Undervalued Spotlight #439

New York World’s Fair 1939, DC Comics, April 1939.

My pal Mike and I were talking Superman the other day, we’d just picked up a nice run of Sups from #1 to #11 almost complete to sell on our I.C.E. website and were marveling at how cool these old books were. That’s when Mike hit me with a flash quiz – quick – how many Superman appearances are there in the 1930s? Gah! I know the 19 Actions and Superman #1 and #2 so I blurted out 21. Wrong! I’d forgotten about this week’s Undervalued Spotlight pick, New York World’s Fair 1939.

New York World’s Fair 1939 features the aforementioned coveted 1930s Superman appearance and a cover appearance as well making it the 6th cover appearance for the Man of Steel, NYWF 1939 hit the streets a week after Action Comics #13 did.

Perhaps, more importantly, NYWF 1939 features the first published appearance of the Sandman. The Sandman showed up in Adventure Comics #40 a month and a half later and while the Adventure Comics story was written first it is the NYWF 1939 comic that is his technical first appearance. Sandman thus becomes another 1930s superhero to appear in this key issue. I think Mike and I added up around 45 some odd 1930s superhero appearances, Sups, Bats, Sandman, Torch, Subby, the Flame, Blue Beetle, Wonderman … who am I forgetting?

Doh, back to my pick. I honestly have no idea why this book isn’t three times the monster it is today. The market treats it with indifference at best. Of the 6 blue label Universal CGC copies that have sold (GPA tracked) since 2018 5 have sold at below Overstreet Guide while a CGC 6.0 sold for 10% above Guide. A CGC 7.0, with only two copies out there better, sold for $7,768 last May, that’s 15% below Guide! Even a nice entry level CGC 2.0 just sold in January for a below guide $1700, considering how the floor has risen on all the keys this has to be a disappointing result.

What’s holding this book back? The bland cover? I’d ignore the cover and look at the books fundamentals, this is a smart pick up at anything close to Guide.

The 48th Overstreet price breaks for this book are $1800/$3600/$5400/$13000 in the 2.0/4.0/6.0/8.0 grade splits.

Strengths that make this comic a good long-term investment are:

  • First appearance of Sandman, street date April 30, 1939 (Adventure Comics #40 story was written before NYWF 1939 but was published after, street date June 10, 1939)
  • A 1939 appearance of Superman, one of only 22 Superman appearances in the 1930s, came out a week after Action Comics #13
  • Sixth Superman cover appearance
Walter Durajlija
Walter Durajlija

Walter Durajlija is an Overstreet Advisor and Shuster Award winner. He owns Big B Comics in Hamilton Ontario.

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5 years ago

I picked up the DynaPubs reprints of the 1939 and 1940 issues. Even though the interiors were just b/w, they still seemed magical.

Bud Plant
Bud Plant
5 years ago

Still trying to find an affordable copy. I collect so widely that I can’t be laying out the big bucks too often, I’d rather spread them out over lots of lower-priced gems. So books up in that over-$1000 price point, and even over $500, make me think long and hard, and I mostly just walk away from them. I really don’t know how so many folks can shell out the big bucks like is going on these days, particularly what I see n the auction world. I would be happy with an affordable World’s Fair 1939–even a coverless copy with a repro cover, or less-than-VG copy. Fortunately I have a G/VG 1940 edition with white pages. It’s not as key as the 1939, for the reasons you describe, all good points, but also a fine book and easier to find.

World’s Best #1 and World’s Finest, the first 10 or 15 issues, are wonderful books with extra pages, great Superman/Batman/Robin covers, and killer Simon & Kirby Boy Commandos stories in #7 on. And these are not too scarce and nicely affordable even in better (i.e. VG and Fine range) condition.

Thanks for making me yearn even more for a copy of this, amazing to see its such an early Superman appearance!

5 years ago

They were comic-sized, although they were about a half inch wider than today’s comic. They had cardboard covers not unlike treasuries, color covers and b/w interiors. They sold for $4. each in 1974 but have now been selling for a premium due to sheer age of the reprints. There were sbout 30 or so reprints in the series, a list of them can be found in Overstreet. The color covers are rich and vibrant.

