The Mile High Collection
March 9, 2007 6:19 AM   Subscribe

"I've often been asked what when through my mind when I first realized that I had stumbled across the greatest accumulation of Golden Age comics ever discovered. Frankly, even after 25 years have gone by, it still gives me chills to think about staring at that huge closet stacked to the rafters with mint Golden Age comics. " In 1977, a 21 year old comic book dealer in Colorado named Chuck Rozanski got a phone call from a realtor who wanted to dispose of a "large" number of comic books in the basement of a house that was about to be sold. The owners of the house were eager to get rid of them, and Rozanski purchased the "greatest comic collection ever found" , consisting of over 18,000 mint condition Golden Age comic books collected by artist Edgar Church, for a bargain price (rumored to be as low as $1,800). Recently, just one comic book from the collection sold for $273,125. Rozanski used the proceeds to build Mile High Comics, now the largest comic book retailer in the industry. Amazing as the Mile High discovery was, Rozanski still believes that his "Mile High II" find was his best.
posted by banishedimmortal (84 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Reminds me of that (fictional, but still) scene in High Fidelity (the book, not the movie) where the main character gets a call from a woman wanting to clear out her philandering husband's record collection, which turns out to be the Holy Grail of vinyl...
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:34 AM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've seen the ads for Mile High in comics since the 70's and I never knew that this was their origin. Thanks for making me jazzed about comics history all over again.
posted by GavinR at 6:47 AM on March 9, 2007

Someone left a stack of vinyl in my floor's trash chute room. It was worthless, ragged lps like The Who, The Commodores, and Poison's "Look What the Cat Dragged In."

Why couldn't I stumble upon like a mint Beatles 45 singles collection.
posted by four panels at 6:53 AM on March 9, 2007

Wow, the "Mile High II" deal story is really intresting. What is a "Warren magazine" though?
posted by delmoi at 6:53 AM on March 9, 2007

Some guys have all the luck.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:54 AM on March 9, 2007

Actually, that scene from High Fidelity is indeed part of the movie, it's in the deleted scenes included on the DVD. They shoulda left it in...

And don't get me started on a defining story of my youth, from 1970s New Jersey, when my best buddy Steve called me up and told me that the family down the street was throwing out money. Not just any kind of money, we're talking Morgan head silver dollars, silver certificates, 5 dollar gold pieces, the works... bags of it. Funded my entire teen years, and an escape from South America at the age of 16. No, I'm not making this up. Life on Earth can be exceedingly weird.
posted by dbiedny at 6:56 AM on March 9, 2007 [3 favorites]

I think I just creamed.
Nice post.
posted by squidfartz at 7:02 AM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Mile High II is a lot of shit and always has been. The warehouse fine that he claims to have discovered was actually picked over by other dealers before he was able to obtain it. Plus, Mile High II comics have many many MANY editions in high grade scattered in a large number of collections. Mile High II isn't special and never has been. It's just a marketing tool for Chuck to overgrade and overcharge collectors who don't know better.

The amazing thing about Mile High I (and many collectors are starting to no longer call it Mile High and instead are naming it after the owner of the collection - Edgar Church - this is a reaction to Chuck's poor business practices and his basic robbery of the Chuch family) was that not only was the collection large, it was also in amazing condition. Even in the late 1970s, not many people even knew what a Near Mint copy of a golden age comic looked like but then Chuck brought to market 20,000 of them. Many of them were unopened and were carefully stacked and stored for 30 years. I have seen many Mile High comics and they are just amazing. The colors and the feel of the books are uncanny. It's breath taking really.

Chuck has used this find to fuel a comic book empire that is hard to take seriously. As the comic collecting community has evolved, Chuck has actually been a thorn in its side. Over grading his comic, over charging, and his own giant ego consistenly bug the hell out of me. And the constant adoration he needs to just live his life is freaking laughable.

The amazing thing about this story is not Chuck but Edgar Church - a man who bought every comic that appeared at his local drugstore with the goal of practicing his artwork. He also had a large collection of pulps that, sadly, suffered major water damage and mold and couldn't be saved. Imagine if those had been survived....
posted by Stynxno at 7:05 AM on March 9, 2007 [4 favorites]

So well written and intriguing story ! excellent post !
posted by elpapacito at 7:12 AM on March 9, 2007

Delmoi: the Warren magazine collection
posted by banishedimmortal at 7:12 AM on March 9, 2007

[this is good]
posted by smackwich at 7:31 AM on March 9, 2007

Awesome. This makes me want to start a basement horde of some sort of collectible so that I may live on in the Future Internets long after I shuffle off this mortal coil.

But what? Comics, trading cards, beanie babies, all that stuff is over collected now. No, what I need is something that's all over the place right now, but won't be in a decade or two. Something that folks will get nostalgic for long after its gone. Newspapers? Bananas? The laughter of children? What? Perhaps I shouldn't limit it to just one thing and instead just horde random items, all in mint condition, in hopes of someday filling a Needful Things role in some small New England town. Hah! That'll show them who doubted me!

