Mark S. Zaid wrote:
It seems to be the time to raise questions about the conduct of auction houses/dealers. Well, I have one to add to the mix.
In Heritage's last Signature Auction held November 18, 2009, I bid and won on this rare gem: Radio Funnies #nn Ashcan comic (DC, 1939) Condition: GD/VG., Lot: 91265, Bidding became somewhat aggressive during the live session and it went higher than I hoped but it finally ended at $4,481.25 w/BP.
The published description was as follows:
Radio Funnies #nn Ashcan comic (DC, 1939) Condition: GD/VG. DC's Golden Age ashcan editions were hand-assembled comics using a specially created cover (featuring a new-title logo art and often unrelated artwork), and were used to establish a trademark for a particular title. Usually, only two to ten copies were produced, most of which were tossed in the trash after they served their purpose, hence the name "ashcan". They are the rarest of the rare for comic book collectors. Here's an example of an ashcan that goes even beyond that -- it's a previously unknown variant on a known ashcan-only title. The known comic was cover dated March, 1939, as a #1, and featured cover art taken from Adventure Comics #39, with interiors from Detective Comics #19. This version was just recently unearthed from a private collection. It has no cover date or issue number, and features cover art from Detective Comics #26, with contents taken from Detective #17. The black and white cover has "156B" penciled in the upper right corner, and in the lower right is typewritten "M. Charles Gaines," indicating this was publisher Max Gaines' personal copy.
Although we have assigned it a GD/VG grade, this hand-made treasure is tough to gauge on a modern grading scale. The interior pages have an overhang, and are a bit brittle, but overall, the comic displays well. It's definitely one for the history books. Overstreet does not list it; they do list the "Adventure" version, although with the incorrect date of 1931, with "no known sales". We believe this "Detective" version is earlier, and even more scarce than the previously known version.
Noted ashcan expert Gary Colabuono confirmed that neither he nor DC owns a copy of the "Detective" version of the Radio Funnies ashcan. Colabuono owns the only know copy of the "Adventure" version.
You tell me, does this description give you the impression this is the only known copy?
And even if there is the slightest bit of wordsmithing within the description to leave open the possibility that more than this previously unknown unearthed from a private collection ashcan might exist, would it anger you if you bought it only to then discover Heritage presumably KNEW another copy existed? Not just apparently KNEW, but is now offering it for sale in the very next Signature Auction three months later!!!!!
Look what I was surprised to see up for sale on February 25, 2010, as Lot: 92074: Radio Funnies #nn Ashcan Comic (DC, 1939) Condition: GD/VG....
The published description is as follows:
Radio Funnies #nn Ashcan Comic (DC, 1939) Condition: GD/VG. In our last Signature Comics Auction, we unearthed a previously unknown DC "ashcan", a hand-assembled comic with a new cover and guts taken from another book, used to establish a trademark for the title. This version of Radio Funnies differed from a known version, with cover art originally used for Adventure Comics #39, and interior pages taken from Detective Comics #19. Here is a different copy of that same rare item. Both copies have the typewritten name "M. Charles Gaines" in the lower right corner and "156B" written in pencil in the upper right corner. Obviously there's no Overstreet listing yet for this new discovery, but the aforementioned copy sold for $4,481.
I don't think there is any question this book was obtained from the same collection, which would mean those at Heritage knew (and I suppose there is the oft chance they didn't, but I like to gamble and I believe it is safe to say that was not the case) that at least two copies existed when they sold the first one.
Do more exist? What if there are three? Five? Ten? Should Heritage reveal if it knows?
Would you feel angered by this? A little bit manipulated? I know how I feel, and I feel completely manipulated. Obviously I am very familiar with the existing ashcans. I know the relative scarcity and value of each, at least to me of course. And I also know what prices they have commanded in the past, which may be different from the value I assign but is still a point of information. It should be no surprise that, as a general rule, those ashcans that have multiple copies in existence (6-10) do not command as high a price than those that only have 1-3. Was I more aggressive in bidding for this particular ashcan thinking it was the only known copy? You bet I was.
Frankly, I have not said anything yet to the powers that be at Heritage so this is the first time they are hearing anything about my position. I'm curious if my perception of this situation is shared by others. I am candidly trying to decide how to react, if at all. What would I necessarily say? I don't honestly want to return the book for a refund. I suppose I could ask for a refund of the difference of the price of the two books. I've given Heritage a tremendous amount of business in the last five years and I don't appreciate this type of conduct. Do you?
I know I will certainly ask whether there are more than two copies in existence!
It's certainly a well-crafted piece of salesmanship.
Here is what gave me the impression it was a one-of-a-kind version:We believe this "Detective" version is earlier, and even more scarce than the previously known version.
I presume this is referring to the Adventure version which is then mentioned in the next paragraph.Colabuono owns the only know copy of the "Adventure" version.
So, how could the Detective be more scarce than a version with only one known copy? Unless the first highlighted section is referring to something other than the Adventure version.
In any case, the narrative is undoubtedly designed to lead you down the path and leave one with the "impression" that this may be a one-of-a-kind item.
Does Heritage have a duty to disclose it has other copies? No, in my opinion.
That said, sales text that indicates it may be the only existing copy, when they know the opposite to be true, is wrong. Part of the issue is that the text is not clear. Whether this is intentional or just poor copywriter is anyone's guess.