Original Superman comic from 1938 sells for $6 million at auction

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An original print edition of the comic book that introduced Superman sold at auction this week for a record-breaking $6 million.

The sale happened on Thursday, kicking off a four-day rare comic book auction organized by Texas-based Heritage Auction. The auction house described the rare find, Action Comics No. 1, published in June 1938, as one of the finest copies in the world of the prized issue. 

As is customary with most auction houses, Heritage did not disclose the seller or buyer.  

The most expensive comic book in the world 🌎 https://t.co/HWCpQRG1x3 pic.twitter.com/MO8kcuoPul

— Heritage Auctions (@HeritageAuction) April 4, 2024

The $6 million sale surpasses the previous record of Superman #1 that sold privately in 2022 for $5.3 million. 

“Thursday was a historic day for a historic comic book, and we expected no less,” Heritage Vice President Barry Sandoval told Barrons. “The first session of this four-day event will surpass $15 million — and we haven’t touched the comic art that begins Friday, with numerous pieces of significance forthcoming. Maybe there is more history still to be made.”

Million-dollar sales of original super hero comic books have become more common in recent history, with a copy of Captain America’s first issue selling for $3.1 million in 2022, and the first ever Marvel comic selling for $1.2 million in 2019. In 2021, Heritage also auctioned a high quality copy of Batman #1 for $2.2 million. 

Devout superhero fans consider Action Comics No. 1 as one of the rarest and most influential comics ever printed — one that launched perhaps the most well-known superhero in pop culture.

In it, a newborn baby boy is nestled into a space capsule by his father who then sets the vessel’s destination to Earth. Just moments after the baby is launched into space, his home planet of Krypton erupts violently, killing all of its inhabitants. The baby’s capsule crash lands on Earth and a motorist driving by happens to notice it.

The early story that later brought us Clark Kent and Superman enjoyed intense popularity between 1938 and 1956, a time frame comic book experts refer to as the Golden Age. 

“Without Superman and Action Comics No. 1, who knows whether there ever would have been a Golden Age of comics — or if the medium would have become what it is today,” Sandoval said in a statement Thursday before the sale.

Superman has been the central figure in thousands more comic books, as well as television shows, merchandise, cartoon series and movies. Actors George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, Henry Cavill, and Tyler Hoechlin have portrayed the Man of Steel either on TV or in film. David Corenswet is set to take the Superman mantle in James Gunn’s upcoming film “Superman Legacy” in 2025. 

Only 200,000 copies of Action Comics No. 1 were printed in 1938 and there’s likely only 100 copies of them in existence today, according to Certified Guaranty Company, the Florida-based comic book grading service. Of those 100 surviving copies, 78 are in good enough condition to be sold or auctioned, according to CGC. 

Khristopher J. Brooks

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Khristopher J. Brooks is a reporter for CBS MoneyWatch. He previously worked as a reporter for the Omaha World-Herald, Newsday and the Florida Times-Union. His reporting primarily focuses on the U.S. housing market, the business of sports and bankruptcy.

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