Clearly, I'm going to need a bigger basement and a more understanding wife.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:32 AM on March 9, 2007

Wow, really interesting. As is Stynxno's rebuttal... I've always been aware of Mile High Comics, but hadn't heard of all that baggage.
posted by COBRA! at 7:32 AM on March 9, 2007

load of shit or not, I thought it was a good story. Besides, the bulk of the story is how bad the guy's cash flow was. Yeah, wow, how self-aggrandizing.
posted by GuyZero at 7:33 AM on March 9, 2007

Incredible post, and even more incredible responses. Thanks for a great read.
posted by Bryan Behrenshausen at 7:34 AM on March 9, 2007

his basic robbery of the Church family

You really need to provide details if you're going to toss around accusations like that. You may be right; I don't know anything about Mile High or any of the people involved. I just think serious accusations of fraud and cheating should, you know, have something behind them.
posted by mediareport at 7:43 AM on March 9, 2007

So in essence...
- Guy rips off someone and makes a fortune.
- Does it again.

This doesn't take me to a happy place.
posted by seanyboy at 7:48 AM on March 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

So in essence...
- Guy rips off someone and makes a fortune.
- Does it again.

This doesn't take me to a happy place.

Mommy, what's a "communist"?
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:58 AM on March 9, 2007 [3 favorites]

You really need to provide details if you're going to toss around accusations like that. You may be right; I don't know anything about Mile High or any of the people involved. I just think serious accusations of fraud and cheating should, you know, have something behind them.

He paid 1800 dollars for the comics in 1977. He made roughly 2 million dollars off the collection by the early 80s and by then he had sold out. Action #1 through 10 of this collection was sold (not by him but was sold around 1981 I believe) for 30,000. The was unheard of at the time. That Action #1 is worth 2 million dollars today.

The Church family did take him to court and lost. They made the mistake of not asking how much the comics were valued. Chuck knew this and offered them pennies for their collection even though he knew what the collection. The Overstreet Price Guide had just come out and Chuck had been a dealer since 1969.

So, in my opinion, Chuck robbed them. Chuck knew how much the collection was worth - and hell, he couldn't even pay for it. He borrowed money from several dealer friends who then made amazing deals with Chuck to get money back from the collection. Dealer to Dealer transactions are always like that however.

So, in my opinion, Chuck knew how much this collection was worth and paid one hell of a deal for it. In my opinion, it's robbery but legally, it wasn't.
posted by Stynxno at 8:01 AM on March 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

Mommy, what's a "communist"?

I think you can be a good little capitalist, Mayor, and still realize there are good and evil ways to handle deals like this. But it is an area that can easily get into questionable moral ground, with the dealer salivating over some rare treasure whose value the current owner doesn't have a clue about. You do your best to be fair in those situations, but folks like seanyboy seem to be saying there's no value whatsoever to the knowledge the dealer has accumulated over the years, or to the business he's created that can absorb such a large batch of items at once, and quickly. That's just stupid.

I just haven't seen the evidence that the Mile High guy ripped anyone off in either case (acknowledging that all we have is his version of the facts, of course).
posted by mediareport at 8:07 AM on March 9, 2007

Ah, on preview, thanks, Stynxno. That makes more sense. Had the family asked him for an *appraisal*, which would have been the smart thing to do, I gather they would have had a case.

That Action #1 is worth 2 million dollars today.

A bit unfair to use today's values to judge that deal. But I get the claim that even back then he was paying them almost nothing for a collection whose worth he knew was sky-high. It's a questionable area, definitely; I deal with it on a smaller scale in the bookstore every day. Like I said, you do your best to be fair to the owner while valuing your own skills appropriately. I like to think I'd have done it differently.
posted by mediareport at 8:12 AM on March 9, 2007

He sounds like a Comic Book Villain.
posted by papakwanz at 8:12 AM on March 9, 2007

It is the sellers job to know the value of their assets.

That being said, I've offered a few people more than what they were asking on more than a few occasions.
posted by Mick at 8:15 AM on March 9, 2007

I just haven't seen the evidence that the Mile High guy ripped anyone off in either case (acknowledging that all we have is his version of the facts, of course).

Right. Edgar Church died in 1978 and his son died a few years later. Edgar Church's daugher is still alive and has been tracked down - but she's in her 80s and refuses to talk about the collection. We really only know Chuck's side of the story and that makes it problematic.

And considering how many times he tries to pass VF- comics as NM/M and charge 10x NM value for a mid 80s comic...well....I don't trust Chuck that much.
posted by Stynxno at 8:17 AM on March 9, 2007

I don't trust Chuck that much.

I read the story of the Church collection quickly and stopped after about 7 pages; does Chuck mention the lawsuit at all in his story? If not, that's kinda damning.
posted by mediareport at 8:20 AM on March 9, 2007

> It is the sellers job to know the value of their assets.

Agreed. A couple of years ago I picked up a record worth about $150 for a quarter at a garage sale. I knew it was worth a lot of money...does my not having told the sellers it was valuable make it theft?
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:23 AM on March 9, 2007

I read the story of the Church collection quickly and stopped after about 7 pages; does Chuck mention the lawsuit at all in his story? If not, that's kinda damning.

Nope and I'm looking for reference to it. I read it a long while ago and it stuck in my mind. Most of my information I get from other collectors and from CGC Message Boards.

