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When collecting old comic books was a new idea

A store devoted to antique comic books drew serious collectors who appreciated their artwork and their rarity.

Superman #1 might cost $200 at Memory Lane comic shop in 1970

Customers find value in old comic books

52 years ago
Duration 2:25
In 1970 a store called Memory Lane makes a business of selling old comics, sometimes for surprising prices.

Comic-book fandom was unusual enough in 1970 that CBC sent out a reporter to a Toronto store to try to understand it.

"Captain" George Henderson, owner of Memory Lane in Markham Street Village, said collecting comics wasn't an especially new pursuit. 

No longer an underground hobby

Store owner George Henderson said people were no longer embarrassed to admit they collected comic books. (Metro News/CBC Archives)

"It's been going since about 1951, but it was underground then," said Henderson, whose store specialized in "antique" comic books. "Now it's above ground. People aren't embarrassed anymore about admitting that they collect comic books."

To be considered "antique," a comic book had to date from between 1933 and 1945.

The camera caught Henderson's clientele browsing shelves in the tiny shop, stuffed with titles such as Thor, X-Men, and The Avengers.

A publication created by Henderson himself, called Captain George's Whizzbang, sold for 35 cents.

But prices could be far higher for some inventory.

How much? 'Depends who's selling'

Memory Lane stocked collectible titles from the golden age of the medium, like Superman and Flash Comics. (Metro News/CBC Archives)

"Take for instance a Batman #1, which everybody talks about, everybody wants," said Henderson. "I've gotten $250 for it."

(That's about $1,845 in 2022 dollars; according to ABC News, a copy of Batman #1 sold for $227,050 in May 2018.)

Superman #1 could fetch even more, said Henderson — or less.

"I see low prices of about $125, but I also see where it's going for about $300," he said. "It depends who's selling it and who's buying it."     

Reporter Stan Rantin talked to store customer George Olshevsky, describing him as an "avid collector."

"They're interesting because they're precursors of the modern-day comics," said George Olshevsky, who collected old comic books.

"I collect old comic books because they're rare. They're interesting because they're precursors of the modern-day comic that we see," he said. "It's just sort of a collecting instinct."

"Also the artwork in comics is quite exceptional nowadays," Olshevsky added, comparing it to engravings by French artist Gustave Doré.

As comic books increased in value, collectors were beginning to have trouble with thieves. And it got worse. 

"As George Henderson points out," said Rantin, "sometimes it's hard to get anyone to take the theft seriously."

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