Chris Meli
Chris Meli
5 years ago

As I had just visited I.C.E. to make a small contribution to the club soda fund, I was confused about why I couldn’t access it via the link – then I checked its spelling…

I will take some credit for this pick, as my comment to U.S. #428 mentioned this book in connection with the Great Belit Controversy. The spirit of blonde Superman henceforth permeated the Spotlight, waiting to be summoned.

I will dispense with the “terrible pick, stay away from this book” shtick, although that was my natural reaction. This book has been on my radar, like, forever, and it pains me to see Walt putting it on everybody’s radar. On the other hand this has been sleeping in plain sight, so maybe I will still have a chance if I really want to step up. I had opportunities to get decent copies for what would now be bargain prices at least a couple of times a few years ago, but I kept psyching myself out. Even if “undervalued” now, it has really moved up.

The reason I psyched myself out is in line with comments I have made elsewhere – I am leery of non-title books like Annuals, so one-shots, especially promotional one-shots, really worry me. By the time I recognized that this book is something unique and shouldn’t be lumped in with the Oreo giveaways, the opportunities had passed.

Walt does a great job of laying out the arguments for this one. To play devil’s advocate, I will try to state what I see as the arguments against:

– As above, a one-shot event tie-in. (Maybe not a one-shot if you take the 1940 book into account, but following Bud’s comments, I don’t. I really have no interest in the 1940 book for many reasons, most of all that it looks like just one of many yellow-background World’s Finests. I would prefer a tough collector’s item over an affordable book.) Many collectors will view this book as close to ephemera, which reduces demand.

– As you say, a “bad” cover that looks more like an event program. In a plastic box you are going to have to appreciate this for what it means, not by ogling a raucous fight between heroes and villains.

– Blonde Superman. Similar to a blonde Belit, I’m betting some people view this as so far outside the continuity that it should be suppressed.

– Stickers. Some have them, some don’t, some have remnants. Unfortunate.

I can’t think of anything else, and of the above I think the ephemera argument is the by far the strongest. Imagine if everything else were kept the same, but the book title had been “Giant-Size Action Comics #1”. $$$$$$$$$$$$$

I don’t think any of these negatives are meaningful for the long term. The “first Sandman” should dominate all of them, and moreover as more people go deeper into the hobby, they will recognize the importance of this book in the lineage of modern comics, and they will also appreciate the iconic linkage to the key cultural event of the 1939 World’s Fair via the cover. This is a book for the ages.

I don’t know how to comp this book, but I will throw out my first thought, which was Marvel Mystery nn. That book is far scarcer, but I don’t think it has anything like the historical meaning of this book (and certainly no first appearance), and yet a top six copy (in line with the World’s Fair CGC 7.0 that Walt notes) would probably sell for $10k. So up until very recently, I think it is impossible to oppose the “undervalued” judgment.

Even if you see the 2.0 $1.7k sale as a disappointment, it is a big move up over 2018, and there is another data point from last night. In that ComicLink auction a restored CBCS 2.5 sold for $1.4k. As my recent experience is that CGC looks to downgrade CBCS grades, I would conservatively look at this as another CGC 2.0. My rule of thumb for restored in this kind of case (low-grade quasi-key) is to about double the restored price, so that gets me to an implied $2.8k, up from the $1.7k in just three months. Maybe still undervalued, but nonetheless a lot less undervalued.

Looking at the population, I think the way to go is 5.0 or above. Of course you will need to sell your car and maybe your house, but you have to have priorities, right? Also we at least have the data point that one bidder (Bud) is likely to have left the floor. Ideally you find a hole in the market where people are looking at that old 7.0 price and thinking that a 5.0 is way below that and so “obviously” not worth the same amount. Of course, if I am around and have parlayed those Shazam!s into big money, you will be out of luck.

