Henschel Auction racks up $190,000

Mon, October 4th, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Seth Jones, Staff Writer

Sweet little Irene Henschel walked around the Wichita Airport Hilton, smiling, welcoming visitors to the auction of her late husband's comics.

She didn't get why people were so worked up about these little funny books -- now encased in plastic. Her and her second husband, Fred, were church people, she said, and all the money they were expected to fetch didn't really have much of an effect on her.

Almost $200,000 later, and her demeanor still hadn't changed.

"That was fun, wasn't it?" she asked.

About 50 comic fans were in attendance at the hotel in hopes of buying one of the Henschel Pedigree Collection comics found under Irene and Fred's bed earlier this year. A more ominous group of 10 sat along a wall, cellular phones in hand. These were the comic dealers attending via a tenuous cellular phone connection and bidding through a third party. Baltimore Orioles part owner and Diamond Comics Distributors owner Steve Geppi's man had a ringside seat. Across from them was Ryan Iwansky, of Proxibid.com. He represented the 45 live bidders via an Internet connection.

With all the players in place and ready to go, the auction was underway. The first comic out of the blocks, an issue of "Action Comics" #15 graded at 6.5 brought in $2,600. Four hours later, the auction would be over, with comics selling for as much as $42,000 ("Flash Comics" #1, CGC graded at 6.5) and as low as $30 ("Ace Comics" #23, CGC graded at 2.0).

While Geppi dominated the last auction, this one was much more even-handed, with no buyer nabbing more than a third of the collection. The early hit of the auction was a CGC 2.0 copy of "Superman" #2 that sold for $1,150. Lot number 27 was the first comic to have a winning bidder that was in person at the auction, much to the appreciation of the bidders on-hand.

The biggest moment was, of course, the sale of "Flash Comics" #1. After the book reached into the $30,000 range, auctioneers and Swenson auction employees started swarming around the book like fruit flies. The $1,000 increment bids were between Geppi and an on-line bidder in California. The on-line bidder won out with authority, quickly raising his opponent with every bid.

"It was pretty overwhelming," said Iwansky, who was making bids for the on-line bidder. "I have a light on my screen, and I can tell when his mouse is on the bid button... he didn't stray very far from that button."

With all the different parties, some technical difficulties had to be expected. The most frequent problem: dropped cell phone calls. The moment a big bidder lost his signal, the whole auction screeched to a halt.

At one point, with a phone bidder's cellular phone down, the auction took about a five minute break right in the middle of a pricey book's sale. As auctioneer Rex Childs strolled the floor waiting for the action to pick back up, he asked a buyer if he would bid against the absent phone bidder, and raise the price of a book up to $4,000.

"I might have to if someone doesn't get him back on the line soon," the buyer joked.

With people volunteering their own cell phones just to get the action started back up again, the phone bidder was finally reconnected and the auction resumed.

Ryan Gomez, of Mulvane, Kan., said that while the big books all were snatched up by phone bidders and on-line participants, there were still some decent books to be had by the small group of collectors attending in person.

"There were about six or seven of us there at the end that were duking it out for the low end books," Gomez said. Gomez walked away from the auction with an issue of "Popular Comics" #84 graded at 5.5 that sold for $60. "I was happy with my purchase. There were some guys willing to drop $60 for a book with talking ducks on the cover, but at least I managed to get something that represented World War II and the mood in this country at the time."

Gomez said the book he really wanted, "War Comics" #4, was ran up to three times the guide price -- to $180 -- by he and another collector before he relented. "These things, you just get competitive, and it becomes more about winning the fight then it does the actual value of the comic."

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Mark Brown, owner of Prairie Dog Comics in Wichita, was the first person to be called in when the collection was originally found. In fact, it was Brown that personally drove the collection to Florida to have it CGC graded.

"I've been dealing with this for six or seven months, more as a consultant than anything else," Brown said. "Honestly, I'm just glad it's all over."

Brown did make some purchases, including an F+ issue of "Flash Comics" #7 from the last auction for $3,000. The books he bought were not for his own collection, but for re-sale purposes.

Brown said that for this part of the country, the Henschel collection was an amazing find.

"With other collections being so fragmented, it's hard to put this one in perspective," he said. "This is one of the better we'll see for quite some time. I'm not sure if I've ever seen so many #1s from an original owner before."

Mrs. Henschel gave some insight to her husband's collection before the auction when she stopped to chat with CBR News.

"When he was 14-years-old, Robert (Ford) lived in Flint, Mich. He worked for Western Union -- when we were kids, everything came by Western Union. He would ride his bike to deliver telegrams, and once in a while he had to do singing telegrams. For a singing telegram, he'd usually get a two or three cent tip, and he'd save his money and go buy himself a couple of these comic books."

As adults, it became Irene's job to keep track of the comics.

"Robert (Ford) was an aeronautical engineer, so whenever he got a new job working on airplanes, he quickly moved and I would stay behind and pack things up," she said. "We kept these in a box, always in the air conditioning, wherever we had room. Sometimes in a closet, sometimes under the bed. Once in a while he would get a few out and read them, and when time ran out he would put them away. He never let kids get into them, because he didn't like them getting messed up."

But did she ever just want to throw the silly things away?

"Oh, Heaven's no, never. I would never do that to someone's personal possessions."

Back in April, Irene told the Wichita Eagle that she hoped to buy a red truck with the money made from the auction. Now, after the total collection has grossed almost $300,000, she still hasn't bought the truck. But they are "currently in negotiations," she said. When asked what she would do after they had the truck, Irene once again displayed her Midwestern charm.

"Robert died of Alzheimer's," Irene says. "We're going to support the Alzheimer's walk very generously. That's very important to me."

