A copy of the first “Captain America” comic book, featuring the memorable cover image of the superhero socking a stunned Hitler while fending off Nazi bullets, fetched more than $3.1 million at an auction Thursday, becoming one of the world’s priciest comic books.
The near-mint copy of “Captain America No. 1,” the creation of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, was dated March 1941 — nine months before the United States entered World War II. It was sold to an unidentified bidder at an event conducted by Heritage Auctions, which is based in Dallas.
With the sale, which officials said was the fourth-highest-priced comic book to sell at auction, “Captain America” joined “Superman” and “Spider-Man” in having debut issues that topped $3 million at auction. The comic book with the highest auction selling price was the first appearance of Spider-Man — a near-perfect copy of “Amazing Fantasy No. 15” from 1962 — also sold by Heritage Auctions, in 2021, for $3.6 million. Two copies of Superman’s first appearance, “Action Comics No. 1” from 1938, occupy the second and third spots.
The auction was further evidence that high-end vintage comic book sales have exploded in recent years, with three of the four highest-priced comic books sold at auction within the last eight months, according to data provided by Heritage.
The sales are fueled by a resurgence of interest in superheroes attributable to blockbuster films and to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has heightened the desire for collectibles, Barry Sandoval, vice president of Heritage Auctions, said in an interview late Thursday. He remembers the thrill in February 2010 when Heritage sold its first comic for more than $1 million, a copy of “Detective Comics No. 27,” which was the debut of Batman.
“The COVID-19 era sort of led to a general explosion in collectibles,” Sandoval said. “That’s part of it. Part of is people, with each passing year, have a better feel for what the scarcity of these things is at high grade. Thirty years ago, one might have been a bit more reluctant because you didn’t know how many other nice copies might be out there.”
The Marvel films didn’t hurt, Sandoval said. In a little more than a decade, the “Captain America” film franchise has seen three popular additions: “Captain America: The First Avenger,” in 2011; “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” in 2014; and “Captain America: Civil War,” in 2016. Those films, including the “Avengers” series featuring the character, have grossed billions worldwide.
“Even if you’re buying something strictly because you love it, with no thought of resale or investment or anything like that, you’re always a bit more comfortable if you think, ‘Oh, OK — if I did have to get rid of this I could get my money back or make money,’” Sandoval said. “The fact that Captain America has been in so many recent movies, I think that gives people a better comfort level.”
The copy that was sold Thursday also had many advantages. It came from a respected collection, known as the San Francisco Pedigree Collection, and was in near-mint condition, Sandoval said. Moreover, he said, the original “Captain America” issue has had a special place in the hearts of comic book aficionados.
The hero — Steve Rogers, as transformed by experimental serum into a U.S. superagent who dons a costume with an American flag motif — was a response to the rise of Nazism by Simon and Kirby, who were both Jewish. Other comic books of the time had villains on their covers that hinted they were Nazis, but didn’t directly say so, Sandoval said.
“’Captain America’ not only called it by name but also had Hitler right there, front and center, getting punched out,” he said. “After that, publishers rolled out Hitler covers by the dozens to capitalize on that.”
The copy that was sold Thursday illustrates the surge in prices. In August 2019, the same comic book sold at auction for $915,000, Sandoval said. The buyer, who also wishes to remain private, was well aware of the increasing prices and authorized Heritage Auctions to put the copy back on the market.
Sandoval was in the room, sweat dripping down his face, as the bidding began Thursday. But the day quickly became more enjoyable as bidding progressed.
“It’s pretty fun to watch,” he said, “when you have $100,000 jumps.”