Verdict: voluminous agreement,

Alex Sorensen
Alex Sorensen
5 years ago

NYWF39 is undervalued. I believe we all agree.
The first appearance of Sandman was touted as Adventure 40 up until Overstreet 21 (featuring the 1990 Market Report) changed the 1st Sandman listing to NYWF40 complete with the Adventure 40 “believe (first story)” statement which hasn’t changed in nearly 30 years. Overstreet 20 reports NYWF40 as worth $2,450 in near mint, 21 reports it as $4,000 in nm/m.
1994 / 1995 saw a NYWF40 sale at $30,000 in vf+ mentioned in two issues of Overstreet. This is the highest price paid, that I could find, for this issue and it was 25 years ago. The nm- value generally flat lined from 1994 to 2012 in the low-mid $20k’s.
Comic value improved with a vf 8.0 selling at $28,100 in 2014 among other positive, but fluctuating, lower grade sales. It currently stands at a $35k-$40k range for a nm- copy.
This opens the door for the next edition of Overvalued Overstreet. Adventure 40: Overstreet value is $170,000 in 9.2 nm-. I place the value at $52,000 and falling. There are no sales that support this high value except, maybe, the restored 9.2 Church copy selling for $63,250 in 2004. This sale is the highest price I could find. Restored…no, Church….yes. The Billy Wright’s also hold their value, but there is no sale that supports $170,000.
This, then leads to the next issue of Undervalued Spotlight as Adventure 42, great Sandman cover, which is worth more in the range of close to $40,000. A sale of $28,000 in vf+ in 2017 among other sales. Overstreet value is 16,200 in nm-.

Chris Meli
Chris Meli
5 years ago

Alex, that is a great comment but I have some comments/questions:

– You keep referring to “NYWF40” – do you mean “NYWF39”? Or am I missing something?

– Where do you see the recent high sales you mention? (“NYWF40” 8.0 for $28k in 2014, Adventure #42 VF+ for $28k in 2017) I don’t see these in GPA.

– I don’t get how you put a 9.2 for Adventure #40 at $52k. We should start with the point that this is an academic discussion because 8.0 is the highest universal copy (single copy). There are a number of higher grade restored copies, but at this rarefied level I don’t know how to compare universal and restored. Based on the fairly recent 6.5 and 5.0 universal sales in GPA, I don’t think it is hard to suggest that the single highest 8.0 would go for $125k.

– The argument about Adventure #42 again seems academic, because aside from the MH at 9.2, there is nothing above 7.0, and that has been the case for a decade or more, so the prospect of a graded copy above 7.0 looks very slim. I am sure it took guts to pay $19k for the MH in the dark days of 2010, but whoever did this has certainly been rewarded (at least on an expected basis) at this point. Until I saw your comment I had never looked at that cover, and it is a real winner. However just based on the GPA data (which does not include the $28k sale that you quote), my estimate would be maybe $15k for one of the 7.0s, and maybe $40k-$50k for the MH. The MHs do well when the prices are below say $5k, but once they go above this, the MH magic starts to wear off on a percentage basis. The recent auction of the MH Planets shows this – using the “normal” MH premiums I expected many of these to sell 1.5x to 2x what they did sell for (which was still in the $10k-$30k range). And the premium still exists, so 9.2 appeared on the scene, I think it would sell closer to the 7.0s than the MH, so I would argue for maybe a $20k price, not too far from that Overstreet value (not that I put any faith in Overstreet).

5 years ago

This is one of those Golden Age books that I’ve come close to dropping a couple grand for in rough condition just to have. Not sure why, but it has always been on my list.

Alex Sorensen
Alex Sorensen
5 years ago

Thanks for your comments Chris. I have always admired your knowledgeable comments and this recent comment is much appreciated, especially with your thoughts on the Mile High / Edgar Church copies.

I mean NYWF39, not 40. I had recently seen the 40 sale on comicconnect and it must have commandeered my thought patterns.

The comic values I use come from:
Heritage auctions for late 2001 to date, Comicconnect, Comiclink from late 2007 to date, Overstreet issues #6 (1975) to date, Hakes, published (magazine) sales figures, internet searches and comicsmv with a grain of salt as restored issues often are not noted.

I generally write down most data and then cross of as I input. I have a large number of full duo-tangs, writing pads of data, which are not catalogued and I will keep an eye out for the sales you questioned as I am currently gleaning them from an Excel spreadsheet.

