Pedigree Comic Collections
Pedigree – (n) the origin and history of something, especially when it is good or impressive (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
The terms pedigree and pedigreed collection are spoken in hushed tones by Golden and Silver Age comic collectors, and dealers at conventions and trade shows. The terms are heard faintly as you walk by booths manned by senior citizens with balding pates and pony-tails – guys who stop talking as you pass and look at you as though they just caught you trying to shoplift a pack of gum and an Adventure Time book. Like they know that you know that they know you're not comic enough to hang with them. At other times, the word “pedigree” pops up when you pull up the Heritage Auction site to look at books you'd have to mortgage your house to buy.
Despite this mystique and seeming inaccessibility, understanding comic pedigrees is easy enough. Figuring out who to rob to come up with the cheese to buy a pedigree book is another article altogether.
Four factors are taken into consideration when deciding whether a collection is worthy of a “pedigree” label: origin, quality, completeness, and market acceptance.
- Origin – The Guide to Comic Book Pedigrees considers “origin” to be the most important quality a collection must demonstrate to be considered for a pedigree. The Guide states: “A pedigreed collection must have been accumulated by one individual during the time the comics were released on the newsstand. This is a critical factor because a pedigree’s appeal comes from the homogenous quality and singular genesis. The books have aged together in the same environment, creating a uniform “feel” that does not exist for comics in a collection with diverse origins.”
- Quality – Although there is no established standard regarding quality of pedigree comics, it is a given that they will consist of high quality books. Again, once a collection begins to be broken up, the uniformity and “homogenous quality” dissipates, and the value begins to drop. There is no guideline, per se, but a cursory examination of pedigreed Golden books shows that most come in at 8.0 or higher (of graded copies).
- Completeness – This is the toughest quality considered when deciding if a collection is deserving of the pedigree label or not, because there are a lot of ways to judge a collection “complete.” The whole concept of “complete” is especially sketchy when looking at Golden Age books, as there were about 20,000 different comics published between 1933 and 1955. The Edgar Church/Mile High collection contained most of these titles, and is considered the most “complete” of all pedigrees. Following Mile High, in terms of size, are the Crippen, Ohio, Bethlehem and Big Apple collections. Another form of “completeness” can be found in collections featuring one particular genre or publisher. An example of this would be the Gaines collection, which consists entirely of EC books (sweet!). The Crowley collection has full runs of Fawcett (aw yeah!). New Hampshire has Westerns (boom!). For Northford, it's horror (yes please!).
On the other hand, some collections are smaller, but consist of nothing but super high-grade keys. The Allentown collection is a great example of that, with only 135 sweet super-keys, including the highest graded Detective #27 and Captain America #1. Not too shabby.
Silver Age pedigree collections are much easier to define, and must contain all major keys and runs of most key books. For example, a Silver pedigree collection would have the majority of Fantastic Four #1 and up, Spider-Man #1 and up, X-Men #1 and up, Hulk #1-6, Avengers #1 and up, etc.
- Market Acceptance – Even after all of the above qualities are taken into account, the ultimate indicator of whether a collection is worthy of the pedigree label, and whether that label deserves to be perpetuated, is whether or not collectors and dealers are willing to continue to pay multiples of guide for the books. CGC has become the market determinant of pedigree, but prior to CGC’s opening for business in 2000, the market was the ultimate authority. In the 1990’s there was a boom of sorts, when collections appeared right and left, adopting the pedigree label and then fading away when the market didn’t support their assertions.
A list of today's accepted Pedigreed Collections:
|Edgar Church/Mile High||Allentown||Aurora|
|Bethlehem||Big Apple||Billy Wright|
|Boston||Bowling Green||Carson City|
|Central Valley||Chicago||Circle 8|
|Cosmic Aeroplane||Crippen D||Crowley|
|Curator||Denver||Don & Maggie Thompson|
|Don Rosa||Gaines File||Green River|
|Lamont Larson||Lost Valley||Massachusetts|
|Okajima||Pacific Coast||Palo Alto|
|Pennsylvania||Recil Macon||River City|
|Tom Reilly (San Francisco)||Twilight||Twin Cities|
|Vancouver||Western Penn||White Mountain|
EDGAR CHURCH/MILE HIGH COLLECTION
The Duke 0f New York, A #1 pedigreed collection is, without a doubt, the Edgar Church/Mile High collection. Consisting of more than 18,000 high-grade, mostly Golden Age comics, the discovery of the Mile High collection had, and still has, a profound impact on the entire comic market in general.
