Sotheby’s hosted a rare collection of DC Comics from collection of British music producer, Ian Levine, offered through private sale yesterday, Monday 30th March 2020. The offering comprised over 40,000 comics – every comic published by DC Comics released between 1935 and 2016 featuring iconic American comic book characters such as Wonder Woman, The Flash, Superman, Batman and classic protagonists from the Justice League.
Including early comics from the the first DC Comics edition issued in 1934, to comprehensive collections spanning decades of printed issues and promotional material featuring comic icons, Sotheby’s described The Ian Levine Collection – which Ian himself sold twelve years ago and has no connection with the current offer – as a pop culture trove.
(Ian kept collecting after the original sale. It was originally sold on the understanding that he would keep the collection in his house until he died, but he stopped collecting in 2016 when DC started renumbering).
Levine, a major figure in the music and entertainment industry was an early influencer of the Northern Soul movement, and an original pioneer of 1980s electronic dance music genre, Hi-NRG. The UK producer, also well known for his love of Doctor Who, made a career on sourcing rare talent and making hit records. This skill of cultivating pop culture’s gems can be seen in his avid buying of records and books during his childhood in Blackpool in the 1960s.
Levine’s eventual rise to serious collecting of pop culture was initiated in London book shops in the early 1970s. After decades of rigorously amassing a trove of rare comic editions, by 2010, his collection was used as the source for illustrations in Taschen’s seminal survey 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking.
Sotheby’s representative, Richard Austin, Head of Sotheby’s New York Books & Manuscripts Department called the collection the “holy grail for comics collectors” emphasising that the archival assemblage “features some of the most valuable individual books as well as extremely rare promotional issues, the Levine Collection includes all the DC heroes that are among the most recognisable and versatile pop culture touchstones in the world.”
Spanning a vast nine decades of obsessive acquisition, the offering reflects an evolution of globally recognisable genre of cult classic characters. Encapsulating a wide array of classic literary storylines, Sotheby’s stated the comics represent the precursor to modern cinematic adaptation in globally distributed popular entertainment. Having wielded a significant influence on film and television, comic culture memorabilia represents a continuously expanding intrigue around these vintage tropes.
For pop culture collecting, title, rarity and condition remain key factors in value. For this collection of materials — where evolving subject matter and formats coincides with historic milestones of the iconic DC Comics brand — the value is enhanced by Ian’s unique dedication.
These sets of rare memorabilia have seen seven-figure prices in previous years. In 2014, Action Comics #1 achieved the highest auction price for a comic selling for $3.2 million. In 2010, the auction record for an edition of Detective Comics #27 was realised at $1.1 million.
Ian himself is a bit non-pluses by this sale, telling us he sold his collection in 2008 to John Barton “for a tiny fraction of their value with the intention of being allowed to keep them in my house until I died.
“But when DC ended all their runs and reverted to restarting at number one for them all, I was so sickened that I gave him permission to sell them,” he revealed in a Facebook post. “They were all taken away around 2015 and every comic was examined and graded by Paul Sassiene, comic expert, for Sotherbys. I rather resent everybody assuming I’m the one who’s selling them, having given up the ownership twelve years ago. Sotheby’s have had them for five years now, so I’m bemused that the story has suddenly become public. Fifty years hard, devoted, dedicated work, and all I ever got back was a mere fraction of what I paid for them, yet they will always be known as The Ian Levine Collection”.
Sotheby’s conduct private sales in a range of categories including fine art, jewellery, watches, books, wine, automobiles and more, usually for objects with a value of $100,000 or greater. Unlike auction prices which are subject to demand, in private sales prices are fixed, clear and always mutually agreed upon between both parties.