In order to determine values I assigned all comics a value equivalent to their numeric grade value. A near mint minus 9.2 is worth $9.20. a good 2.0 is worth $2.00, and so on. The gd:nm- ratio is then 1:4.6. The ratio of a 9.2 vs a vfn 8.0 starts at 9.2/8= 1.15. I then placed these values in 1971, which is generally the beginning of Overstreet and hence recorded values and eventually sales. I use grades of 0.1 to 10.0 in the spreadsheet and have values from 1971 to date for many issues. It is an ongoing process.

The earliest sale I found was in Overstreet 6 for a Motion Pictures Funnies Weekly selling for $2,000 with 6 pages missing. Marvel Comics 1 had sales for 1977. Adventure 40’s first found sale was for the Church copy in 1984 selling for $1,700. No mention of restoration.

In 1991 Overstreet reported Adventure 40 and 48 Church copies sold for $82,000. Apportioning these, Adventure 40 is worth about $46,600. The same year a fair+ copy sold for $1,000.

There is much more to what I describe below, but here goes the abbreviated version for Adventure 40.

I add 2/3 the sale increase of value from the year previous to determine conservative raw value data for that grade and I also interpolate values between graded sales. I do not extrapolate.

As such the new 9.2 value for this year is $33,628.77, the new 1.5 value is $1.024.81. The interpolated 8.0 value is $25,273. The 9.2:8.0 ratio is now 33,628.77 / 25,273 = 1.32. Unless there are other reported sales in a given year after 1991 and above and below 8.0, this will become the value ratio between the two grades. This is my difference between the 8.0 Billy Wrights to the 9.2.

Restored copies held their own until the mid 90s when values fell well below unrestored copies. I only use restored copies with human input, not arbitrarily.

Adventure 40 has multiple sales years in 1993, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2017, 2018, but all these are below 8.0. I have determined to use mathematics to determine comic values not some 20 year old generalization that a gd:nm- ratio is 1:18. For instance the JLA 3 ratio is 1:298, while Hulk 181 is 1:5.6. Adventure 40 stands currently at 1:4.9. These ratios fluctuate.

As noted I use 2/3 the value change to determine conservative raw value data. I also have an adjusted value that lags behind the raw data adding 1/3 of the 2/3 value change year after year. This smooths out the wild fluctuations and graphically makes sense. I had my doubts, but it works.

As such the value I gave for Adventure 40 is adjusted. The raw values are $43,637 for 9.2 and $33,149 for 8.0. The Billy Wright 8.0 sold for 48,000 and 59,750 in 2012 and values for Adventure 40 spiked in 2014, however values below 8.0 have declined since 2014 and this comic is not as desirable as it once was.

Keep in mind this is the second appearance of Sandman. Second appearances go for much less than 1st appearances, regardless of whether it was believed to be written prior to NYWF39. Tales of Suspense 39 and 40 come to mind. The first cover does add somewhat but look at my adjusted 9.2 values for Wonder Woman: All Star 8 (not on cover) $578,000 vs Wonder Woman 1 $223,000 or Sensation 1 $204,000

Adventure 42 also has the 2005 9.4 sale of $34,500 and a 7.0 at 3,220. Yes I know the time period high grade craziness.

The recent Church Planets, in many cases, were selling for double the prior year values, however, many also sold for slightly below and a few at well below the previous year. Again, the human factor. In auctions you need to beat the 2nd place bidder. If they don’t want it you may get a good deal. Also interesting are the recent lower to mid grade comicconect Planet sales which sold very well.

Thanks again for your input. I very much enjoy your knowledge and willingness to speak your mind.

Chris Meli
Chris Meli
5 years ago

Wow Alex – that is going to take me some time to parse. Thank you for taking the time to write out your methodology.

I will not be buying any $50k books for the foreseeable future. What I would consider would be paying $10k for a book that I am almost totally sure should be worth $25k. That is the “human factor” you mention – at this level there is a chance that only a handful of people who can pay such a price will be watching, and if they are not familiar with that particular book, the opportunity is there. On the other hand I want to be _very_ sure of the opportunity. Certainly thinking about your methodology should help with this decision process.

(I have had this opportunity a few times in the past but recently not so much – I really have the sense that there is a) more awareness in the auction market, and b) more willingness to spend, with a rising tide lifting all boats.)