Comic Cuts, Victor, Valiant, Eagle, The Beano, The Dandy, Whizzer & Chips – these are just some of the weekly comics that entertained youngsters from the 1930s onwards in Britain. Across the Pond in the United States, Action Comics led the way with its first superhero, Superman, in 1938. Copies of the first issue have changed hands at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars, culminating first in a $1.5 million price in 2010, then a $2.16 million bid in 2011 for a copy owned by the actor Nicolas Cage, and then a $3.21 million bid in 2014. Key to those top prices was the pristine condition of the comics.
This month we have had two more reminders about what an astonishing market this is.
Comic store owner Billy Giles, who died in 2019, had bought a first issue of Batman – published in 1940 – for £2,200 in 1982. Now the all-but mint condition copy has sold at auction for £1.6 million.
Hard to beat? Yes, but Tintin, that great invention by the Belgian author and illustrator Georges Remi, known as Hergé, did just that in the same week.
OK, we’re not actually dealing with like for like here; the Tintin illustration was a framed original gouache, ink and watercolour painting produced for the story The Blue Lotus, the character’s fifth adventure. Nevertheless, in all essentials it relates closely to the Batman comic, especially as it was meant to serve as the cover picture for the story, but was rejected. The price? €3.2m or £2.8m.
So Batman may have more superpowers, but Tintin packs the greater punch.
Catch them early – that’s what they say. Well, one auctioneer has taken this to heart more than anyone else that I have heard of before as he handed the gavel to his three-year-old daughter.
Jasmyne Sitter took to the rostrum on January 2 in Michigan to close the bidding on an artwork after being lifted up there by her father Jordan, Prinicipal Auctioneer for Park West Gallery.
“Sold” she cried out, clearly delighted with her starring role.
OK, it may have just been a bit of fun, but I’m willing to bet that this moment will prove to be an enduring memory for young Jasmyne and thrilling enough to sow the seeds of curiosity in her father’s choice of career. In another 20 to 25 years, we may well see her conducting the entire auction, and that makes me think of who else might be running the world we love by then.
In other words, what makes a good auctioneer?
Assuming traditional live auctions will continue to take place by then – and I think they will regardless of how much timed online auctions come to dominate – it is certain that any auctioneer worth their salt will still have to be a bit of a showman (or woman). It is not just the art and antiques themselves that attract keen bidding, it is also the sense of occasion and the ability of the Master of Ceremonies (for that is what an auctioneer is) to generate the atmosphere and enthusiasm, to be able to read a crowd and, in keeping proceedings lively and competitive, not to lose sight of bids as they come in.
Jasmyne has plenty of promise; I’m almost certain she’ll be among them.
This is the time of year I like to look ahead to see what the next 12 months are likely to bring. If the last year taught us anything, it is to avoid predictions. So here goes: Auctions will continue to transfer increasingly online now that attitudes and confidence have caught up with technology. While we may lose some of the excitement of the live auction room experience, health considerations, as well as the convenience and cost savings of being able to do everything from the comfort of your own home will win through.
Brexit changes mean we will have to work harder on filling out customs paperwork for purchases sent overseas. It’s a pain, but something we will just have to deal with.
More people will start to buy fine art and more younger people will switch on to the possibilities and wonder of antiques as they log on to bid. Often they will come across antiques for the first time by accident as they scour online catalogues for luxury goods like jewellery and watches.
Anniversaries will play an important role once more: Chanel No 5 turns 100 in May, the month before Prince Philip reaches his centenary. Louis Vuitton turns 200 in August, while the pre-Renaissance poet Dante marks his 700th birthday in September.
November 11 marks the centenary of the first Poppy Day to mark the Armistice.
So much to remember, honour and celebrate.
A friend of mine has just bought a pair of perfectly serviceable table lamps from an online retailer. They will be delivered within the next week and should fit in with the interior décor of their house nicely. They look fine for what they are, but if I’m honest they are made out of fairly cheap materials and I suspect will have a fairly short shelf life, despite actually being rather pricey, to my mind.
I know I’m biased, but I would argue that with a little bit of patience and the help of a free online auction alert service, my friend could have found a much better pair of lamps of classic design and more solid materials in a saleroom like mine. Recycled, well designed, long-lasting, chic and almost certainly a great deal less expensive than the repro versions they have just bought, antiques like these are the ultimate ‘green’ must-haves that everyone keeps saying they want.
It’s still not too late to find that special something for your loved ones this Christmas at auction, and it’s as easy as browsing online and registering to bid. What’s more, it’s an exciting and enjoyable process. Why not give it a go.