Extraordinarily rare ‘ashcan’ comics by DC offered at PBA March 28

Double Action Comics #2, estimated at $20,000-$30,000 at PBA.

BERKELEY, Calif. — Part 2 of the DC Universe Collection, titled Pre-Hero, Ashcans and Oddities, comes to PBA Galleries on Thursday, March 28. The 166-lot sale focuses on the earliest days of DC (then known as National Allied Publications), beginning with its first publication, Fun, released in February 1935. The complete catalog is now available for review and bidding at LiveAuctioneers.

As the sale is comprised entirely of pre-super hero titles, the majority of the lots are more historic than top-dollar, though condition is generally quite good. As a result, there will be tremendous buying opportunities for those looking to complete their collections with pre-Detective Comics titles from National Allied Publications. Founded by former U.S. Army Cavalry Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, the company was the first to publish entirely original content in a magazine format versus recycling newspaper comics, which had been the norm.

One of the more interesting elements to the sale is the inclusion of ‘ashcan’ comics. DC was a pioneer in the practice, which involved creating ‘dummy’ comics — often with black-and-white covers using recycled artwork — to fool United States Patent and Trademark Office clerks into issuing copyright protection to, say, a new name for a comic. As such, often only two copies were ever made — often by hand: one for the USPTO clerks, and one for DC’s files.

Flash Comics #1 is considered the holy grail of DC comics collecting. Produced in December 1939 with cover art recycled from Adventure Comics #41 and interior content from All-American Comics #8, it tops Gerber’s Photo-Journal Guide Scarcity Index with a solid 10 (“Unique: Less than 5 copies known”). At the time, the company had rebranded to National Periodical Publications and found themselves in a creative battle with rival Fawcett Publications over the use of the term ‘Flash.’ Fawcett was set to launch Captain Marvel under the ‘Flash Comics’ brand, but this ashcan secured the naming rights for NPP instead. The ashcan edition is estimated at $20,000-$30,000.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster are well-known as the creators of Superman, who debuted in NPP’s Action Comics #1 in April of 1938. Less well known is that Siegel and Shuster, before coming to NPP, self-published what today would be known as a ‘fanzine’ titled Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization. The sale includes #3 of the self-published series, and is the only known copy to have been later signed by both Siegel and Shuster. Most notably, #3 marks the first appearance of the Superman character in a story titled Reign of the Superman. This publication carries an estimate of $20,000-$30,000.

Described by Comic Book Marketplace as “one of the 20 rarest Golden Age books” is Double Action Comics #2. Released in January 1940, only eight copies are known. Since it recycled content from various earlier publications, some collectors were led to believe it was an ashcan edition, but PBA quotes a comment from Reddit as the best explanation: “Double Action Comics was an experiment by DC to see if black and white comic books would sell, and was apparently printed in small numbers and test marketed at newsstands in Connecticut in late 1939.” It is estimated at $20,000-$30,000.