With all the excitement surrounding the record price of $1.26 million for the Windy City Marvel Comics 1, I thought it would be fun to run the Windy City excerpt from the upcoming Comic Book Pedigrees book that is back on track to be published sometime in the future. The authors agreed, so get a mug of hot chocolate and settle into a comfy chair and enjoy a unique story of how one of the most important collections in the history of our hobby came to be.
I opened Moondog’s, the first comic book shop in suburban Chicago, in Mt. Prospect, Illinois in September, 1978. Prior to this suburban collectors were relegated to finding their new books on area newsstands or we made the trek to Chicago to legendary shop owners Larry Charet and Joe Sarno. If we were looking for back issues we either went to the Chicago stores or waited for the monthly mini-con at the Wabash YMCA.
I opened Moondog’s as much out of necessity than as a business endeavor. I was simply tired of driving 25 miles in Chicago traffic each week to Joe’s store. I had started a small back issue business in 1975 – buying and selling out of my home, at shows, and by mail order – so when I had the opportunity to open a shop a few miles from home, I jumped at it. It never occurred to me at that time that I would grow this tiny shop into a business that would eventually became the nation’s largest chain of comic book/pop culture stores.
My entire marketing plan consisted of running an ad in Alan Light’s The Buyer’s Guide to Comic Fandom. It was a full page and basically all it said was that Moondog’s was open for business. New comics and back issues. I was hoping to attract suburban collectors with the same mind set that I had – now you don’t have to drive to the City.
My first day of business was Saturday, September 16, 1978. It was a very busy day and I remember that I had a steady stream of customers and did nearly $500 in business. I was thrilled! Maybe this crazy idea would turn out to be something worthwhile after all.
Then near closing time (I had already started sweeping the floor) I heard the bell jingle on the door as a last-minute customer entered. He wore a snappy cap, beige jacket, and held an envelope tightly under his arm. He asked me if I was buying comics and after telling him I did, he walked over to the counter and set the envelope down. He very carefully opened the envelope and gently pulled out a small grouping of books.
It was as if I was struck by lightning!
Superman 1…Marvel Comics 1…Batman 1…Captain America 1…Daring Mystery
1…Daredevil Battles Hitler…Red Raven 1.
It was unbelievable! I had never owned books of this caliber before. Previously the most valuable Golden Age books I had purchased were a Four Color 9 and an All- Winners 1. My specialty was Silver Age because I was intimately aware of their content and value.
It was hard to speak. Did this fellow want to sell them? Were there more? How much did he want? All these thoughts were flying through my mind at once, but one stood out among them all: could I afford it?
I had opened the shop on a shoestring. My rent was $125 a month. Utilities and phone were less than $100. I paid my helper in store credit. My wife and I had just bought our first home and money was extremely tight. My “day job” as an advertising salesman for a suburban daily newspaper paid well, but certainly not the kind of money it would take to buy these books. I was very worried but I knew one thing – I wasn’t going to let this guy walk out of the store with those books without having a deal in place!
The dapper fellow introduced himself as Ben Stothart. He was in his 50’s and walked very erect and had a bounce in his gait. He was a sales executive for Nestle’s candy and traveled the country selling chocolate bars and other confectionary products. He had a pleasant demeanor and a firm hand shake. He had an air of confidence that probably was the result of his being a good salesman. After shaking hands I asked him to sit down.
I thought it was best to get him talking – the more information I could glean from him the better chance I had of figuring out what I needed to do to convince him to sell me the comics. He was happy to oblige. We sat down on a couple of stools at the counter and he proceeded to relate his story on how he acquired the books.
The Origins of the Collection
Ben grew up in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Uniontown is located in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania about an hour southeast of Pittsburgh. With a population of 12,000, it’s certainly small town America – but close enough to Pittsburgh if you want to see what’s going on in the Big City.
Ben’s father ran a newsstand in a Greyhound bus depot in the middle of town. It was your ordinary bus depot newsstand – nothing special. Cigarettes. Candy. Magazines. He would help out at the stand when his dad was short-handed, but he wasn’t employed there on a regular basis. He was a high school student during World War II.
Ben did have a job back then though. He had a remainder route. A remainder route was a backroom enterprise where comics that had been returned by newsstands to distributors for credit ended up back on the street. Instead of these returns being destroyed, they were bundled up in 100’s and sold to remainder guys like Ben for 2½ cents each. These were the infamous ¾ cover books that kids found in piles in the back of candy stores. Ben would sell them for 3½ cents and the retailer sold them for a nickel. If you wanted comics in Uniontown PA – you knew Ben Stothart.
