The Promise Collection of Golden Age comic books, not seen since they were purchased off newsstands in the 1940s, has made history at Heritage Auctions.
Heritage began bringing to market The Promise Collection’s high-grade comic books on June 18, and nearly 200 from the collection debuted to obliterate expectations and raked in $7 million. Top lots were Detective Comics No. 140 and Phantom Lady No. 17, with each fetching a record $456,000 after spirited bidding by collectors.
The collection sale was part of Heritage’s three-day Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction, which hit a world-record $22.4 million and saw a number of individual comics set records, including a copy of Detective Comics No. 27 that sold for $1.125 million. In addition to the Promise Collection, other Golden Age original covers and modern titles helped demolish the historic record set only two months ago of $16.5 million.
The Promise Collection was assembled by a young boy who grew up, went to war and never returned. For decades, the books were kept safe by his brother, who vowed to keep watch over the comics should anything happen to his sibling on the battlefield. Hence its moniker and acclaim as one of the rare assemblages recognized as a pedigree by the Certified Guaranty Company.
It is “the highest-quality pedigree collection, book for book, to debut in our hobby in the last 25 years,” said Heritage Auctions’ Senior Vice President Ed Jaster.
When it made its eagerly anticipated debut, the stunning assemblage kept its word:
Over the span of four hours, just 181 comic books sold for a total of $7.1 million. That is but a mere fraction of the 5,000-plus comic books that make up The Promise Collection, which will be sold by Heritage Auctions throughout this year and next. Around 100 additional comics were sold from the collection on June 19.
“We’re just blown away,” said Heritage Auctions Vice President Lon Allen after the session closed. “Every single book was over the top – and deservedly so.”
Befitting not only its origin story but its enviable roster of near-mint, best-ever must-haves, bidding during the session for these comic books was spirited, with some lots lasting minutes rather than seconds. Bidders on HA.com, on the phone and on the floor vied for comic books that more often than not were the sole highest-graded copy.
Almost every book shattered pre-auction expectations, such as Detective Comics No. 140 graded CGC NM+ 9.6. This is a historic book no matter its grade, as this is the comic in which The Riddler makes his debut. But this is from The Promise Collection, which means this Detective Comics No. 140 is the highest-graded copy. When the live auction began, bidding on the book was at $184,000. It didn’t stay there for long: Raised paddles filled the room as bidders competed for the key comic, and within seconds it surpassed the $200,000 mark; then $300,000. And when the lot finally closed, it reached a final price once seen for famous first issues: $456,000. Before June 18, the highest price ever realized for that book was the $40,800 a CGC VF 8.0 sold for at Heritage Auctions in July 2020.
But Batman met his match with The Phantom Lady. There’s no disputing that Matt Baker’s cover to Phantom Lady No. 17 from 1948 is considered one of the most iconic of the Golden Age, in no small part thanks to its inclusion in psychiatrist Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent. The copy found in The Promise Collection survived not only intact, but at CGC NM+ 9.6 is the highest graded. Bidding on Phantom Lady No. 17 opened at $95,000 during the live auction. Then back and forth the bidding went until it also closed at $456,000.
In fact, all 11 issues of Phantom Lady available were huge hits, chief among them the No. 14 graded CGC NM+ 9.6. That highest-graded copy opened the live auction at $7,000 and closed at $90,000 after a heated round of bidding.
Sometimes all it takes is a famous and fantastic cover, such as the one for Mask Comics No. 1, published in 1945 and featuring L.B. Cole’s striking artwork. The CGC VF+ 8.5-graded copy sold for $102,000.
Captain America Comics No. 36 from 1944, graded CGC NM 9.4, was another heroic title. This book, with its iconic Syd Shores cover featuring classic Cap yanking Hitler out of his convertible, opened at $65,000. Then the bids began pouring in, as they would for almost each book throughout the session. In the end, that comic book, looking as it did the first time it was sold 77 years ago, sold for $204,000.
A few lots later came Captain America Comics No. 74 graded CGC NM 9.2 – one of the strangest covers in comics history, as Cap’s title made a very short-lived transition to horror before the first of its several cancellations and rebirths. That book, featuring the Red Skull and Cap, opened just below six-figures; then, yet again, the bids came fast and furious befitting the best-known copy of this historic issue. It, too, sold for $204,000.
There was no shortage of books in The Promise Collection selling for six figures; among them:
- 1944’s All-American Comics No. 61 graded CGC NM+9.6, which introduced DC’s immortal villain Solomon Grundy and sits at No. 61 on Overstreet’s list of Top 100 Golden Age Comics. Its final sale price was $138,000.
- A CGC VF/NM 9.0 copy of Detective Comics No. 69 shattered pre-auction expectations when it sold for $126,000.
- The highest-graded copy of 1946’s Detective Comics No. 114, at CGC NM/MT 9.8, with its double cover, sold for $156,000.
- Startling Comics No. 49, which features perhaps the most famous and highly sought-after airbrushed cover by Golden Age icon Alex Schomburg and is the highest-graded copy of the book at CGC NM+ 9.6, sold for $132,000.
- The highest-graded copy of Detective Comics No. 124, a CGC NM/MT 9.8 with a bright Bob Kane cover, sold for $120,000.
Other highlights from the three-day sale include Wally Wood's cover for 1952's Shock SuspenStories No. 6, which sold for a record $840,000 and claimed its new title as most expensive work of original American comic book cover art. This should not surprise, as the cover is the most iconic published during the influential 12-year run of EC Comics and was a perfect storm of creator and content: Wally Wood takes on the Ku Klux Klan. History was also made when “the most supernatural superhero of all” rode off with the title of The Most Expensive Comic Book of the 1970s. Ghost Rider’s debut in 1972's Marvel Spotlight No. 5 sold for $264,000. That more than quadrupled the previous auction record for a 1970s book set by X-Men No. 94, which Heritage Auctions sold on April 1 for $63,000.
For more results of The Promise Collection and the three-day sale in general, visit HA.com.