years and been part of a lot of major auctions, but this one was unique,” said [Ed Jaster, senior vice president at Heritage]. “To come across an item that someone bought for 10 cents and have it sell for almost a half million dollars — that’s special.”

Robert Irwin with his copy of DC #27When asked why he kept only this one comic out of the hundreds he and his brother bought when they were kids, Irwin said: “I don’t know. I must have just liked the cover.” The cover was designed by the great Bob Kane himself, so that’s as good a reason as any.

Once the auction house gets its cut, Irwin should clear about $400,000. He’ll celebrate with his wife and son over dinner in Dallas, then he’s going back to Sacramento to pay off his mortgage.

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3 Comments »

Comment by edahstip
2010-11-22 00:26:28

A lot of pre-WWII comics didn’t survive due to the recycling of paper as part of the war effort. They weren’t considered in any way collectible, being rather like the pulp magazines or dime novels in popular estimation. Even without the war, it’s unlikely a large number would have survived as few would put forth the effort to preserve them.

It’s the things that no one thinks will ever go up in value that have a chance to be real ‘collectors items.’ Hence the comics bust of the ’90s…

Comment by livius drusus
2010-11-22 23:55:54

And the lunch boxes. And the Beanie Babies.

Comment by edahstip
2010-11-23 22:22:38

I thought that Beanie Babies were marketed as collectibles from the start? That’s really a different type of collectible though, like the Tom Clark gnomes that my mom loves. With those, it’s a limited production run and an ongoing group of enthusiasts who drive up prices.

The comics boon was marked by hugely inflated runs of the books, reducing the value in the long run. The ones caught up in the craze wouldn’t listen to reason, they were sure they were investing their money, not throwing it away.

 
 
 
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