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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 March, 2004, 11:32 GMT
Who are the comic collectors?
Cover of first Beano with Big Eggo the ostrich
The first Beano
A rare first edition of the Beano has been sold for 12,100, setting what is thought to be a new UK record for a comic. How can it be worth so much and who on earth would want it?

Even members of the comic collecting community are shocked that a rare copy of the Beano has sold for such an extraordinary price.

It was expected to fetch about 9,000, which would itself have beaten the previous best of 7,500, paid in 2002 for another of the 12 surviving Beano Number Ones.

That it went for 12,100 is regarded as proof that comics are booming - collectors say the price rises of recent years have been as startling as those in the housing market.

But it is unlikely the new owner of the first edition, which has tan pages and a small tear, sees it simply as an investment.

The 30-something Essex businessman is keeping a low profile, but is known to have built up a large comic collection to which, like many aficionados, he is rather attached.

Nostalgia value

"The average comic collector is someone whose mum threw away all their comics when they started getting interested in girls, and years later found themselves able to afford 'childish throwaways'," says Malcolm Phillips, of Comic Book Postal Auctions.

Mr Phillips, who managed the sale of the 12,100 Beano, says much of the industry is built on nostalgia.

The average comic collector is someone whose mum threw away all their comics when they started getting interested in girls
Malcolm Phillips, Comic Book Postal Auctions

Men - and it almost always is men - get to an age when they want the things they had as a child, decide they have the cash to get hold of them and are willing to pay for the best.

They include the 12,100 man, who has been amassing a collection of rare Beanos, Dandy's and comics from the late 19th Century for the past five years or so.

Property developer Ronnie Farr, 61, of Falkirk, is also among them.

He started collecting comics when he was a young boy, but one day he came home to find his aunt had thrown them all on a bonfire during a clear-out.

"I cried my eyes out for days and my aunt gave me five shillings to say sorry," says Mr Farr. "It would cost me about 60,000 to replace them all now."

Mr Farr's love of comics was reignited when he visited a comic fair on a whim in the mid 90s, leading to a habit that has since cost him up to 20,000 a year.

The owner of some 8,500 titles, he says: "I will sell them off as I get older for my pension. But some I will keep until the day I expire."

Random purchase

The key to good collecting is knowing which comics you like and buying the best of them, says Malcolm Phillips.

But many new collectors, giddy on the excitement of their renewed love affair, go for a "scatter gun approach", buying anything they can lay their hands on.

Apart from rare editions of popular titles like the Beano, the most sought-after British buys include comics from the war years.

"They are the hardest to get because everyone threw things away during that era," says Mr Phillips.

His collectors come from all over the world, particularly from expats keen to remember their British childhoods.

But the most lucrative market by far is the US, where big collectors will pay vast sums for the right title.

Last year a copy of the first Marvel Mysteries comic from the 1940s sold for $250,000 (about 136,000).

While British comics don't have such dizzying allure, collectors are in no doubt that the market is only going to get more competitive.

"Bidding for the Beano was enormously fierce," says Mr Phillips. "Two of the disappointed bidders came from the fine arts world, which just shows how interest in comics is developing."

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