Collectors call him “super-collector”and some just think he is an obsessed man, but over the years, Philip Hecht has amassed one of the world’s largest collections of Superman memorabilia. “I don’t like to use the term obsession,” says Hecht in the Daily News, “‘Passion’ is a better word for what I do. Collecting needs to be tempered by a normal life.” Hecht’s apartment in New York City is literally filled from floor to ceiling with all sorts of comic character collectibles including vintage premiums, pins, toys, dolls, paper, comic books, advertising pieces, posters, and other assorted memorabilia.
In 1971, when Hecht was 13 years old, he bought his first group of vintage comic books at a local neighborhood store in Brooklyn. He was immediately hooked and started attending comic conventions in New York City. At his first convention, Hecht was introduced to and bought his first Golden Age comic, Superman No. 11, for $11. (Golden age refers to the early years of comic books.) Today that comic is worth $1,500 and he still has it. “From there I fell for the early Golden Age heroes and it was DC from there all the way. From then on, I was hooked on DC.” And thus, his collection of thousands of pieces of Superman memorabilia was born.
Hecht has been a dedicated Superman non-stop collector for what is now just shy of 35 years. The first thing people ask him when they enter his apartment is “Why?” To him, the answer is simple, he just really likes it. He explains in an interview for Diamond’s Scoop newsletter: “As corny as it might sound, Superman is great, he’s a real American icon, and he was a childhood hero of mine, so it was a natural for me. In a way, it’s my contribution to history, a way to reflect, all in one place, in thousands of items. A visual on the evolution of the man in tights who “Fights for truth, justice and the American way.”
Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and first appeared in Action Comics no. 1 in 1938. According to the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, Action Comics no. 1 “is the most important comic book ever published.” It was an instant success and quickly developed a large and loyal following. According to Stan Lee in Look Up at the Sky, (a recent DVD on the history of Superman and shown on A&E) fans were fascinated with a meek ordinary person who became a superhero. Lee feels Superman set the stage for many other superheroes to follow. He was the first comic book super hero and has endured generations.
By 1940, Superman started to appear not only in comic books, but in a daily comic strip and then on the radio, as The Adventures of Superman. He was everywhere. Merchandisers could not get enough of Superman and new products were being produced as quickly as possible. The Superman of America Club was formed and people started collecting anything with the Superman logo on it.
Today, Superman is probably one the most popular comic characters whose vintage merchandise commands top dollar. Only Disney’s Mickey Mouse compares to the Man of Steel. Hecht collects everything that was produced, as long as it has a logo and image, licensed or not, in almost any medium. He tries to focus on the pre-1970s era, with greatest focus on the 1930s-1940s.
Hecht claims that there is a difference in imagery and design in each of these distinct merchandising periods throughout the years that Superman items were being produced. The earliest periods, the 1930s and 1940s, featured the classic simple Superman “S” and today, these items are the most desirable. The 1950s featured products with the great barrel-chested imagery of Wayne Boring’s design and the stove pipe suits of Clark Kent. The 1960s brought the vibrant blues and the flying imagery of Superman. These differences should help a collector date a Superman item.
In Hecht’s Superman collection are literally thousands of comics, posters, toys, premiums, rings, pinbacks, art, war-related campaigns, food products, advertising material, animation cels, clothing, games, puzzles, cards, figures, magazines, books, patches, models, school bags, costumes, lunchboxes, banks and pencil boxes, plus lots and lots of great paper and printed materials. According the Hecht, “About the only thing I don’t actively include are film costumes and movie props – it’s a space thing.” Most of the items he has collected where manufactured to be toys, advertisements or reading material, not collectibles. His collection is also in excellent to mint condition. He looks for style, rarity, age and condition.
Hecht claims to love all his pieces, but does have some favorites. “I have a Bowman-Gum Inc. shipping carton for the 1940 card series. It’s completely graphic, in full color, with Superman flying on all four sides and imprinted on five sides. It has the Gum Inc. logos and the 1 cent price. It held 24 counter-top boxes with card packs. I’m unaware of anyone who even has one of those counter-top boxes, much less one of these cases. This was featured in the great 1990 Adventures in Superman collecting book. It was helpful in firmly establishing the link between Bowman and Gum Inc for the collecting industry. It’s one of my favorites and this is probably a unique example” says Hecht.
There is his set of three Superman premium rings, the prize ring, secret compartment ring and candy ring. Each is made of brass with images and removable lids. The set is worth between $75,000 and $100,000, depending on condition. Hecht is very proud of his large 6-inch Superman of American Club Action Comics patch. It is in excellent condition, very rare and still has the wax on the back. These patches were sent to members in the very early stages of the club and are now worth $15,000. He also loves his poster collection, particularly the three-sheet Superman movie poster, released by Columbia pictures in 1948. It sells for between $15,000 and $20,000 at auction. Hecht has tons of magazines and paper-related items in his inventory. He has a rare Fleischer animated campaign book (a similar one just sold at auction for $3,186), and a high-grade set of the first 10 Superman-Tim Magazines. It was published by Carlisle-Allen Co. August, starting in 1942, and the complete first run can reach $15,000 at auction.
Hecht’s advice for people interested in collecting comics and or character collectibles is first and foremost: ENJOY. Be committed. Find out everything there is know about that comic or character, that series or that TV show. Find out where else they appeared and the tie-in merchandising. Start cross collecting into other venues.
Hecht warns never collect for the money. He adds, “If that’s your motivation, it’s called investing not collecting. So if you want to collect, love it, love the stuff, buy it – yes it’s OK to spend a lot, have great and valuable assets which you may in the future liquidate, but it’s a collection first and always.”
Hecht can still be seen at auctions, buying comic character items. Lately, he has been busy looking for new collectibles that tie in to the release of the latest Superman movie. Hecht is busy saving all types of premiums related to the film. He feels the best finds are publicity pieces, movie advertising and magazines featuring special cover stories about the new movie. He believes, as a group they will become valuable. His last advice: go to the toy stores to find limited release toys stash them away.