By Karen Knapstein
Richard Brown, an avid comic book collector for 50 years, has an eye for investing in collectibles. He feels fortunate to have been given so many opportunities — both in finding items for his collections and meeting and getting to know wonderful people at conventions. His parents were avid readers who encouraged him to read; the all-too-often tale of “my parents threw my comic books away” doesn’t apply to him — they never wanted to throw a book away.
Ten years ago, Brown made Comics Buyer’s Guide headlines when he sold a “Spider-Man #1,” which he had purchased for $750 two decades earlier, to a buyer in New Jersey for $37,500 — a 4,900 percent return on his initial investment.
Keeping his most valuable books safely stored away in several safety deposit boxes, the retired Detroit Postal Service worker made a withdrawal in December 2012 of several key comic books to sell in preparation for the potential fiscal cliff. He reports that in selling just a small part of his collection, he earned more than $97,400.
Brown explains two of his comics, “Batman #1” and “Fantastic Four #5” went as a team to collector Adam Pearlman of Rochester, N.Y. “He paid me $36,000 for the two and I said ‘bye, bye’ to Joker, Catwoman and Dr. Doom.” A few days later, Pearlman wired Brown an additional $20,000 for “Amazing Fantasy #15” graded 6.5. Not a bad return on his investment: “I originally paid $600 for the ‘Batman #1’ and about $245 for the ‘Amazing Fantasy #15.’”
Brown’s collection, which he says had been considered “one of the top collections in the state of Michigan, has also drawn attention from one of the top auction houses in the country: “Ed Jaster, senior vice president of Heritage Auctions, gave me $15,000 for my restored ‘More Fun #52.’ Eventually, he took a number of books for $31,250.”
Brown says, “It was mentioned my pages of my comics are very white.” He attributes the white pages and glossy covers of his comic books to the following environmental and storage factors: “I believe keeping them stored in a cold bank vault for years helped. Cold climates like Michigan are preferable to hotter states. VPD (vapor phase deacidification) paper appears to help. Leaving comic books untouched for years, and away from sunshine or pollution helped.” So did long-term storage in Mylar.
Brown says he still has 7,000 to 9,000 comic books in his collection, including an “Avengers #1” signed by the legendary comic book creator Stan Lee, but with Comics Buyer’s Guide going away, he feels he’s lost his comic collector connections and is fearful for the future of comic books. So, ever the enthusiastic collector, he’s concentrating more on his baseball card hobby.
One of his recent investments is the coveted 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle. He says, “It’s easier to keep baseball cards intact;” they’re easier to care for and store — they don’t take up as much room. He says there’s less chance for tampering with baseball cards, too; you can just have a card graded and sealed in a case and you don’t have to worry about it.
Not only does Brown look for cards that he knows there will be demand for (like the Mantle), but he also likes to buy cards for young players and see what they’ll do during their careers. You might say that Brown’s prospective investments are in sports futures.