A comic collection that includes a staggering array of some of the most prized issues ever published was headed for auction Wednesday in New York City, where it was expected to fetch more than $2 million.
Among the 345 well-preserved comics bought decades ago by a Virginia boy with a remarkable knack for picking winners are 44 of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide's top 100 issues from comics' golden age.
"This is just one of those collections that all the guys in the business think don't exist anymore," said Lon Allen, the managing director of comics for Heritage Auctions, the Dallas-based auction house overseeing the sale.
The collection includes an Action Comics No. 1, from 1938, which features the first appearance of Superman and is expected to sell for about $325,000. A Detective Comics No. 27, from 1939, features the first appearance of Batman and is expected to get about $475,000. A Captain America No. 2, from 1941, in which the hero bursts in on Adolf Hitler is expected to bring in about $100,000.
"The scope of this collection is, from a historian's perspective, dizzying," said J.C. Vaughn, associate publisher of Overstreet.
Most comics from the golden age -- the late 1930s into the 1950s -- fell victim to wartime paper drives, normal wear and tear and mothers throwing them out, said Vaughn. Of the 200,000 copies of Action Comics No. 1 produced, about 130,000 were sold and the about 70,000 that didn't sell were pulped. Today, experts believe only about 100 copies are left in the world, he said.
The collection up for auction was discovered last year by a man cleaning out his late great aunt's house in Martinsville, Va., following her death. When Michael Rorrer opened up a basement closet, he found the neatly stacked comics that had belonged to his late great uncle Billy Wright, who died in 1994 at age 66.
Experts say the comics are significant not only for the number of rare books, but also because they were kept in such good condition and because they were kept for all of these years by a man who bought them as a boy.
"There were some really hard to find books that were in really, really great condition," said Paul Litch, the primary grader at Certified Guaranty Company, an independent certification service for comic books.
"You can see it was a real collection," Litch said. "Someone really cared about these and kept them in good shape."
Rorrer, 31, of Oxnard, Calif., took half the comics home with him and his mother took the other half to give to his brother Jonathan in Houston. He said he didn't realize their value until months later, when he mentioned the Captain America No. 2 to a co-worker who mused that it would be something if he had Action Comics No. 1.
"I went home and was looking through some of them, and there it was," said Rorrer, who then began researching the collection's value in earnest.
Once Rorrer realized how important the comics were, he called his mother, Lisa Hernandez, of League City, Texas, who still had the box for his brother at her house. The two then went through their boxes, checking comic after comic off the list.
Hernandez said it really hit her how valuable the comics were when she saw the look on Allen's face after he came to her house to look through the comics she had there.
"It was kind of hard to wrap my head around it," Allen said.
Rorrer said he remembers his aunt making only a fleeting reference to the comics when she learned that he and his brother liked comic books. He said his great uncle never mentioned his collection.
Allen, who called the collection "jaw-dropping," noted that Wright "seemed to have a knack" for picking up the ones that would be the most valuable. The core of his collection is from 1938 to 1941.
Hernandez said it makes sense that her uncle -- even as a boy -- had a discerning eye. The man who went to The College of William and Mary before having a long career as a chemical engineer for DuPont was smart, she said. And, she added, Wright was an only child whose mother kept most everything he had. She said that they found games from the 1930s that were still in their original boxes.