1Action Comics156.5$2,600
2Flash Comics135$500
3Flash Comics47$1,700
4Flash Comics23.5$1,050
5Flash Comics66$1,400
6Detective Comics438$2,100
7Detective Comics448$2,000
8All American Comics218.5$2,800
9Detective Comics539$2,400
10Detective Comics549.2$3,100
11Detective Comics327.5$6,500
12Detective Comics404.5$1,400
13Detective Comics468$1,700
14Action Comics277$1,100
15Action Comics288$2,200
16Action Comics296.5$1,100
17Flash Comics219.4$4,500
18Action Comics121$450
20Police Comics69.2$2,100
21Wings Comics18.5$2,300
22Flash Comics109$3,600
23Planet Comics27$1,800
24Nickel Comics15.5$850
25Nickel Comics16$950
28More Fun Comics545.5$3,500
29Action Comics197$2,550
30More Fun Comics627$1,250
31National Comics15$1,000
32Action Comics131$1,000
33Action Comics335.5$600
34Action Comics143.5$750
35All Star Comics17.5$7,100
37Whiz Comics97.5*
38Flash Comics53$410
39Hit Comics247$370
40More Fun Comics576$1,500
41Military Comics36$650
42All American Comics156$340
43National Comics36.5$650
44Police Comics158.5$475
45Detective Comics414$575
46Detective Comics436*
47Police Comics125.5$270
48All American Comics148$700
49All Flash Quarterly66.5$325
50All Flash Quarterly17.5$7,300
51National Comics47$550
52More Fun Comics485$500
53National Comics57$650
55Nickel Comics68.5$550
56Whiz Comics118.5$775
57More Fun Comics623.5$400
58Planet Comics116$600
59Police Comics136.5$350
60Pep Comics127.5$650
61Whiz Comics50.5$85
62Target Comics55$800
63Startling Comics16$750
64Smash Comics72$60
65Smash Comics82.5$80
66Planet Comics36.5$1,100
67Nickel Comics53.5$110
68Smash Comics144.5$500
69Nickel Comics46$225
70Thrilling Comics17.5$1,050
71Nickel Comics77.5$400
72Target Comics63$150
73Smash Comics45.5$110
74Zip Comics94.5$275
75More Fun Comics557$7,900
76Sure Fire Comics37.5$400
77Wings Comics14$375
78Planet Comics98.5$1,800
79Smash Comics66$170
80Smash Comics36.5$210
81Sub Mariner64$700
82Planet Comics24$750
83Thrilling Comics16.5$1,050
84Jungle Comics77$525
85Hit Comics16.5$2,300
86Buck Rogers38$630
87Blue Bolt25$350
88Fight Comics16$810
89Nickel Comics36$280
90Military Comics106.5$375
91The Funnies515$80
92Buck Rogers14.5$640
93Buck Rogers28$750
94Nickel Comics25.5$350
95National Comics265$200
96Military Comics66$320
97Jumbo Comics168.5$725
98Champion Comics85.5$400
99National Comics77$2,000
100Military Comics17.5$5,750
101Jungle Comics67.5$410
102Military Comics56.5$520
103The Funnies536$110
104The Funnies436$160
105Military Comics138$525
106War Comics46$180
107Champion Comics106$450
108USA Is Ready16.5$200
109Target ComicsVol. 2 #47$210
110Startling Comics25$225
111Thrilling Comics42.5$60
112Tip Top Comics424.5$40
113Uncle Sam Quarterly45.5$275
114Thrilling Comics66$150
115Smash Comics135$190
116Popular Comics669$160
117Target ComicsV. 2 #14$40
118Tip Top Comics777$140
119Thrilling Comics186$50
120Popular Comics675$130
121Super Magician26$100
122Smash Comics95$100
123Popular Comics688$80
124Smash Comics164$200
126Popular Comics797$60
127Target ComicsV. 2 #21.8$80
128Thrilling Comics56$130
129Popular Comics845.5$60
130Target ComicsV. 2 #75.5$90
131Target ComicsV. 2 #96$90
132Ace Comics216$70
133Blue BoltV. 3 #68$100
134Famous Funnies737.5$100
135Famous Funnies713.5$50
136Jumbo Comics167$425
137Ace Comics678$70
138Blue Bolt23.5$310
139Target ComicsV. 2 #87.5$350
140Wings Comics145$145
141Big Shot Comics166$120
142Blue BoltV. 3 #89$110
143Crackajack Funnies173$65
144Thrilling Comics158$490
145Ace Comics357.5$50
146Ace Comics396$50
147Ace Comics405.5$50
148Blue Bolt31.8$100
149Wings Comics167$250
150Flash Comics16.5$42,000
151Blue Bolt44$200
152Blue BoltV. 3 #48$80
153Wings Comics105.5$150
154Famous Funnies484.5$40
155Famous Funnies524.5$40
156Zip Comics124.5$130
157Comics on Parade223$35
158Ace Comics232$30
159Famous Funnies725.5$40
160Mutt & JeffNo #0.5$75
161Whiz Comics114*
162Wonder World112.5$175
163Feature Book284$30
164Fight Comics66.5$180
165Famous Funnies776$50
166Famous Funnies756.5$90
167Famous Funnies845$35
168Popular Comics575.5$65
169Magic Comics376.5$65
170Mystery Men Comics122$95
171Jumbo Comics164.5$190
172The Funnies354$80
173Fight Comics42$100
174Famous Funnies746$45
175Famous Funnies866$75
176Famous Funnies887$50
177Famous Funnies1008$110
178Popular Comics464.5$60
179Popular Comics475$50
180Popular Comics504.5$40
181Popular Comics514.5$45
182Popular Comics526$80
183Popular Comics547$95
184Popular Comics554.5$40
185Popular Comics565.5$60
* price could not be confirmed

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