Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2018 Issue

Library of Congress Receives Enormous Donation of Comic Books

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Stephen Geppi with the first Superman comic (Action Comics) and other classics. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress has received an enormous book donation, though not the sort of books one might expect to see in Congress' library - comic books. Perhaps, these are what our Congressmen and Senators read after hours, when no one is looking. These may not be confused with great literature or history books, but comics have become a huge part of America's cultural heritage over the past century. Starting with newspaper strips at the dawn of the twentieth century, the "funny papers" soon evolved into a highly popular medium with Disney and his rodent pal in the 1920s. By the latter days of the Great Depression, we saw the introduction of superheroes, Superman, Batman, and eventually a host of others.

 

By the 1960s, comics broadened into social and political animals, controversial, risqué, defined by and defining their era. Mickey and friends may still have dominated small-town drug stores, but in the cities "underground comics" flourished. Today, all sorts of comics are created and sold, and their popularity is immense. Anyone who has witnessed the crowds at Comic-Con, its spin-offs and other comic book conventions, is aware of how popular they are today, with many attendees dressing up as their favorite characters. Book fairs still draw in healthy audiences, but not of the size and enthusiasm of comic book fairs. The Library of Congress would be remiss not including them.

 

Not that it has. The Library of Congress already had around 140,000 comic books when it received its large donation from Stephen A. Geppi, 3,000 more items valued at many millions of dollars. Mr. Geppi is an American success story, someone whose name may not be familiar to the average reader, but certainly is to most everyone in the trade. He is the owner of Diamond Comic Distributors of Baltimore, and if you bought a comic book at a comic shop or newsstand lately, it probably was sent there by Diamond. They dominate the business.

 

Mr. Geppi's success, as with many entrepreneurs, begins with a love for his subject. He was a postal worker in Baltimore when he began buying and trading old comics in his spare time. He soon saw the potential for a business, opening a small shop which he worked part time. Soon enough, it became his major source of income. He quit his job at the post office, and sold new and old comic books full time. From his shop's beginnings in 1974, he expanded to four shops by 1982. He was even distributing to a few other small shops in the area. It was then that he made his major move, taking over a struggling distributorship from whom he bought his books. It struggled no more. He renamed it "Diamond," and over the next decade, growth was spectacular, as Geppi took over several competitors along the way. Diamond became the nation's largest comic book distributor and today dominates the field, holding exclusive distributorships with many of the major publishers. His success enabled Geppi to amass a remarkable collection of comics and related material, much of which he recently gave the Library of Congress, with more possibly to be donated in the years ahead.

 

Among the amazing things to be found in the Geppi Collection are printing blocks from The Yellow Kid, one of the first and a true pioneer in comic art. There are six storyboards from Disney's first animated Mickey Mouse cartoon, Plane Crazy. If you said, wait a minute, Steamboat Willie was the first, it was the first released, but Plane Crazy was produced earlier, held up to add sound. We will let the Library of Congress tell the rest of the story about Mr. Geppi and his collection. They have provided a news release that anyone interested in comics will find fascinating. However, before you think everything is going perfectly for Mr. Geppi, we add this word of caution. According to the website of his museum, Mr. Geppi is an "avid baseball fan," who attends almost all of the Baltimore Orioles home games. It is not so easy being an Orioles fan this year.

 

Here is the Library of Congress' press release:

 

The Library of Congress announced that collector and entrepreneur Stephen A. Geppi has donated to the nation’s library more than 3,000 items from his phenomenal and vast personal collection of comic books and popular art, including the original storyboards that document the creation of Mickey Mouse. This multimillion-dollar gift includes comic books, original art, photos, posters, newspapers, buttons, pins, badges and related materials, and select items will be on display beginning this summer.

 

The Stephen A. Geppi Collection of Comics and Graphic Arts has been on public display in Baltimore, Maryland, for the past decade and is a remarkable and comprehensive assemblage of popular art. It includes a wide range of rare comics and represents the best of the Golden (1938-1956), Silver (1956-1970) and Bronze (1970-1985) ages of comic books. The mint-condition collection is also noted for its racially and socially diverse content as well as the distinctive creative styles of each era.

