A rare copy of Batman No. 1, published 70 years ago, is being sold by Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries, where it’s expected to fetch more than $40,000. The original press run for the comic in 1940 was thought to be about 500,000 but today fewer than 300 copies are believed to remain in existence.
One of that copy going up for sale this week belongs to Alaska comic book collector Mike Wheat, who bought it in 1974, along with two other comic books for $300. Online bids, who will compete with a live auction set for Thursday, August 5th, already have climbed to $35,000. Barry Sandoval, director of comic auctions and operations at Heritage, said the auction house has handled many copies of Batman No. 1, but he said Wheat’s copy is notable because the low humidity and cool temperatures in Fairbanks have kept the paper in excellent condition. Old comics were printed on notoriously cheap newsprint, but the pages in Wheat’s copy remain crisp and white.
Batman’s first appearance came in 1939, when he was featured as a character in Detective Comics No. 27. Wheat’s copy is notable because it’s the first solo spin-off for the character and includes the original appearance by two of his key foes, the Joker and Catwoman.
The comic has a backstory that would make any junk collector proud.
Local businessman Ron Jaeger said he purchased an old dresser at a Fourth Avenue garage sale for $25 in the early 1970s, then tossed it in a storage space for a few years. When he finally dug it out, he noticed one of the drawers didn’t slide easily.
Beneath the drawer and a quarter-inch piece of plywood were three comic books and a few old issues of the News-Miner. Jaeger doesn’t know whether they were in a false bottom or served as a ridiculously valuable spacer for the balky drawer, but the haul included a copy of Batman No. 1, Superman No. 17, and an old issue of a Red Ryder Western comic.
Jaeger was put in touch with Wheat in 1974, who had a reputation as an avid comic collector. The three comics went for a quick $300.
The second and fourth Batman issues also will be part of Thursday’s auction. They are expected to bring more than $5,000 combined.