Here are a few threads from there:
Edgar Church Stories, Anecdotes, & Musings
Some interesting general info about Edgar Church...
...there's a lot more there but it's a pain searching.
posted by Stynxno at 8:31 AM on March 9, 2007

Ooooooooooooooooh, angry comic book store chat.
posted by squidfartz at 8:32 AM on March 9, 2007

Agreed. A couple of years ago I picked up a record worth about $150 for a quarter at a garage sale. I knew it was worth a lot of money...does my not having told the sellers it was valuable make it theft?

not theft but i consider it unethical.
posted by Stynxno at 8:36 AM on March 9, 2007

MetaFilter: ...there's a lot more there but it's a pain searching.
posted by cgc373 at 8:41 AM on March 9, 2007

Having known and worked with Chuck for quite a long time in a high position within Mile High comics (not currently), I can talk on some of the points that have been raised in the comments here. First, as Stynxo has pointed out, Chuch has a strange reputation in the comic world. I remember in the early '90's I was walking around a convention with him and all of the dealers either were very admiring or very damning. There was no in-between. In addition to this, there was a lot of fear that Chuck was there to rip some foor chump off. However, in my time with Chuck, he was generally fair, although he always did try to get the best deal for himself and the company.
Something that is often overlooked is the good that Chuck has done for the comic retail industry. He has fought the publishers and the distributors (especially Diamond) on several occasions when they were trying to push through policies that would be detrimental to retailers. Of course, Chuck has done his share to try to expand his business and use his size to dominate any area he's in, but Chuck is a pretty ruthless capitalist.
As for the Church/Mile High collection, several dealers refused to even go look at it. Chuck was pretty much the last person that the Church family called. There was another dealer that was planning to look at it, but Chuck beat him to it. So while Chuck did lowball the offer, it's not like there were any other offers coming in. This doesn't mean that I condone the deal, however, at this time Chuck wasn't too far removed from living and selling out of the back of his car. He was young and I know that he had some problems with cash flow. To hear him tell it, he offered as much as he could. (I don't know if this is honest, just what he told me.)
Chuck is a pretty fascinating individual, although eccentric and moody. In the last few years he was diagnosed as being bi-polar, which explains a lot about him. He does have an ego, like most businessmen. He was a bear to work for, although it was well worth it most of the time if you loved comics like I do.
The real treasure from the Church collection, in my opinion, is the art from Edgar Church himself. Church was a graphic artist who designed a lot of ads for the phone book and advertising. His work is amazing, and Chuck organized an art show with Steve Geppi from Diamond distributors to show it off. It was great stuff.
posted by causticgnostic at 8:43 AM on March 9, 2007 [6 favorites]

Luckiest. Comic Book Guy. Ever.

Oh come on, someone had to say it.
posted by ontic at 8:44 AM on March 9, 2007

as an admendum to what i just posted:

i would have offered a dollar for the record.

i'm a sometime comic collector - i like good deals

I consider what Chuck did as robbery mostly because of his personality and what he's done to the comic community. His overall behavior has been shameful - his over grading, over charging, and his personality - although friendly - of his own awesomeness and his showboating all annoy the hell out of me. Some people love him and I can't really fault him for what he did. I might have done the same (even though I'd like to think that I wouldn't).
posted by Stynxno at 8:46 AM on March 9, 2007

or, as causticgnostic said, there are those who hate or love the guy. I'm a hater. I'll admit it.
posted by Stynxno at 8:47 AM on March 9, 2007

I should also mention how Chuck grades his comics. There are a few competent graders at Mile High, but for the most part there is high turnover and the good people get moved into retail or other positions of responsibility within the warehouse. So basically, much of the grading is left to people with mud for brains. I have had to regrade many comics that had supposedly been graded already. Chuck actually gets very angry when a comic is misgraded, becasue it means, usually, that the comic will be returned and a replacement issue will have to be found and reshipped. It's a huge pain and the person doing it usually has to endure a barrage of invective. Of course, this could have changed by now, since I hear that Chuck is much easier to work for these days.
I'm not saying that some intentional misgrading doesn't happen, but I never saw it myself. Most of the misgrading was a result of incompetence.
posted by causticgnostic at 8:49 AM on March 9, 2007

I totally agree, Stynxno, that some love him and many hate him. I can't say that I love him, but I respect him and I actually like him. His showboating is really him trying to drum up business in some cases. I won't downplay his ego, it's large although it has subsided quite a bit over the last few years. He's went through some humbling experiences. He is a very interesting person, though.
posted by causticgnostic at 8:53 AM on March 9, 2007

In my opinion, it's robbery but legally, it wasn't.
If I were to retell my life as a collector in light of your comments, my memoirs would read something like a crime blotter. As often as I've felt that I've overpaid or or been shorted by a dealer on a sale, the fact is that each time I voluntarily participated in the transaction. Furthermore, as I got older, and I'm talking before I turned 10 years old, I knew there was a cost associated in doing business with dealers and that the cost was significant. Dealers provide convenience and they charge whatever they can get for said convenience.

The Church deal is analogous to what happens today when a homeowner is ill or dies. There are companies that will pay the homeowner $500, note that the price varies considerably, to come in and clean out the home. They operate under the auspices that they are providing you a service, but they resell your stuff. I'm close to this industry, since I have family that participates in it. Perhaps it's not a surprise, but the goods retrieved from these houses often sell for tens of thousands of dollars in sum. In the worst case I personally experienced, a dealer paid $200 to clean out a home. The children of the deceased had no idea what the junk they were throwing out was worth. Turns out, the deceased had a valuable collection of glass. The cheapest item in the collection sold for $13,000. Was it robbery? No, but it was the kind of social engineering that happens just about every day, just not on the same scale.
posted by sequential at 8:56 AM on March 9, 2007

Chuck Rozanski and the Edgar Church collection provided most of the inspiration for Wimbledon Green, Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World, a great read.
posted by anthill at 9:02 AM on March 9, 2007

Also here
posted by anthill at 9:03 AM on March 9, 2007

Does my not having told the sellers it was valuable make it theft

No, but I'd agree that it was unethical.
To the naysayers and the communist callers, I think it's an interesting philosophical question. You either agree that it's OK to provide as little as possible for whatever Goods / Service / Cash you're getting back or you try and keep things equitable.

