AS A CHILD IN THE ‘30s, BILLY WRIGHT was blessed with two of the best gifts a boy cartoon collector could hope for:
He had a precociously keen eye for quality comics.
And his mother seldom threw out his things.
Today, for two of his descendants, those twin strokes of rare fortune paid off handsomely: Wright’s collection of more than 340 comics sold at auction Wednesday for a total of about $3.5-million, according to the Dallas-based Heritage Auctions house, which oversaw the sale.
Wright’s treasure-trove — which consisted mostly of comics from 1936 to 1941 — included Detective Comics No.-27 (aka the Batman debut book), which fetched the top bid of $523,000. Also hitting six-figures: Action Comics No.-1 (aka the Superman debut book), which went for about $300,000; Batman No.-1 ($275,000); and Captain America No.-2 ($114,000), Heritage Auctions said.
“It was as if in 1938, Billy Wright had a 2012 Comic Buyer’s Guide of prices,” Barry Sandoval, Heritage’s director of operations for comics, tells Comic Riffs.
Some of Wright’s earliest comics were so old and rare, Sandoval says, Heritage Auctions didn’t even have their titles in its database. “Most comics collections we see have a lot of non-collectible books,” he tells Comic Riffs. “The amazing thing with this was, you looked and asked yourself: Where are all the lame ones?”
The comic plot thickens, too, when considering the out-of-the-blue manner with which the windfall gusted in.
Wright, a College of William & Mary alum from Lynchburg, Va., and longtime chemical engineer at DuPont, died in 1994, at age 66, according to the Associated Press — apparently never whispering word of his boyhood collection, let alone its potential worth. After Wright’s widow, Ruby, died a year ago February, relative Michael Rorrer helped tackle the clearing-out of her Martinsville house, AP said.
Turns out, Mrs. Wright had once offhandedly promised the collection to Rorrer, 31, and his brother Jonathan, of Houston, who had once told their great aunt they were comics fans. Rorrer, of Oxnard, Calif., “didn’t realize their value until months later, when he mentioned the collection to a co-worker who mused that it would be quite something if he had Action Comics No. 1,” according to the AP.
The collection, he soon discovered, had that rare comic — and so much more.