Mrs. Henschel's Collection: Golden Age auction this Saturday

Tue, September 14th, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Seth Jones, Staff Writer

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Most comic geeks, you wouldn't want to know what's under their beds.

But Fred and Irene Henschel had a fortune stashed under their box springs.

Comic Book Resources first broke the story of the Henschel Pedigree Collection in April. Now, the much-anticipated second installment of the auction -- the better part of the collection, according to auctioneer Conrad Swenson -- takes place 10 a.m. CST Saturday at the Wichita, Kan. Airport Hilton.

Collectors with cash to spend can log on to www.proxibid.com and take an advanced look at the auction and place bids. But be warned, a near-coverless copy of Superman # 1, CGC graded at .5, is already at $3,000.

The first auction netted the Henschels a cool $130,000. Swenson, a fast-talking Kansas auctioneer, is quick to boast that this auction will be even bigger.

"I expect it to bring in two times, three times as much money as that first auction," Swenson said from his office in Rose Hill, Kan. "I had a guy call me from Kansas City the other day, and he said, 'I'm coming down there with $200,000, I'm going to spend it all, and once I'm done, I'm done. Do you think I'll be able to buy the entire collection?' And I told him, 'You might get half of it!'"

This auction features more comics -- 185 in all. All the books are from the late 1930s and early 1940s. The anticipated top dog is "Flash Comics" #1, lot # 150, CGC graded at 6.5.

In the April auction, comics were graded by local comic store owners, the comics were stored in Ziplock bags and the books were on display in a rickety old garage. This auction will have a decidedly different feel. Not only has the location moved to the Wichita Airport Hilton -- with bidders flying in -- but the biggest difference is that every book in this auction has been Comics Guarantee Graded. All 180 books were hand-carried to the CGC offices in Florida to get the slab job performed on them.

Matt Harmon, manager of Prairie Dog Comics in Wichita, was one of the lucky graders for the first auction. It was Harmon's job to assign a grade to each book and estimate a minimum bid -- in that auction, they decided to start the bidding at 50 percent of the guide price for the given condition.

"I've been in this business for 13 years and have never seen a collection like that," Harmon said. "It was pretty wild. Some of the early All Star books really got me. I got distracted and started looking through them. How often do you get a chance to see those books?"

Harmon was unsure if he would attend this auction, even though he didn't have a chance to see much of the second collection of books. As collectors know, the slabbing of the collection will have a significant effect on the prices paid for the books. It was the CGC's involvement that had Harmon a bit leery.

"I have really mixed feelings on CGC in general. It's nice to have someone official check out the books, put their stamp of authenticity on it. Seems to me you get a little voodoo involved in most grading anyway, so it's better than having Joe Blow grading the books," Harmon said. "It's another thing to see a book, hold the book and look through it. It's another thing to have a slab of plastic. I figure if you're really into comics, you'd be disappointed."

Two people CGC guaranteed not to be disappointed are the Henschels. The comics originally belonged to Mrs. Henschel's late husband, Robert Ford, who died in 1999 at age 75, three months before the couple's 50th wedding anniversary. Mrs. Henschel didn't know the comic books were worth any money, and originally told the auctioneers that she had very little to contribute to the auction. That was, until Swenson found the books stashed under a bed.

At the last auction, it was estimated that Steve Geppi, owner of Diamond Comics Distributors and part owner of the Baltimore Orioles, nabbed two-thirds of the collection. Geppi bid by phone for the last auction, as bidder No. 98. Harmon said that he heard that Geppi would be attending in person for this auction.

In April, Mrs. Henschel told The Wichita Eagle that she hoped to buy a new truck -- red -- with the money made from the auction.

Margaret Toombs, secretary at Swenson Real Estate and Auction Services, has become a fan of Mrs. Henschel.

"Irene just called me, she's just as down-to-Earth as can be," Toombs said. "I asked her if she's ready for this, and she said 'Yes, I guess so.'"

CBR was unable to reach Mrs. Henschel's accountant, but imagines that they, too, are ready for the auction.

 
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