If you prefer the former then I hope one or all of the following things happens to you.
- You're a business owner and your staff do as little work as possible for the money you pay them.
- You hire a plumber. He does the minimum required, sticks with substandard materials and charges you a fortune.
- You're stuck somewhere and you absolutely need to buy a thing. The seller of the things recognises your need and sells it to you at 40 times the normal retail value.
- Your bank charges you huge "processing fees" for minor mistakes.

That whole "Greed is Good" / "He just got a good bargain" mantra works fine as long as there's a large enough population of saps, but for my money it's sociopathic nonsense. Or stupidity. And the more people that do it, the worse it is for society as a whole.
posted by seanyboy at 9:05 AM on March 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

I always thought this was an urban legend, it`s every collector`s dream.

Making a profit is still legal, even a very large profit.
posted by happybunny at 9:20 AM on March 9, 2007

Well, you know what they say. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

posted by glych at 9:35 AM on March 9, 2007

Wow... My first thought when i read this was "What an interesting story! I live in Colorado. I wonder if I know the guy."

Turns out he's the father of one of my best friends. I've always heard "My dad runs a comic store," but had no idea there was such a story behind it. Amazing!
posted by danman_d at 9:41 AM on March 9, 2007

glych, you don't have to sign your comments. They're automatically signed on the line beneath. Also, your site looks really cool. Have fun at MetaFilter!
posted by cgc373 at 9:48 AM on March 9, 2007

I guess you can sort of make a rule- if someone's asking for a specific price for an item, then it's ethical to purchase it from them for that price, even if you know it's going to re-sell for much more. They've decided that they're going to sell for that price, out of ignorance or whatever, but at the very least they took the time to think, Okay, that's probably worth n dollars. But if they don't have a set price- if they're asking you- I feel that you have an obligation to make the deal equitable for everyone.
posted by 235w103 at 9:55 AM on March 9, 2007

Interesting read and great comments, despite my overwhelming antipathy towards the collector market (Any collector market, really).

Like COBRA! said, I've always been aware of MileHigh, but didn't know the story behind it, thanks!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:08 AM on March 9, 2007

I thought I was pretty liberal until I came here and realized that underpaying for old comics is theft. If that's the case, lock me the fuck up! One of the joys of collecting is sniffing out bargains, and if I were somehow obligated by ethics to give out free appraisals every time I found something valuable, I'd never be able to afford anything.

My best purchase was a near complete run of the first hundred issues of Amazing Spider-man, plus Amazing Fantasy #15, that I got by replying to a newspaper ad. The person knew what they had, too, but I still got a once-in-a-lifetime deal.
posted by MegoSteve at 10:11 AM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

But if they don't have a set price- if they're asking you- I feel that you have an obligation to make the deal equitable for everyone.

That is ridiculous. If you are selling something, it's your obligation to find out what you have before you offer it for sale. It's unfair to expect a potential buyer to give you a free appraisal, and even then you'd be foolish to accept a free appraisal from a potential buyer because he's going to lowball you.
posted by MegoSteve at 10:13 AM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I guess you can sort of make a rule- if someone's asking for a specific price for an item, then it's ethical to purchase it from them for that price, even if you know it's going to re-sell for much more.

That's absurd.

That is ridiculous. If you are selling something, it's your obligation to find out what you have before you offer it for sale.

Well, it's a good idea, because most people are unscrupulous. I mean you take a situation where it's not only legal to do something, but culturally acceptable, then obviously everyone is going to do it. That doesn't mean it's right. If I had been in that position I would probably have given about the same amount of money upfront and given the guy an agreed percentage of any proceeds from their sale.
posted by delmoi at 10:33 AM on March 9, 2007

yeah, he should have said "man, I can't afford to pay you for all this stuff". Then watch it get dumped in the garbage.
posted by concreteforest at 10:55 AM on March 9, 2007

i'd feel much warmer inside if the guy would've let the comics go in the garbage because he wasn't able to pay a fair price since he was broke. it's tricky, but he showed them the overstreet guide before the deal was made. it is just his side, but it sounds like they couldn't give a shit what they could get for them. they wanted it gone asap.
the family's opinion reminds me of what it's like when you move. you have that last bit of random crap lying around after everything's boxed up. even if it's got value you just start filling a garbage bag to be done with it, cause the whole process gets so fucking exasperating.
i've had plenty of awesome record finds at garage sales. i always mention the records worth alot more and 95% of the time they don't care. they just want it out of sight and don't even have the slightest clue as to how they would even get a fair price.
i guess i'm 50/50 on him being an a-hole, of what i've read so far (frankly it got a little boring and i started skimming around the 10th page), fault lies on the families shoulders for being shithead's about the deal. dealing with something of that magnitude would be a full time job for them and they didn't have the faintest clue of where to start. i think no matter what, someone in that position gets taken advantage of, it's just a matter of how much.
as an aside, i'm dreading the day i've got to deal with my dad's gigantic stamp collection. it takes up as much room as these comics and it's fucking stamps for god's sake. i'll try not to go down the road they did, but i'll have to in some way.
posted by andywolf at 10:58 AM on March 9, 2007

Awesome post, awesome comments.

