Author: By Cahal Milmo
When a tea boy at the Dundee publisher DC Thomson picked up a pristine copy of The Beano in 1938, he must have had an inkling that one day it might be worth something. He wrote in pencil on the cover: “Keep – first issue.”
Yesterday, his foresight paid a handsome dividend when the cartoon strip – a pristine copy of the first edition of the publication that became synonymous with Dennis the Menace – was sold for £12,100.
Experts said the rapid inflation reflected a booming trade in British comics after decades of domination of the international collectors’ market by American titles.
Malcolm Phillips, the managing director of London-based Comic Book Postal Auctions, which conducted yesterday’s sale, said: “The ‘Beano Number One’ is perhaps the most desirable British comic around, but the final price exceeded any expectations.
“We have a generation of people who read them as children and now find themselves with a disposable income and an opportunity to recapture the innocence of their youth. But a rare comic has the same sort of cachet as any other rare object. Among those bidding were two collectors of fine art.”
Although up to 500,000 copies were printed for DC Thomson’s launch edition of The Beano on 30 July 1938, only 12 or 13 are known to have survived. The rarity value of all early British comics, including The Dandy, which first appeared a year earlier, was increased by the Second World War, when all paper was expected to be donated for the war effort.
Despite consisting largely of comedy storylines with simpler drawing than the artwork of the fantasy comics of American publishers such as Marvel, the British comics are increasingly the subject of bidding wars.
The successful bidder for The Beano yesterday, which was passed by the Dundee tea boy to his family, was an Essex businessman who made a last-minute bid by phone from Denmark to beat the early leading offer of £10,000.
In return for his money, the buyer receives a Beano with one small tear, light-tan coloured pages and cartoons featuring Big Eggo, an ostrich. Dennis the Menace and Gnasher did not make their first appearance until 1951.
Ironically, the booming popularity of old comics comes as their modern successors are struggling to maintain sales. DC Thomson, which sold two million copies of The Beano a week at its height in 1950, now prints about 200,000.
Despite the high auction prices being fetched by copies of The Beano and even Viz, the adult comic launched in 1983, the British market still lags behind that in America.
The world record auction price for a comic was set last year when $250,000 dollars (£180,000) was paid for a first edition Marvel Mysteries featuring Spiderman. Copies of the first edition to feature the Incredible Hulk regularly fetch more than £30,000.
Suppliers in the British market also point to the increasing prices being paid for original artwork from comics, in particular publications with high production values such as Eagle, home of Dan Dare and the Mekon.
Geoff West, owner of Conquistador, which runs exhibitions selling original art work from comics, said: “The market has grown from nothing over the past three years. Original artwork will generally sell for more than the comics themselves. They are considered genuine pieces of art.”
LUCRATIVE TRADE IN FIRST EDITIONS
* Beano, first edition, published July 1938: £12,100 (March 2004). Also, first edition complete with free Whoopee mask: £6,800 (February 1999).
* Dandy, first edition, published 1937: £4,840 (June 1999).
* Eagle, first edition, printed on lower quality paper than later editions and therefore rarer, published March 1950: £850 (2001).
* 2000AD, first edition 1977, complete with free red “space spinner” stuck to the front page: £550 (2003).
* Viz, first edition, with “free ice-cream”, a cut-out picture of an ice-cream stuck to the front page. £400 (2001).
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