The Billy Wright Collection of Comics Offered at Heritage Auctions in New York, February 22-24, 2012 Sold for $3,466,264
When Billy Wright, a retired chemical engineer, died in 1994, no one in his family realized there was buried treasure in his house—in the form of 345 comic books from the 1930s and ’40s. In 2006, after the death of Wright’s widow, Ruby, a nephew was cleaning out her basement in Martinsville, Va., and came upon the stash, which his uncle, a meticulous man, had kept in astonishingly good condition.
It soon became apparent that the Wright collection contained most of the high spots of the so-called Golden Age of comic books, including the first appearances of Batman (Detective Comics #27, May 1939, $522,812 in the Heritage sale), Superman (Action Comics #1, June 1938, $298,750) and the Green Lantern (All-American Comics #16, July 1940, $203,150, a record price). A Houston-area relative of Wright’s showed the trove to experts at Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, and when the house sold the cream of the collection, 222 comic books, at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion in New York in late February, the total take beat the record for any comics collection by some 50 percent. The Gary Dahlberg Collection, which Heritage started selling incrementally last year, has brought around $2.5 million to date and is almost completely sold. In 2002 the actor Nicolas Cage sold his collection through Heritage, as well, realizing $1.9 million.
Wright was no deep-pocketed collector like Cage; he bought all the books new, as a boy, paying the requisite dime for each. “What’s amazing is how early it starts,” says Barry Sandoval, director of operations for comics at Heritage. “We’ve had great collections that started in 1940 or ’41, but that’s where his ends, for the most part.” Plus, Wright had a good eye. “Even when we’ve gotten great Golden Age collections before,” says Sandoval, “you’ll have the key books that everyone goes gaga over today, and also stuff that people don’t care about that much. Here we were going, ‘Where’s the lamer stuff?’ It was as if Wright had a 2012 price guide when he was buying off the stands back then.”