My old roommate worked for the local comic book store up here in VT so I got to hear stories like this all the time. Fascinating stuff.
posted by Diskeater at 10:59 AM on March 9, 2007

A fascinating, gripping, and downright moving read. Thanks, banishedimmortal.

It always amazes me how self-righteous people can get about other people making money. If you can read that whole memoir and still think he was a greedy bastard ripping off the saps, you have a view of the world and humanity that is its own punishment. Unless he's inventing the whole story, which seems exceedingly unlikely, the sellers were on the point of dumping everything in the trash (and had apparently already dumped a roomful of comics). If he hadn't bought them, they would have been landfill. The sellers didn't know and didn't care how much the stuff was "worth," they just wanted to get rid of it. And Rozanski had a hard time even coming up with the "pennies" he gave them for it. It seems to me he did the best he could in the situation. If the sellers later on decided they'd been "ripped off" and sued, that's not Rozanski's fault, and it doesn't exactly make them heroes; why aren't they the greedy bastards? And if Rozanski is a little self-important and goes on too much about his glory days, that just makes him human. But I guess being human isn't good enough for some of y'all.
posted by languagehat at 11:06 AM on March 9, 2007

Hm. Interesting discussion. I have to admit I'm surprised. Personally, I don't think it's unethical to pick something up on sale for less than it's worth as long as you're not actively misleading the seller. Buyer beware, seller beware. If I sold something at a garage sale and later found out it was worth a lot of money, I'd be angry at myself for not doing my homework, not the buyer.

I should mention, to counteract the greedy-bastard image I'm putting forth here, that I also found a bunch of '60's comic books (Marvel, mostly...Fantastic Four #48-50 in fairly good shape were the cream of the crop) in my grandmother's basement 5-6 years ago when we were cleaning the house out. Reasoning that they probably belonged to my uncle when he was a kid, I told him a) what I'd found, and b) that I could sell them on eBay if he'd like. He agreed, and we split almost $2000 between the two of us. The difference, aside from it being a family member instead of a stranger? He wasn't selling them to me. Of course, I could have offered to give him $100 for the lot and he probably would have taken it, but then I would have been actively misleading him into thinking they were less valuable than they were.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:07 AM on March 9, 2007

the items are worth only what someone is willing to pay for them. Unless the Church Family was willing to start their very own mail order back issue company they had to sell to somebody.
posted by Megafly at 11:10 AM on March 9, 2007

This is a terrific post and the background comments within made it even better. And I'm speaking as someone with absolutely zero experience in the comics trade.
posted by LeeJay at 11:26 AM on March 9, 2007

I guess you can sort of make a rule- if someone's asking for a specific price for an item, then it's ethical to purchase it from them for that price, even if you know it's going to re-sell for much more. They've decided that they're going to sell for that price, out of ignorance or whatever, but at the very least they took the time to think, Okay, that's probably worth n dollars. But if they don't have a set price- if they're asking you- I feel that you have an obligation to make the deal equitable for everyone.posted by 235w103
I've never heard of Mile High Comics, Edgar Church, Mile High II or anything else connected with this story up until now. And though I have better things to do at the moment, I recognized the Mile High II story for what it was, a tension-filled story that could serve as a movie treatment.

But back to 235w103's comments: Although my sympathies line up more with socialism than with unbridled capitalism, I do understand enough about economics to know that a thing, any thing is only worth what the two parties agree upon. Maybe Mile-High guy knew his potential, but had no way of predicting all sorts of variables that would have added cost to his side of the equation. Short of a gun to the head, if he offered the Church family One Cent for their entire collection, their opportunity and availability to assess their holdings was not his responsibility, nor should it be. So, it was an equitable deal for both parties.

I used to have a lot of vinyl in LP form. I still have a fair amount, but mostly only worth sentimental value to me. I've sold much of it to small-time equivalents of Mile High Comics. One time in the mid 80s I walked in with a stack of about 30 albums. I would have been happy to get $50-60 for the lot. The buyer went through the stack and offered me $110. And he gave me back about 12 of the titles. I asked him why so much for these 18--was there something special in there? He pointed out Zappa's Absolutely Free and said that that one had a "book wholesale value" of between $30 to $45 and another couple of disks were worth $25 to them, and the rest were their standard $2 to $3 each.

I shopped there often--I knew that the $2-3 would sell for $6-9 and that the higher cost items would probably have the same markup. The Zappa title was prominently displayed in the store and was there for probably about a year before it sold below its asking price of $95. Now, I recognize that we have here a situation where the buyer was honest with me when I asked him, but he had no obligation to and I would not and do not think it unethical of him to NOT tell me. After all, the entry price to that sort of business is, as someone pointed out, the talent for spotting and grading the merchandise, but also an art for making a deal.

Is this Chuck R. an asshole? Immaterial. Did both sides achieve what they asked for (in the Church deal?) Apparently so. I really don't care about the details of MH II as to whether the merchandise is or was overpriced--the story was a fairly riveting read.

I hope everyone appreciates that one of the benefits of the Internets is the almost perfect availability of information on supply, demand and pricing. If you overpay because of ignorance, that's your fault. If you overpay becuase of misrepresentation--well, that's another story.
posted by beelzbubba at 11:31 AM on March 9, 2007

sequential: If I were to retell my life as a collector in light of your comments, my memoirs would read something like a crime blotter.

