Sweet little Irene Henschel walked around the Wichita Airport Hilton, smiling, welcoming visitors to the auction of her late husband’s comics.
She didn’t get why people were so worked up about these little funny books — now encased in plastic. Her and her second husband, Fred, were church people, she said, and all the money they were expected to fetch didn’t really have much of an effect on her.
Almost $200,000 later, and her demeanor still hadn’t changed.
“That was fun, wasn’t it?” she asked.
About 50 comic fans were in attendance at the hotel in hopes of buying one of the Henschel Pedigree Collection comics found under Irene and Fred’s bed earlier this year. A more ominous group of 10 sat along a wall, cellular phones in hand. These were the comic dealers attending via a tenuous cellular phone connection and bidding through a third party. Baltimore Orioles part owner and Diamond Comics Distributors owner Steve Geppi’s man had a ringside seat. Across from them was Ryan Iwansky, of Proxibid.com. He represented the 45 live bidders via an Internet connection.
With all the players in place and ready to go, the auction was underway. The first comic out of the blocks, an issue of “Action Comics” #15 graded at 6.5 brought in $2,600. Four hours later, the auction would be over, with comics selling for as much as $42,000 (“Flash Comics” #1, CGC graded at 6.5) and as low as $30 (“Ace Comics” #23, CGC graded at 2.0).
While Geppi dominated the last auction, this one was much more even-handed, with no buyer nabbing more than a third of the collection. The early hit of the auction was a CGC 2.0 copy of “Superman” #2 that sold for $1,150. Lot number 27 was the first comic to have a winning bidder that was in person at the auction, much to the appreciation of the bidders on-hand.
The biggest moment was, of course, the sale of “Flash Comics” #1. After the book reached into the $30,000 range, auctioneers and Swenson auction employees started swarming around the book like fruit flies. The $1,000 increment bids were between Geppi and an on-line bidder in California. The on-line bidder won out with authority, quickly raising his opponent with every bid.
“It was pretty overwhelming,” said Iwansky, who was making bids for the on-line bidder. “I have a light on my screen, and I can tell when his mouse is on the bid button… he didn’t stray very far from that button.”
With all the different parties, some technical difficulties had to be expected. The most frequent problem: dropped cell phone calls. The moment a big bidder lost his signal, the whole auction screeched to a halt.
At one point, with a phone bidder’s cellular phone down, the auction took about a five minute break right in the middle of a pricey book’s sale. As auctioneer Rex Childs strolled the floor waiting for the action to pick back up, he asked a buyer if he would bid against the absent phone bidder, and raise the price of a book up to $4,000.
“I might have to if someone doesn’t get him back on the line soon,” the buyer joked.
With people volunteering their own cell phones just to get the action started back up again, the phone bidder was finally reconnected and the auction resumed.
Ryan Gomez, of Mulvane, Kan., said that while the big books all were snatched up by phone bidders and on-line participants, there were still some decent books to be had by the small group of collectors attending in person.
“There were about six or seven of us there at the end that were duking it out for the low end books,” Gomez said. Gomez walked away from the auction with an issue of “Popular Comics” #84 graded at 5.5 that sold for $60. “I was happy with my purchase. There were some guys willing to drop $60 for a book with talking ducks on the cover, but at least I managed to get something that represented World War II and the mood in this country at the time.”
Gomez said the book he really wanted, “War Comics” #4, was ran up to three times the guide price — to $180 — by he and another collector before he relented. “These things, you just get competitive, and it becomes more about winning the fight then it does the actual value of the comic.”
Mark Brown, owner of Prairie Dog Comics in Wichita, was the first person to be called in when the collection was originally found. In fact, it was Brown that personally drove the collection to Florida to have it CGC graded.
“I’ve been dealing with this for six or seven months, more as a consultant than anything else,” Brown said. “Honestly, I’m just glad it’s all over.”
Brown did make some purchases, including an F+ issue of “Flash Comics” #7 from the last auction for $3,000. The books he bought were not for his own collection, but for re-sale purposes.
Brown said that for this part of the country, the Henschel collection was an amazing find.
“With other collections being so fragmented, it’s hard to put this one in perspective,” he said. “This is one of the better we’ll see for quite some time. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen so many #1s from an original owner before.”
Mrs. Henschel gave some insight to her husband’s collection before the auction when she stopped to chat with CBR News.
“When he was 14-years-old, Robert (Ford) lived in Flint, Mich. He worked for Western Union — when we were kids, everything came by Western Union. He would ride his bike to deliver telegrams, and once in a while he had to do singing telegrams. For a singing telegram, he’d usually get a two or three cent tip, and he’d save his money and go buy himself a couple of these comic books.”
As adults, it became Irene’s job to keep track of the comics.
“Robert (Ford) was an aeronautical engineer, so whenever he got a new job working on airplanes, he quickly moved and I would stay behind and pack things up,” she said. “We kept these in a box, always in the air conditioning, wherever we had room. Sometimes in a closet, sometimes under the bed. Once in a while he would get a few out and read them, and when time ran out he would put them away. He never let kids get into them, because he didn’t like them getting messed up.”
But did she ever just want to throw the silly things away?
“Oh, Heaven’s no, never. I would never do that to someone’s personal possessions.”
Back in April, Irene told the Wichita Eagle that she hoped to buy a red truck with the money made from the auction. Now, after the total collection has grossed almost $300,000, she still hasn’t bought the truck. But they are “currently in negotiations,” she said. When asked what she would do after they had the truck, Irene once again displayed her Midwestern charm.
“Robert died of Alzheimer’s,” Irene says. “We’re going to support the Alzheimer’s walk very generously. That’s very important to me.”
|8||All American Comics||21||8.5||$2,800|
|28||More Fun Comics||54||5.5||$3,500|
|30||More Fun Comics||62||7||$1,250|
|35||All Star Comics||1||7.5||$7,100|
|40||More Fun Comics||57||6||$1,500|
|42||All American Comics||15||6||$340|
|48||All American Comics||14||8||$700|
|49||All Flash Quarterly||6||6.5||$325|
|50||All Flash Quarterly||1||7.5||$7,300|
|52||More Fun Comics||48||5||$500|
|57||More Fun Comics||62||3.5||$400|
|75||More Fun Comics||55||7||$7,900|
|76||Sure Fire Comics||3||7.5||$400|
|108||USA Is Ready||1||6.5||$200|
|109||Target Comics||Vol. 2 #4||7||$210|
|112||Tip Top Comics||42||4.5||$40|
|113||Uncle Sam Quarterly||4||5.5||$275|
|117||Target Comics||V. 2 #1||4||$40|
|118||Tip Top Comics||77||7||$140|
|127||Target Comics||V. 2 #2||1.8||$80|
|130||Target Comics||V. 2 #7||5.5||$90|
|131||Target Comics||V. 2 #9||6||$90|
|133||Blue Bolt||V. 3 #6||8||$100|
|139||Target Comics||V. 2 #8||7.5||$350|
|141||Big Shot Comics||16||6||$120|
|142||Blue Bolt||V. 3 #8||9||$110|
|152||Blue Bolt||V. 3 #4||8||$80|
|157||Comics on Parade||22||3||$35|
|160||Mutt & Jeff||No #||0.5||$75|
|170||Mystery Men Comics||12||2||$95|
|* price could not be confirmed|
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