CGC-certified Superman Franchise 'Ashcans' in Heritage Sale

Posted on 4/5/2022

The books offer insight into the development of one of the greatest superhero franchises.

Four rare comic books called “ashcans” that were created during the Golden Age of comic books to secure trademarks for the nascent Superman franchise are among the highlights of a Heritage Auctions sale this month. Three of them are authenticated and graded by Certified Guaranty Company® (CGC®), with bidding open through April 7, 2022.

Click to enlarge.

The most important among these ashcans is the Superman Comics #nn (D.C. Comics, 1939) graded CGC 8.5 (lot 91072). Bidding for it had already reached $38,000 several days before the sale.

Following the tremendous success of Superman’s debut in Action Comics #1 in 1938, publisher National Allied Publications (which later merged with D.C. Comics) wanted the character to be the first to star in his very own series. They printed this small, black-and-white comic — known as an “ashcan” because of its size — in 1939 to secure the copyright to the title “Superman Comics.”

The cover of the book is a reprint of Action Comics #7, while the interior is a reprint of Action Comics #8. Those titles, from December 1938 and January 1939, pre-dated the publication of Superman #1 later in 1939.

Copies of early Superman comic books can command stratospheric prices. An Action Comics #1 graded CGC 8.5 sold for $3.25 million in 2021, while a Superman #1 graded CGC 7.0 sold for $2.6 million that same year.

Only a few copies of the “Superman Comics” ashcan were printed, to be used for the trademark registration and by the publisher’s legal department. According to Heritage Auctions, only two copies are known to exist today and not even D.C. Comics has a copy in their vault. Another example, graded CGC 9.0, reportedly sold for $83,000 in 2008.

The publisher made similar ashcans to register new comic book series for Superboy and Superwoman in 1942, and Supergirl in 1944. All three are also available in this auction (lots 91070, 91071 and 91073), with Superboy graded CSG 6.5 and Superwoman graded CSG 7.0.

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