Edgar Church (1898-1978) was a commercial artist and a life-long comic collector. At the age of 14 he began working independently as an artist, later taking a job with the Mountain Bell telephone company illustrating commercial telephone book advertisements (the pre-cursors to today's Yellow Pages). Church collected copious amounts of periodicals for reference for his work, cutting and clipping pictures and photographs and carefully storing them away in files, boxes, and bins.
Church was also an avid comic book collector, eventually amassing somewhere between 18,000 and 22,000 books. It is believed that Church was the first person to begin a “pull list,” with his local newsstand reserving one copy of every issue of every book, beginning with Action #1, and running through the year 1953. This is reported to be the best Action #1 in existence, with an estimated grade of 9.2 or 9.4. Unfortunately, the current owner refuses to get any of his books graded, so there is no way to know for sure. Church's collection itself dates from 1938 – 1958.
Enter Chuck Rozanski, a young guy who owned a few up-and-coming comic shops in Colorado. In 1977, Rozanski received a call from a realtor in his area who wondered if he could help “clear out” a property the realtor wanted to put up for sale. When this young comic dealer showed up, the realtor showed him a large closet in the basement, dark and cooler than the rest of the house, filled completely with eight-foot stacks of beautiful Golden Age books. When Rozanski started digging through the piles, he realized that he had hit the jackpot, and he managed to scrape up enough money to walk away with the steal of the century. Although he never officially revealed what the purchase price was, reports have it at a paltry $18,000!! If you're not crying by now, you're not paying attention.
The discovery and introduction of this collection into the market changed the entire game. Rozanski priced the books at double, and even triple guide prices, which was unheard of at the time, and caused angry phone calls and riots in Nerdville. The truth is though, if Rozanski had priced his books at guide, the entire Golden Age market would have been instantly devalued – the collection was that awesome. Why Mile High still prices all of their books at double guide isn’t entirely clear, but that’s also an article for another time. At any rate, those folks who were “in the know” about the Edgar Church collection kept it a secret for many years, effectively manipulating the Golden market. The collection took Rozanski 10 years to sell.
The introduction of CGC into the comic world changed the pedigree focus to individual book grades, as opposed to collections as a whole. The Edgar Church/Mile High books are the exception to this, as they still fetch anywhere between twice and five times and up of guide prices. Other pedigree collections have higher average grades, and whiter pages, but the Church/Mile High collection is unequaled in size, scope, grade, and value. It is estimated that, if the collection was reassembled, the value would be higher than the next five collections combined! Boom!!
Soooo . . . that's all very interesting. Or at least, a little interesting. But the burning question that should be on everyone's mind now is . . . so? Good for Chuck Rozanski – he made a buttload of money, and his stores still charge more for their books than Frank Miller charges for his five-year-old-child-like Batman sketches. What does that mean for me? Well, if you every buy any graded Golden or Silver books, it could mean a great deal.
A quick look at GPA shows that Edgar Church books are, more often than not, graded higher than other copies of the same issues. And even when they are not the highest graded, they often command the most money, by virtue of their pedigree. This, even if the non-pedigreed book has had more time to appreciate.
A couple of examples:
|All Star Comics #5||Edgar Church||9.4||$16,730||February 2009|
|No Pedigree||9.4||$13,145||August, 2014|
|Star Spangled Comics #27||Edgar Church/
As with any collectible, a cool story behind a piece can only enhance its value – and the Church/Mile High books definitely have a cool story. There are lots of other very cool stories behind other pedigree collections. Maybe we'll take a look at some others in the future. Or maybe not. One way or another, next time you're at a show and you walk by some old head's Golden slabs, you won't have to hide like you stole something. Take a look at what he's got, and if you have the cash to pick up a pedigree, don't hesitate. It's as close to a sure thing as you can get in this crazy, cosmic, comic calling that we share. Boom.
Comic Book Pedigrees – http://www.comicbookpedigrees.com/index.php
“Discovery of the Original Mile High Collection” – http://www.milehighcomics.com/tales/cbg12.html
The Comic Book Price Guide – http://www.comicpriceguide.co.uk/lists.php?id=22
CGC – “Pedigree Comic Book Collections” – http://www.cgccomics.com/resources/pedigree.asp
The Overstreet Guide to Grading Comics – “Pedigree Comic Books”