Last week I gave a very brief history of my career as a comics retailer from 1969-1977. My purpose in providing that background information was to give a bit of historical perspective on my purchase, in January of 1977, of the famous "Mile High/Edgar Church" collection of mint Golden Age comics.
The reason I wanted to give that background information is that it has often been stated to me, as though it were an inalterable fact, that " well, you got your start in comics retailing when you lucked into that big collection of old comics..." In point of fact, after selling at conventions and antiques fairs for five years, I gave up a full scholarship to college in 1974 to pursue my comics retailing career full time. My friends and parents thought I was insane (especially since I had to live for four months in a 1963 Chevy Impala in order to raise my initial working capital), but I was determined to make comics my life. By late 1974, I had managed to move out of the car, and I had opened the first Mile High Comics retail store. By the time I found the big collection, 25 years ago last week, I had a chain of three Mile High Comics stores in Colorado. After eight years in the comics business I certainly wasn't getting rich selling comics, but I was following my dream, and my passion, to devote my life to the comics world.
After the phone call came in about the deal (see last week's column for the details), I had to wait nearly a week before I could connect with the sellers. This was a week of great anticipation, as the description I had been given of the collection gave me reason to believe that it was a wonderful group of late-1940's, and early 1950s, comics. Those books only listed for $2-$10 each in the 1976 Overstreet, but a large group of them could still easily add up to a very valuable collection.
The day finally came for me to view the comics. I drove to the address I was given, and was ushered into the basement. From the top of the stairs I could see stacks of comics covering the floor. Each stack was approximately 75-100 comics deep, and the further I walked down the stairs, the more stacks I could see! The titles I could see on top were predominately Dell westerns, but I also saw an occasional EC issue, and a few older DC superhero titles. Suffice it to say, by the time I reached the bottom of the stairs, I was very, very excited.
I started by looking through the stacks on the floor, and the more I looked, the more I found to excite me. It rapidly became clear to me that there was not only a great number of comics, but also that they were in wonderful condition! The one odd characteristic about the collection was that the newer (mid-1950's) comics averaged about "Fine" condition, while the older (1940's) comics I was running across were seemingly unread. This seemed very strange to me at the time, but I didn't question it.
Once I had gotten a pretty good gauge of what was on the floor (about 60 stacks), I asked how much was being sought for the collection. It was at that point that it was made clear to me that it was not a question of how much I was willing to pay, but rather if I was willing to take them "all." I told the sellers that I was more than willing to take all the books, but that we would have to either make payment arrangements, or that I could sell the comics for them on consignment. Both of these proposals were immediately rejected out of hand, even after I had shown the sellers collector prices for old comics in an Overstreet that I had brought along. They were emphatic that they wanted nothing to do with the sales process, and that they wanted immediate payment. I explained to them that I had limited resources available to me for an immediate purchase, and they said "just make us an offer..."
Without going into the details of the exact amount I paid, I offered a price per frying chicken box. For those of you who've never seen one, a chicken box is used by the shippers of frozen poultry to ship their birds from the slaughtering plant, to the grocery stores. The boxes are made of very heavy gauge waxed paper, and come with a tight sealing lid. The boxes could be had for free from grocery stores, and once they were well cleaned and deodorized, they exactly fit two parallel rows of comics. In the days before the invention of long whites, chicken boxes were a primary tool for all comics retailers, and also for many collectors. A typical chicken box held 550 newer comics, or about 300 Golden Age issues. I used the chicken box as a unit of measure because I knew I would have to carry the comics out of the basement a box at a time, and I figured that if we just kept track of the number of trips I made, we could then multiply the offer amount by the number of boxes I'd hauled, in order to reach the final total.
The sellers accepted my first offer with only two conditions. They required that my payment had to be in cash, and that I also had to clean out the "closet." It was at that point that they walked me to a walk-in closet that separated a back office from the hallway at the bottom of the stairs. When they opened the door to the closet, I was astounded to see that it was completely filled with ceiling-high stacks of even more old comics. There were even comics stuffed all the way up into the floor joists! It was at this point that I finally grasped that I had stumbled into an unbelievably wonderful collection of old comics.
To be continued...
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your letters to:
Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221