See, that's the thing, sequential. After following this thread and having an interesting discussion with my boyfriend and his best friend over email (both Comic Book Guys), I'm reminded of how my mom brought in her pin money (gosh, do people still call it that?) when I was younger.

Her job gave her the summer off, so she'd spend it scouring the garage sales. You knew in our house to never, EVER schedule something for a Thursday morning once the weather got warm because that was garage sale day. She'd dig up the most amazing antiques, collectibles (mainly on the glass/ceramic/etc spectrum) and then resell the hell out of them to various collectors and antique stores. She knew damn well she was underpaying, and she'd often go in for the kill. "Oh, would you take $5 for both these vases?" (eyelash bat, smile)

Welcome to the wonderful world of capitalism. If you're too damn lazy to do any kind of research into what exactly it is you're selling, then you deserve to get lowballed. You wouldn't try to sell a car without at least a cursory glance at the blue book, would you?
posted by at 11:42 AM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

An afterthought, while I'm still on my high horse. Capitalism is often about taking advantage of someone else's laziness or desire for status. Laziness? Voila Bisquick, because mixing pancakes is so hard. Desire for status? That stupidassed $24 "bling" water currently being discussed in another thread.
posted by at 11:44 AM on March 9, 2007

Back in my teenaged days a local department store got shelves full of Japanese model kits from various 80s series (Macross, Orguss, Dougram, Yamato, Ideon, Crusher Joe, Lensmen and Dorvack.) This was back in the day when most anime was only in fansub form (or more commonly, raw Japanese with a printed script translation,) the store owners probably thought they’d never sell and had priced them at $.99 each.

After staring at the kits for a while and picking my jaw up off the floor I spent the rest of the day scraping together all the money I could and went back and bought them all. I kept at least one of each and sold the rest at hobby shops, comic shops and sci-fi cons for $15 all the way up to $100+ for some particularly sought after kits. Not quite the scale as what the Mile High guy did but it did make me a very happy greedy-bastard teenager.
posted by Tenuki at 11:52 AM on March 9, 2007

Jeez, this thread is almost as good as the post.
posted by squidfartz at 11:52 AM on March 9, 2007

Cool post, i'm gonna have to come back to this after work though.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:55 AM on March 9, 2007

This gets better the more I read. Flagged as awesome!

Thanks banishedimmortal.
posted by Mister_A at 12:12 PM on March 9, 2007

That's an interesting story. I know how he probably felt, albeit on a smaller scale. I've uncovered a few gems in my time but I once found an Aldine Press book (Epitome Orthographiae) at the bottom of a box of rubbish at an auction and managed to buy the box for £2 without interest from anyone else.

Nowhere near as valuable as the comic collection, but an amazing rush since it paid the bills and it was an amazing object to have on my bedside table, albeit for a couple of months only.
posted by fire&wings at 12:20 PM on March 9, 2007

And in the non-comic realm, I should point out that the Martha Stewart Effect on various collectibles on the market has not only raised awareness of what's out there, but priced certain things out of collector's hands. If Martha mentions it, everyone wants it. Fire King, jadeware... you can't get it at a garage sale anymore, thanks to her. So there are good things and bad things about better availability of information / popularization of a particular genre.
posted by at 12:38 PM on March 9, 2007

This is an excellent discussion, and it makes me realize that I'm fairly conflicted about the ethics of the situation. I intuitively think it's OK for a buyer to keep the true value of a seller's goods to him or herself, but I also intuitively think that when the discrepancy is huge (e.g. when the seller, out of ignorance, is offering 2 million dollars worth of product for less than 0.1% of its worth), then the buyer does have some sort of obligation to inform the seller. I don't know if I can gerrymander a principled ethical position that preserves both of these intuitions, and if I can't, I'm not sure which way to go. This is worth thinking about.
posted by painquale at 12:49 PM on March 9, 2007

The Mile High 2 story is and always will be a joke. I don't care how Chuck got the money to pay for comics that weren't suppose to exist in the first place - and which has no real significance to the comic collector community. In terms of money, sure, it made Chuck a lot of money and in terms of capitalism, he did great. But in terms of providing any long term contribution to the community that gives him money, Mile High 2 means squat. The Edgar Church collection means everything and is the #1 pedigree comic collection in terms of value and importance.

Back in the 30s, a bunch of magazine disturbution services started up. Publishers would give the distributors a certain number of comics. The distributors would send those to news stands (and later comic shops with the invention of the Direct Market with Zap comics in the late 60s). The news stands would sell the comics for a certain time period (the reason why comic dates are 2 or 3 months in advance is because that's the date the comic is suppose to be removed from the shelves). The news stands give the distributors the unsold comics and the unsold comics are reported to the publisher. When the system first started out, the distributors would tear the covers off the comics and send them to the publishers. The publishers and distributors would hash out their financial issues based on the amount of comics sold and the excess comics were suppose to be destroyed by the distributors.

However, by the mid 1950s, the system changed. It was already rampant with some corruption (changing the number of issues sold, etc etc) and comic distributors no longer had to return comic covers to the publishers. It became an honor system so distributors would just report to the publisher how many comics would get sold. And, thus, the disturbution business became a racket. Most distributors did destroy the comics once they were returned but some didn't. Various warehouse finds (and Mile High 2 is one of them) exist because distributors lied to the publishers about how many comics were sold. They would keep the backstock and then sell those back comics to stores, dealers, and other collectors. The distributors were being paid by the publisher for 'destroying' the old comic and also selling the comics for high values to comic book dealers and collectors. In the 1970s, when comic collecting really became something profitable, most dealers would gain their stock through these distributors who had committed fraud against the publishers. Some dealers would even get their stock of back issue comics before the comics had even hit the shelves! It was a giant racket plain and simple.

