Collectors from as far away as New York, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Florida flocked to a sleepy house on a dirt road in South Wichita, all to view the recently discovered Henschel Pedigree collection. Over 400 comic books from the late 1930s and early- to mid-1940s were recently discovered in bags under beds at Irene Ford Henschel's home. The comics originally belonged to her late husband, Robert Ford, who died in 1999 at age 75, three months before their 50th wedding anniversary.
For this auction, the first of two, 121 comics were sold, fetching prices as high as $4,100 for a fine copy of "Action Comics" #23. Over $100,000 in comics were sold (most of the books can be viewed here.). Titles ranged from "Action Comics," "Batman" and "Flash Comics" to "Jungle Comics" and "Famous Funnies."
Yes, over $100,000 was netted for Mrs. Henschel on the sale of her late husband's books. Not bad, considering she told the Wichita Eagle that her only hope was to be able to buy a red pickup truck with the money.
"I instantly knew we had something special," said Conrad Swenson, auctioneer and the person to find the comics. "We do auctions all across the country, and once in a while we sell one or two comics, and they'll go for $100, $200. Within the hour I got my digital camera and posted them on our Web site. Within two hours I'm getting dealers calling me from all over the country. I was getting 40 to 50 calls a day at one point."
A local comic store owner was called in to consult on the grades and values of the books. He immediately advised them to not auction off the collection too hastily, that the books -- including a copy of "Superman" #1 that did not go on sale -- were too valuable and they needed more time to properly grade and advertise the auction. But Swenson Auctions felt obligated to sell at least some of the comics since it had already advertised the books on their Web site.
"What I didn't realize," Swenson said with a smile, "was that the next 300 comics are the 'good ones.' The books we're auctioning today are the cheap ones."
Swenson wouldn't elaborate on what books were left in the collection but did say the copy of "Superman" #1 has an unfortunate rip on the front cover. Besides that, he wasn't sure what other titles would be available but did say they planned to get many of the books CGC graded before the next auction, to take place sometime this fall near the Wichita airport.
"For what little notice we gave, we've had an amazing turnout," said Don Howell, auctioneer. "There's going to be a full range of prices here today. We had dealers come in last night just to inspect the conditions of the books."
Indeed, it's rare to see copies of "Batman" #3, "Superman" #3, "Captain Marvel" #1 and a very fine copy of "Detective Comics" #65 stored in oversized Ziplock sandwich bags on wood tables in a garage. But Swenson Auctions certainly had one thing right -- there were more security guards then at a 50 Cent concert. Attendees to the auction had to wait in line before they could enter the rickety garage. Once in the garage, the only thing being ogled harder than the comics were the bidders, by plain clothes and on-duty police.
Over 100 people attended the auction, including absentee bidders by phone. A few young comic fans sat in the front row, hoping to get a deal on a golden age treasure. The sound of their young hearts breaking was almost audible as the third comic on the block went for $4,100, well out of the price range of casual collectors.
Absentee bidder No. 98 -- rumored by bidders to be Steve Geppi, owner of Diamond Comics Distributors and part-owner of the Baltimore Orioles -- overwhelmed the auction, acquiring two-thirds of the comics on the block.
"Just think, if it wasn't for the Internet and Swensonauction.com, we'd never had been able to get the word out to so many people," Howell told the bidders midway through the auction. "The Internet is great, isn't it?"