Back in the early ‘40s Ben was at the bus depot one day when he was approached by a mailman who was delivering the day’s mail. The depot was one of the stops on his mail route. The mailman had heard that Ben sold comic books. He wanted him to know that he was a collector and was hoping he could help him find new issues. The mailman had informed the two magazine distributors in town that he was interested in first issue magazines and comics, and it certainly couldn’t hurt to have another source. Ben told him that he’d be happy to keep an eye out for number ones, and every so often he’d find something the mailman needed.
The mailman’s name was Andy Wallace. He was an avid collector of magazines, comics, coins, and stamps. He was a very shy and introverted man – except when it came to his hobbies. It wasn’t uncommon for Andy to chat with Ben when they ran across each other. He would tell him about any new acquisitions he made and would ask if he had found anything for him. It was clear that Andy loved collecting and his face would light up whenever Ben would spend a few minutes with him.
Andy Wallace was a life-long bachelor who lived with his spinster sister, Anna, on the outskirts of town. They lived in a very nicely appointed farm house but left the farming to a neighbor. Anna was a school teacher, and her hobbies were more down to earth. She was very active in the local gardening and flower clubs, and she often won prizes for her roses at the Fayette County fair. She was very happy and content with her life – teaching, caring for her brother, and growing her flowers. It was a common sight in Uniontown to see her driving her friends to a flower club meeting.
Not much is known about Andy other than his hobbies. Perhaps it was due to his painfully shy nature that he didn’t make many friends. Anna was the outgoing one. Almost everything we know about Andy’s collection came from Anna.
Ben Stothart Acquires the Collection
In the 1970s many national publications ran articles and features about how old comic books were becoming very popular and how prices were skyrocketing. It was just such an article that jogged Ben’s memory. What about the mailman back home in Uniontown? Is it possible that he still had all those comics?
One day back in 1974 or 1975, Ben went back to his old home town to look up Andy Wallace. He had no idea where Andy lived so he went to the post office and asked the postmaster if he remembered him. It was then that he discovered that Andy had passed away some years before. The postmaster then told him that Andy had lived with his sister and gave him the directions to her home.
With more than a little trepidation, Ben drove to see Anna. Did the books still exist? Would she slam the door in his face? Would she be scared and call the police? After all, she was an elderly woman living alone in a sparsely populated area. Maybe he should wait a day and try to find a mutual acquaintance or friend that could introduce
him…All these thoughts swirled through his head as he pulled his car into her driveway.
As he walked up to the front door Ben remarked to himself how neat everything was around the house. The bushes and flowers were meticulously trimmed and the lawn was neatly edged. He rang the doorbell and only had to wait a few moments before a cheerful woman in her 60’s opened it. Being an experienced salesman, Ben immediately got to the point of the visit. “I knew your brother when I was growing up here in town, and I remember that he collected comic books. Is it possible that you still have them?” Her response was as equally quick and candid. “Sure! I have all his comics and a lot of other stuff he collected. Why? Are you interested in them?”
And that was the beginning of a relationship that would span 12 years.
Anna invited Ben into the parlor. She excused herself and in no time returned with a few packages. The bundles were wrapped in white butcher paper neatly tied with twine.
She undid one bundle and opened it. There were approximately 20 books. “I have hundreds of packages like this,” she told him. They sat down and went through the comics commenting on the titles. Finally she agreed that she would sell him the comics, but she knew that they were valuable (maybe she had read the same articles that whetted Ben’s appetite). They decided to use the Overstreet Price Guide to come up with a figure they could both live with for each book. This is confirmed by my finding a slip of paper inside the front cover of many of the books with Good/Fine/Mint prices.
It’s been reported that Ben never paid cash for the books – that he would swap them for different items such as appliances and blinds. It turns out that was not the case. Anna would take the cash and buy something with it…such as appliances and other household items. She would proudly show Ben her latest purchase the next time he would visit.
Approximately 1/4 of the books have “A Wallace” or “Anna Wallace” penciled in the title on the book’s cover. It’s possible that Anna assisted her brother with his collection. The copy of True Comics # 80 (available by subscription only) in the collection was addressed directly to Anna at her home. Why she was getting a subscription to True Comics hasn’t been determined since besides # 1, it was the only other issue of True Comics in the collection. Subscribers to Tex Granger, Jack Armstrong, and Calling all Kids also received True Comics # 80 through the mail as well (they combined all 4 titles into True Comics starting with that issue), so she may have been a subscriber to one of those titles too, though no other subscription copies were found in the collection.