 

The collection also includes motion picture posters and objects showcasing how music, comic book characters, cultural icons and politicians were popularized in the consumer marketplace. Among these are Beatles memorabilia, a collection of flicker rings popularizing comic book characters and political figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Richard Outcault’s The Yellow Kid printing blocks and the No. 2 Brownie camera model F from Eastman Kodak Company.

 

One signature item in the collection represents the birth of one of animation’s most iconic characters. Six rare storyboards detail the story layout and action for Walt Disney’s 1928 animated film, “Plane Crazy.” It was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon produced, but the third to be released, after sound was added, in 1929. “Steamboat Willie” was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon to be theatrically released, on Nov. 18, 1928, which marks its 90th anniversary this year.

 

“The Library of Congress is home to the nation’s largest collection of comic books, cartoon art and related ephemera and we celebrate this generous donation to the American people that greatly enhances our existing holdings,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “The appeal of comic books is universal, and we are thrilled that this new addition to the collections will make them even more accessible to people worldwide.”

 

“When I began collecting comic books as a young boy and then in earnest in 1972, I would have never dreamed that a major portion of my collection would find a home at the Library of Congress, alongside the papers of 23 presidents, the Gutenberg Bible and Thomas Jefferson’s library,” said Geppi. “This gift will help celebrate the history of comics and pop culture and their role in promoting literacy.”

 

Geppi is the owner and CEO of Diamond Comic Distributors, based in Baltimore. A fan of comic books as a child, he later began seriously collecting them and turned his passion into a series of pop culture businesses. Over the years, Geppi amassed one of the largest individual collections of vintage comic books and pop culture artifacts in the world.

 

Geppi will continue to be an active collector and will be considering other donations to the Library of Congress in the future. “I view this newly established connection to the Library of Congress as the beginning of a long-term relationship,” said Geppi.

 

The Library holds more than 140,000 issues of about 13,000 comic book titles, dating back to the 1930s. The collection includes many firsts and some of the most important comics in history, including the first comic book sold on newsstands; the first series featuring Batman and other iconic characters; and All Star Comics #8, which introduced fans to Wonder Woman. The Library also holds a copy of Amazing Fantasy #15, which tells the origin story of Spider-Man, and the original artwork that Steve Ditko created for that issue. The Geppi Collection expands and enriches this strong foundation and fills gaps in specific issues.

 

The Serial and Government Publications Division maintains one of the most extensive newspaper collections in the world. It is exceptionally strong in United States newspapers, with 9,000 titles covering the past three centuries. With more than 25,000 non-U.S. titles, it is the largest collection of international newspapers in the world. Beyond its newspaper holdings, the division also has extensive collections of current periodicals (40,000 titles), comic books (13,000 titles) and government publications (1 million items). The collection of comic books is available for research use by scholars, collectors and other researchers in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room. More information can be found at www.loc.gov/rr/news/coll/049.html.

 

The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division holds more than 15 million photographs, drawings and prints from the 15th century to the present day. International in scope, these visual collections represent a rich array of human experience, knowledge, creativity and achievement, touching on almost every realm of endeavor—science, art, invention, government and political struggle, and the recording of history. More information can be found at loc.gov/rr/print/.

 

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov, access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.

Rare Book Monthly

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    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Published Half Plate Ambrotype of a North Carolina Confederate Officer. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two 19th Century Books Pertaining to Canada's Red River Settlement. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two Books With Fore-Edge Paintings of British Architectual Landmarks. $400 to $600
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    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), "Torte a la Dobosch" from <i>Wild Raspberries</i>. $1,000 to $3,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990), <i>Pop Shop II,</i> One Plate screenprint in colors, on wove paper, 1998. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756-1827), Twenty-Two Prints from the <i>Tours of Dr. Syntax</i>. $500 to $1,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
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    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
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    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
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