AbeBooks is a purely digital business, so it’s a pleasure to be invited to see a collection belonging to one of our customers. Let’s call him Mr C as his collection has significant value.
Mr C collects the Classics Illustrated series of comic books but does it in a unique way. In case you are unfamiliar with Classics Illustrated, it was a series that ran from 1941 to 1971 that took famous books and converted the storyline into a comic book format for younger readers.
The yellow masthead and the cover scenes of dashing drama – often a fight – are familiar to several generations of readers who grew up as Baby Boomers. The first to be published was The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas in 1941.
Mr C owns 1,500 copies of Classic Illustrated publications, including many regional variations such as Spanish and Greek editions. His collecting odyssey began in 1991 although he had read Classics Illustrated as a child.
“I went to Comic-Con in San Diego and met some people there who collected Classics Illustrated,” Mr C said. “The first ones I picked up were a bundle of them for $20 or $30.”
Two bibliographic publications have been essential to building his collection – The Complete Guide to Classics Collectibles and The Complete Guide to Classics Illustrated, both by Dan Malan.
Mr C’s desire for Classics Illustrated took him to the world’s greatest comic shops from Sweden to Italy and North America. He recalled travelling to Sweden and finding three copies of The Knight and the Witch by Zach Topelius for about $6 each – these were particularly sweet finds as he knew a fellow collector had paid $1,000 for a similar copy and until then only three copies were known to exist. After 2000, he mainly scoured the digital world for his beloved comics.
“A collection is never complete,” he said, standing in his home office that contains his collection. “There is always something of interest that can be added, something else to find. You can never be completely knowledgeable on the subject.”
As his collection grew, Mr C decided to change direction in 2005. He began ‘twinning’ his comics with as desirable book editions of the title as possible. A Jack London comic was twinned with a first edition of the book and so on. He displays the pairs in custom designed boxes with glass fronts and the visual effect of a comic and a book side by side is very impressive. One of his favorite book finds was a first edition, first printing of King Solomon’s Mines for $1,500 – prices on AbeBooks stretch to more than $13,000. He has also twinned first editions that became famous movies with the original videos.
Mr C may have started as a comic collector but his book collection is not to be sniffed at, and he is resourceful. In some cases, he has picked up first editions of famous books that lack a dust jacket but then added a facsimile copy of the wrapper to the book. In other cases, he has acquired first editions that have been priced clipped. A couple of times, he has bought a reproduction, such as with Tom Sawyer, where any sort of first edition is out of his price range or impossible to find. Signed books have no appeal.
“At first, I was looking for books between $200 and $300, but now I will spend $500 to $800 on the right book,” he said. “$2,400 is the most I’ve ever spent on a book, and I’ve bought six or seven at around that price. I have a first American edition of Casino Royale that cost $200 and I simply added a new dust jacket for $20. That works fine for me. The twinning seems to bring the books alive. AbeBooks has been a tremendous help for me and I have also made some wonderful contacts with very understanding booksellers over the years.”
Mr. C has carefully catalogued his entire collection. Date of acquisition, the price, the key details and the source are all logged. He estimates there are around 30 similarly minded collectors of Classics Illustrated in North America and they make a mini community dedicated to the series.
“These books and comics are my passion,” he said. “I’d rather invest in them than a pension as I can see them every day and I don’t think they will fall in value.”