Update: The May 1939 copy of Detective Comics #27, featuring the debut of Batman and holding a CGC universal grade of 5.0, sold for $569,273.61.
What you see: A May 1939 copy of Detective Comics #27, which featured the debut of Batman. It has a Certified Guaranty Company (CGC) universal grade of 5.0. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles estimates the comic book’s value in excess of $500,000.
How often do copies of Detective Comics #27 come to auction? “Not often. The caveat is this is universal grade. It’s in its original state–no restoration, no conservation. When you factor that in, it appears even less often,” says Alex Winter, President of Hake’s Americana & Collectibles. “Most copies are not in the original state.”
How many copies of Detective Comics #27 have a CGC grade higher than 5.0? “The CGC census has a total of 67 copies. Only 32 are universal. All the others have restoration,” he says. “Of the universals, there are 16 rated higher and 15 rated lower. 5.0 is mid-grade, but with the universal label, it’s a high grade. 5.0 is very acceptable for a book of this age with no restoration.” He also adds, “Batman is rarer as far as graded universal copies, and Batman is certainly more popular in movies than Superman. I think it’s only a matter of time before Detective Comics #27 eclipses Action Comics #1 [Superman’s debut]. It’s a rarer book.”
But we should say–not every copy of Detective Comics #27 is reflected the CGC census– just those that were sent to CGC for grading. “Yes, but CGC is the top of the mountain,” he says. “It’s the preferred grading company.”
Why are comic books that feature the debut of a major character the most sought-after by collectors? “For the same reason that rookie cards are popular,” he says. “People gravitate to where a star started. Typically, with the debut of a character, they don’t have established track record, so the print run is lower,” he says, noting, “Batman didn’t appear in Detective Comics #1. Whatever worked got its own book. When the popularity was there, Batman got his own title.”
Batman is on the cover of Detective Comics #27, which has a banner announcing that his adventures are “starting this issue.” Would the comic book’s value be affected if Batman was not on the cover? “Not much at all,” he says. “There are character debuts that are not touted on the cover. It certainly helps, but it doesn’t have any bearing. It’d still be the first appearance of Batman even if Batman wasn’t on the cover. And it wasn’t like he was on the cover of the next issue. The issue was created months ahead of its appearance on the newsstand. The creators would see if something worked, and then they’d take the next step.”
How rare is it to have a comic book consigned almost directly from the person who bought it off the rack as a little kid, decades ago? “Pretty rare. It didn’t come directly from that person. There was one middle-man in between. But it’s still fresh to market,” he says. “To have a new discovery like this is a rare opportunity. People are fairly excited about that.”
Is the original owner still alive? How old was he when he bought this comic book? Yes, he is, and we’re not sure. “He certainly was a child when the book came out,” he says. “Maybe he was 10 years old.”
Why does the comic book have a 5.0 rating from CGC? “It has cover blemishes,” he says, pointing out the fact that the original owner wrote “Vol. 3 No. 3” at the top of the cover. “There’s a split on the spine, some dust, some soiling, some age. It’s what you’d expect of a book that’s been read several times. But it wasn’t rolled up, and it wasn’t put in his back pocket. The colors are strong and bold, with no fading.”
How did you arrive at the presale estimate of “in excess of $500,000”? “We have set price ranges,” he says, referring to the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. “But it’s very subjective, especially for a comic book that turns up as infrequently as this one. It’s a very, very volatile market when you have something like this, where there’s a lot of people lined up and not enough copies for those people.” This particular copy is the first Detective Comics #27 that Hake’s has handled in its 51 years of existence.
Why will this comic book stick in your memory? “Because it’s so historic,” Winter says. “This is right up there. It’s like a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card. It’s an iconic item that transcends collecting. It’s easily identifiable as a piece of pop culture, and you don’t have to be a comic book fan or a Batman fan to appreciate it. It’s rewarding to have a high-caliber piece like this, and it’s exciting that it’s fresh to market.”
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Hake’s.
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