It’s interesting to note that Ben Stothart never got to see where the books were stored in the house. Anna told him that they were in the attic, but he was never allowed to leave the parlor or kitchen. And the visits were not long ones. Anna always said that she was very busy and they needed to keep things brief.
Ben has never revealed the percentage of Overstreet that he paid for the books, but he told me on numerous occasions that he “did very well” with this deal.
The fact that the collection was stored in the attic accounts for the creamy page quality of many of the books. It was not air conditioned and must have gotten dreadfully hot in the summer. Many of the books have dust shadows which leads me to believe they were stored in piles haphazardly in the attic. It then follows that the butcher paper was used to wrap them at some later time. One can picture the following scenario: Andy comes home with his latest purchases, walks up the steps to the attic, swings open the door and tosses the comics onto a pile of other books. No organization. More an accumulation than a collection. After he passes away, the neat and organized sister wraps everything up and stores it away for posterity.
Ben Stothart noted that during one visit he saw a copy of TBG in the parlor. So it was clear that Anna was aware of a comic book collecting community, but she never gave any indication that she was interested in pursuing other avenues for selling the books.
Ben Stothart made 3 – 4 visits each year to see Anna Wallace, each time bringing back a shopping bag or two of around 200 books. When I first met him he had acquired about half of the books (though he didn’t know it at the time).
Gary and Ben Try to Come to an Agreement
We sat and talked. I said I wanted to buy them. He said he wanted to sell them, but there was a caveat: He wouldn’t sell them until he had acquired them all. So just as Ben and Anna had a nearly 12-year relationship, I embarked on a 8-year relationship with Ben.
In 1978 Ben lived in Arlington Heights, Illinois. My shop in Mt. Prospect was only a few miles from his home. Ironically in 1980, my wife and I moved to Arlington Heights just a few minutes from Ben. The fact that I lived so close was a huge factor in my getting the deal. Ben was comfortable knowing that he could stop by my shop any time or stop by my house. We both gained confidence in each other. He started to trust me. I started believing that he actually meant it when he said I’d “have the chance to match or beat any offer.” And that hope kept me going for 8 years.
In 1984/85, when Ben thought he was approaching the end of the books, we talked about trying to determine the market value of the collection. I explained the first step was to accurately grade each book and that process would take time. He agreed and eventually delivered the entire collection to my home. For the next 9 months, during my spare time, I counted each page and wrote descriptions and grades for each book. The fact that I had the books in my home for all this time gave me renewed hope that I would finally land the collection.
During the 8 excruciatingly long years of waiting, I was forced to endure phone call after phone call from dealers and collectors who had heard of the deal and wanted to know more about it. Among the more prominent dealers was Stephen Fishler who was adamant that the collection stay intact. He told me he thought it belonged in a museum or with a collector with the wherewithal to make sure it wouldn’t be broken up. His buyer was reportedly Mark Hamill.
Gerry Ross and Robert Cresthol aggressively tried to make a deal with Ben. During one phone call with Cresthol I was subjected to an obscenity-laced tirade about how he was “tired of Stothart and tired of amateurs getting all the good deals.” I still laugh about that to this day.
The dollar figures bandied about all were between $50,000 and $100,000.
Gary and Ben Make a Deal
In the summer of 1986, when Ben was prepared to sell, he told me that he had a firm offer of $75,000. I have no way of substantiating this figure. True to his word, he gave me the opportunity to match the price. It was also important to him that the deal be in cash. Not having access to that kind of cash, I explained that if I were allowed to purchase the comics in installments that I would guarantee that he would do better than the $75,000. He agreed and we consummated the deal. The first installment was
$33,000. I got most of the key titles and the middle of the road super-hero books. The next installment was $27,000 for more of the same. The third installment was $10,000 which bought all the Fawcetts. And the final $12,000 was the Marvel 1. The total purchase price was $82,000. It took approximately 4 months to acquire them all. I grossed approximately $200,000 when all the books were sold. It took me 2 years to sell 90% of the books.
When it was time to buy more books, I’d call Ben and he’d always remind me to bring cash. Our ritual was not unlike a drug deal going down on Miami Vice. I’d bring $100 bills and count them out in neat piles on his kitchen table. He’d re-count the cash and give me the books. I can laugh about it now, but at the time it was nerve-wracking handling all that cash.
Fun Facts and Details on the Collection
All together I purchased approximately 1,500 comics. According to Ben there were another 2,500 miscellaneous first-issue magazines. Noted collector, Stan Gold, of Dallas reportedly was the buyer of the magazines.
