By now, we're more than used to historic pieces of pop culture memorabilia selling for increasingly vast sums of money. Even first-edition Harry Potter books are now selling in the six-figures, and they were produced within most of our lifetimes.
So imagine the stir it created when a copy of the single comic book that 80 years ago kicked off what would become a game-changing, generation-defining pop culture franchise, was unearthed and put up for sale in the states.
The comic book is a copy of Marvel Comics #1, the first Marvel-branded comic book released by Martin Goodman's Timely Publications. The first in a series of pulpy mystery comics that came to be known as the Marvel Mystery series, the comic is largely credited with helping to spawn the comic book genre as a whole, also introducing the world to the concept of costumed crime fighters with strange abilities and inhuman quirks. Starring in Marvel Comics #1 were a number of characters who, to this day, still star in Marvel's comic books, such as the Fantastic Four's Human Torch, the Angel, and Namor.
The comic was a gigantic success, especially for a time decades before Lee really pioneered the art of writing comics for a more adult audience. Despite being very much geared towards kids, it sold like wildfire, shifting 80,000 copies — such a huge number that Goodman was forced to order a reprint. Marvel Comics #1 would go on to sell almost a million copies.
At the time of Marvel Comics #1's publication, a young office assistant named Stanley Lieber was also doing general duties. Two years later, Goodman and artist Jack Kirby would go on to conceptualise and produce the first Captain America comic, while Lieber, who by then was also writing comics under the pen name Stan Lee, would become editor. The rest was history.
The comic was held in perfect condition as part of the Windy City pedigree collection, which according to Newsarama "was compiled by an anonymous Uniontown, Pennsylvania mailman who purchased every first issue he could of both comic books and magazines, starting in the 1940s." The comic was given a 9.4 out of 10 rating for its condition, making it the highest-rated copy of the edition ever found.
"This is a historic copy of a historic comic book," said Ed Jaster, Senior Vice President at Heritage Auctions. "Without question, this is the granddaddy of all Marvel Comics, without which we would not have the characters and stories we enjoy in today’s comics and feature films."
And it would seem the buyers agreed, with the book eventually going under the hammer for $1.26 million USD, making it by far the most expensive Marvel comic ever sold. However it's still well short of the overall record for a comic book sale: a copy of Action Comics #1 that in 2014 sold for $3.2 million USD. Still, it introduced the world to Superman, so maybe it's justified.