This eventually died down in the 80s as the Direct Market came into full force and people began to buy their comics at comic stores rather than off the news stands. When Chuck got ahold of Mile High 2, he was just purchasing one of the warehouses that comic book dealers had been raiding for their supplies for a decade. And when Chuck finally sold these comics to his collectors, he jacked up the price, gave them a 'certificate of authenticity', and willing sold the comics to people who didn't know better. And it was this mentallity that was being sold and traded that helped lead to the great comic collapse of the early 90s.

Chuck does a lot of business - by his estimate, he's up to 100 million a year in sales - and he did make a lot of snide and profitable business deals. He's a good businessman and from that point of view, he probably did great. But as a collector, I can't support the culture and ideology that he strives on and displays.
posted by Stynxno at 1:05 PM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ok, but painquale, unless he went through each and every stack and meticulously catalogued it all and figured out yes, I could turn around and sell this for two million bucks tomorrow, how is the buyer in the wrong?

My guess, as someone who's been dragged to a million garage sales with my mom, is that he glanced through as much of it as he could, spotted a few really choice specimens, said "ok, for sure I could make back X amount by selling those, even if the rest of it is crap" and went from there.

Pure speculation, of course, but if the family was already about ready to toss stuff out, I'd make the deal happen and make it quick.
posted by at 1:07 PM on March 9, 2007

I don't see the Church deal as unethical at all. Frustrating for the family when they saw the results, but, that's how the cookie crumbles. The family members didn't collect the comics, nor read them. They just wanted them out of the house. They could have done a little more research and found out the value of the collection, but they didn't care too. I have been in all those variations on the buyer end of collecting (comics/records/books/furniture) and I have tried the "honest Abe" method of saying, "you know what, how about I just round it up to $X and call it a deal, cause, you know. This is a pretty rare item and I feel like it's already a deal only to have the seller decide that they needed to "hold on to the item".

Deals and bargins are part of the fun in collecting. Non collectors who complain that they doled out a bargain unwittingly just haven't caught the fever.

I always hate it when those people on antiques roadshow get their old family hierloom they've had around their neck for 40 years appraised at some super high price and their first reaction is something along the lines of "OH! I'll have to put that in the safety deposit box where it will never been seen nor worn again!"

Of course, in comics there is the awful CGC plexi mosouleum that ensures that you won't enjoy many of these great old comics, and that you will over-pay to get them.
posted by JBennett at 1:31 PM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've heard of this before, but never the whole story. I used to read comics, but never really collected. I have atrocious judgement in these matters -- the one time I went auctioning with an ex-girlfriend, I bought some valueless salt shakers for several times their worth. At least, I could never sell them.

But I think that was my fault -- seriously, I went into a room with experienced professionals and I got what I had coming to me. I can't describe what Rozanski did as unethical, just ruthless.

In fact it was very interesting just to read for the bargaining he did, both financial and personal. Selling off the best parts of the collection, but knowing that they gave him the foundation for a business, is a classic move. (On the other hand, using the collection to keep his business afloat when he was struggling wasn't as impressive.) And buying the Mile High II collection not because of its intrinsic value, but to prevent other dealers from getting it and sucking away his cash flow, that was brilliant.

Now, is he perfectly likable? I don't know that that's the thing he's going for here, so meh. But what he does goes on all the time in bigger and smaller form.

My dad had some valuable architectural fragments. Some of them were literally salvaged from the wrecking balls as the old Louis Sullivan-designed Chicago Stock Exchange was demolished. The price paid to the demolition company man on site was whatever my parents and the friends who came with them had in their pockets, which included a pack of chewing gum! But most of this was destined for the landfill.

Its fantastically ornate trading room was rebuilt inside the Art Institute of Chicago. We loved the iron elevator grates, although my parents used one as an (uncomfortable) headboard for years -- so you can imagine my surprise when I worked at Goldman Sachs in New York for a week, and got off on the wrong floor, only to find one of them decorating the hallway.

Anyway, my parents desperately needed to pay for some repairs to property they owned, and my dad reluctantly sold these and some other beautiful items to an architectural salvage dealer in Chicago. The part I didn't like was that the guy had my dad snowed that they were actually becoming friends, but I approved the price paid based on a combination of factors including my parents' situation at that moment. There wasn't enough time to look for a better price or auction it ourselves. I also thought it was likely that the pieces would find their way to better storage conditions than my parents' basement and perhaps daily appreciation, as well, even though the dealer was probably going to make a significant profit. He knew the buyers, my dad didn't. That's the way it goes.
posted by dhartung at 1:59 PM on March 9, 2007

Capitalism is often about taking advantage of someone else's laziness or desire for status.

This sort of argument is very interesting. In order for capitalism at its starkest to be defensible, the party taken advantage of must be considered morally deficient in some manner?
posted by redhanrahan at 2:23 PM on March 9, 2007

That was a great story, thanks for the post, banishedimmortal.
posted by lekvar at 3:34 PM on March 9, 2007

I am reminded of the time that a girl walked into a local comic shop while I happened to be in there, with 2 or 3 binders full of magic cards, from Mostly Beta and early expansion sets. Probably, $5,000 worth of cards. Her boyfriend dumped her and left the cards in his car.