Ben told me that he sold a handful of books before we met including Famous Funnies 1 (July 1934) and Flash 1.
Steve Geppi told me that at the time (1986) he thought the Marvel Comics 1 was the third best copy after the Denver and San Francisco copies.
There were a few runs of certain titles. The Four Color series had many various titles represented. There was an almost complete run of Classic Comics/Classics Illustrated. There was no Crypt of Terror 17, but there was an 18 and a Tales from the Crypt 20.
Dell Jr. Treasury’s were almost complete. Detective Comics were represented by 1, 3, 6, 12, and 111. Andy loved 3-D comics and almost every common and obscure 3-D book is represented.
Other notable runs: Famous Funnies 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 25, 26, and 27. More Fun 9, 10, 11,
12, 13, and 14. New Comics 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. There were 27 issues of Uncle Scrooge beginning with 386.
The Batman 1 was sold at San Diego in 1986 for a then record price of $9,000.
The Captain America 1 was stolen at San Diego in 1987 and later recovered 8 years later in 1995 and subsequently sold for $30,000.
Notable high grade copies (all estimated to be 8.0 and better):
Adv’s. of Rex the Wonder Dog 1 Air Fighters 2
All Winners 1
The Avengers (1963) 1
Big Shot 1
Blue Ribbon 1
Boy Explorers 1
Capt. Video 1
Comics Magazine (1936) 1
The Comics (1937) 1
Captain Science 1
Capt. Marvel Jr. 1 Sub-Mariner (1968) 1
Strange Worlds 1 Sugar and Spike 1 Stars and Stripes 2 Shield-Wizard 1
Super Comics (1938) 1
Crime SuspenStories 1
Daring Mystery 1 Down with Crime 1 Dennis the Menace 1 Daredevil Battles Hitler Exciting 1
Future Comics 1 Fairy Tale Parade 1 Ghost Rider (ME) 1 Human Torch 2 House of Secrets 1 Joker 1
Katy Keene Fashion Book Master 7
War Against Crime 1 Wham 1
World’s Best Comics 1 War Victory Comics 1 Western Picture Stories 1 Yellow Claw 1
Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories 1
Windy City 2
Anna Wallace passed away in 1986 or 1987. When Ben heard that she died he went back to Uniontown to inspect the house to see if there were any other books that he missed – after all the Action 1 was conspicuously absent from the collection. Anna’s banker allowed him into the house but he told me he found nothing except 1 or 2 books that were in terrible condition. He was satisfied that he got all the comics.
But later in the year there was an auction in Uniontown where approximately 1,000 additional books that had been found in the house were sold. The auction was advertised in TBG and some local collectors, as well as Dave Anderson from Viriginia, bought the books. Only a few semi-significant books were found. I spoke to one of the buyers after the auction and he confirmed there were no major books in the auction.
Ben found out about the auction after the fact and was very upset that he missed the books. He was convinced that they must have been stored in an area of the house or barn that Anna wasn’t aware of.
The Windy City Collection was one of the most important collections to ever surface in the hobby. It was the result of one man’s vision, and his sister preserved it with dignity and care. If more attention to a sense of history had been made when I acquired it, I believe strongly that it would have attained a higher status among pedigree collectors. Stephen Fishler’s vision of keeping the collection intact was laudable but not practical for the times. Chuck Rozanski sold the Church collection and built a comic book empire with the profits. Though I regret it to some extent today, the fact is, not unlike Chuck it was necessary that I sell the books quickly to recoup my investment. I had a growing business and the profits from the Windy City Collection were reinvested in more inventory and marketing. Much of the success of Moondog’s can be traced back to the acquisition of these books.
But since many sales went undocumented, most of the best examples are in collections today – unidentified as Windy City copies.
But not all! In December 2019 Heritage Auctions sold the Windy City Marvel 1 for the record price of $1.26 million – the most ever spent on any Marvel comic book.
Comic book dealers and collectors dream about finding a collection like this. I was one of the few to live the dream. I can tell you that no greater thrill exists in the hobby than to be the first to uncover an original owner collection of this magnitude. I’ll never forget that Saturday in the late summer of 1978. In fact it seems like it just happened yesterday.
Andy's retirement was big news in Uniontown. He was a mailman for 44 years.
Andy's collecting was big news in 1955!
The Windy City True Comics 80 with mailing label.
The actual label with Anna's name and address.
6 of the most important Windy City Keys!
Gary's TBG ad that ran in July 1986.