A friend of mine had talked her into unloading the whole thing for $50, when some kid walked over and said, "Holy Shit, that's a Black Lotus!, that's like $200"

She left a few minutes later.
posted by empath at 3:39 PM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

(with cards in hand)
posted by empath at 3:39 PM on March 9, 2007

In order for capitalism at its starkest to be defensible, the party taken advantage of must be considered morally deficient in some manner?

Nope. Who said anything about laziness or desire for status being morally deficient? The point, I believe, was that it's generally not considered unfair to charge a premium for convenience, expertise, cachet, etc.

This is a really interesting story, thanks!
posted by equalpants at 4:09 PM on March 9, 2007

People are missing the real villain here. Edgar Church bought every comic book that came out for decades and refused to share it with his kids. What a douche! No wonder his kids grew up to be philistines.

I recognize that I'll go to hell for passing judgment on people I have never met and have very little knowledge of except the speculations of one guy. But hey, I'll be in the good company of every mefite. I say we plan to meet for tea after the thricefold eternity of being up to our ankles in the dung of male bovines while standing on our heads.
posted by Kattullus at 4:15 PM on March 9, 2007

People are missing the real villain here. Edgar Church bought every comic book that came out for decades and refused to share it with his kids.

Which is precisely why they were in such good shape. Let the kids get their grubby mitts on his collection? Blasphemy!

As for as the direction this thread has taken, I have only this to say: if the Church collection had been purchased by a "real" collector, none of those prizes would have ever seen the light of day. As it was, they fell into the hands of a businessman who was also a lover of comics, and they subsequently were spread around among thousands of disparate collectors. He had more of a positive effect on the comic collecting industry than any other businessman on the planet. Count me as a fan.

Most of the negative stuff I've read about the Mile High Buy sounds like sour grapes from collectors with dreams of hitting a similar comic lottery.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:40 PM on March 9, 2007

I used to have an independent bookstore in a university town. It was a pretty swell store. I eventually lost it to Amazon and Barnes and Noble in 2000. I try not to be bitter about it, much.

Most of our customers where faculty at the university and knew it was important to try and keep an indie, especially one that focused on new and used scholarship, literature, and art books , open in our town. But they also loved a bargain and appreciated convenience. Eventually, they decided to order their textbooks through us, propping us up by forcing their students to purchase through us. But they themselves preferred to purchase online so their books would be delivered to their office and usually at a pretty significant discount. In the end, while we still were keeping our heads above water, I decided to shut it down. Our sales in 1999 had shifted to a point where the majority of the sales were text sales to the students. That I couldn’t abide. The faculty members, who could most afford to pay full price, had transferred the burden of keeping us in business to those who could least afford it, the students.

I’ve done just fine since closing the store, but I do think our community is poorer for it. When trying to rationalize how this happened and who is is responsible, I’ve come to the conclusion that while individuals might have the best of intentions, for markets to be the most efficient, they must be amoral. Not immoral, but amoral. There were no villains. If you as a consumer want to purchase with a conscience, good on you. You are making a difference. But if you as a seller are trying to temper business decisions by what you think is right and wrong, fair or unfair, your days in the marketplace are probably numbered.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:19 PM on March 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

*loquacious suddenly appears cloaked in black and in a cloud of book-mold spores, throwing silverfish eggs everywhere, cackling evilly before vanishing again*
posted by loquacious at 6:27 PM on March 9, 2007

$2 million for Action Comics #1.
$273,000 for Flash #1.

This society is sick.
posted by metasonix at 7:43 PM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's already been mentioned, but I feel compelled to exclaim: Hooray for Wimbledon Green! A far more scrupulous collector than Rusty Brown.

Though he doesn't go into specifics, Rozanski mentions that the Mile High II collection was purchased from the son of an imprisoned pornography dealer. It sounded remarkably similar to Eric Schlosser's account of Ruben Sturman, a comic dealer turned pornography magnate. Hounded by the Meese commission, he was finally sentenced for tax evasion and ended up dying in prison.

I wonder if there's a connection.

As for Rozanski's critics, I suspect they'd have made a similar deal with the heirs of Edgar Church. For example: I've a thing for old cameras. Were I to come across a beautiful old Deardorff at thrift store prices, I don't think I'd feel compelled to pay more. Vendors are quick to claim the caveat emptor principle. Shouldn't it go both ways?

Metasonix: This society is sick. Why? If a Jackson Pollack painting can command $148 million, surely an extremely rare comic is worth a mere $273 thousand. The compulsion to collect is somewhat irrational, but how can anyone attach a price to artwork? To history? Was the Getty Museum wrong to spend $35 million to put a Medici portrait on public view?
posted by aladfar at 11:17 PM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Having read the story, it seems to me that knowing what you're selling is on the seller, and if you sell $2m worth of goods for $2,000 you're retarded. The guy should obviously have been more generous toward the family later, like maybe pay back what he should have paid then or something, but really that would have just been nice of him. As it stands, he got lucky and the people selling didn't know what they were doing.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:27 AM on March 10, 2007

aladfar, I read metasonix as saying, "Flash rules; Superman sucks!" Maybe I misread it, though.
posted by cgc373 at 8:10 AM on March 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

$2 million for Action Comics #1.
$273,000 for Flash #1.

This society is sick.

You're right. For pointing this out, I think you should be elected as the person who tells private individuals what they can and cannot do with their own money.
posted by tomble at 6:36 PM on March 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

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