Part five of the story of the 1977 discovery of the original Mile High/Edgar Church collection of Mint Golden Age Comics.
After loading my old van full to capacity with old comics, I had to make a difficult decision. All through the time I had been loading my van I had been walking past the huge pile of artwork and magazine clippings that the heirs had put to be hauled away by the trash men. I didn't know the heirs very well at that point, so I was loath to broach the subject of whether I could take any of the material from the trash. In the end, I saved a few items (including some of Edgar Church's original artwork), and left the rest for the trash men. That decision haunts me to this day. I suppose I could have come back the next day (Sunday) and salvaged the rest, but I didn't have permission to be there on that day, and I was not going to screw up the comics deal by doing something that would potentially offend the heirs. It was a very tough call...
I now need to provide a bit more background information about myself and Mile High Comics in January 1977. As I mentioned earlier, I opened the first Mile High Comics retail store in October, 1974, after spending the previous four years as a convention dealer. While I only had $800 in cash with which to open that first store, I had managed to accumulate about 15,000 great comics during my years at conventions. I had multiple runs of all the early Marvel issues, and a great many DC's, Warrens, and even a stock of the then highly popular Middle Earth portfolios. As a result of having this great starting inventory, the first Mile High Comics store was a success right from the beginning. Our gross sales were approximately $14,000 in 1974 (as a combination of my convention sales and the store sales from the last three months of the year), $56,000 in 1975, and $92,000 in 1976.
Despite this excellent growth in sales, Mile High Comics was struggling to survive in January of 1977. After the immediate success of the Boulder store, I reasoned that a second store in Colorado's other college town (Ft. Collins) would be a logical expansion. That store opened in March of 1975, and proved to be a terrible financial drain on the Boulder store. I kept it open until 1979, but it never did more than break even. Despite that bad experience, I purchased a third store, in Denver, from the then-defunct Middle Earth publishing house, in January of 1976. That store eventually performed rather well, but 1976 was a year in which I spent most of my time struggling to keep our stores stocked. Were it not for the endless patience and support of Emil Clausen, owner of the local newsstand distributorship, we would have had to close. Emil saved us by giving us extended terms, a 40% discount on our new comics, and by giving us the comics a week before any other comics outlet. This was particularly generous because Emil actually owned the largest newsstand in Boulder. He gave us the new comics a week before he put them out in his own store!
Even with Emil's help, life was hard. I had moved out of the boarding house were I had been living with some other students, and in with my future wife Nanette in June of 1976. Because the stores were not generating any cash flow, I drew no salary from Mile High. I paid my share of the living expenses by attending the University of Colorado on a full-time basis. My stepfather had retired at that point, and had been granted a disability pension from the Social Security Administration. This allowed me to qualify for a student stipend of $231 a month. That amount, combined with Nanette's salary, was what we were living on when I first went to view the Edgar Church collection.
I mention this background because it explains why I had to drive my van back to Boulder at only 35 mile per hour. You see, I had lost the "Drive" gear from my automatic transmission the week before I got the call about the collection. There was no way that I had the money for a transmission rebuild, so I had been driving my van in second gear for a week. When it came time to view the collection, I pushed my van up to 40 on the Denver/Boulder Turnpike, but that was all the second gear would take. On the way back, loaded with over 10,000 Golden Age Comics, I could make no more than 35 MPH. I annoyed a few other drivers, but I made it back to Boulder with the comics!
It was late in the day when I returned home, and my first task was to empty the van. No way was I going to leave even the less valuable portion of the deal in the van overnight. We had a second floor apartment, and I spent two hours carefully hauling comics up the stairs, and stacking them in 3-foot deep piles in our spare bedroom. By the time I finished, I had filled that room wall to wall, and had started stacking comics in our tiny living room. When Nanette returned home from running the Boulder store that day, she was in for a shock! I had called her earlier and let her know that I had purchased the collection, but it wasn't until she actually saw the books that it sank in to her what a wonderful discovery had been made.
Once I had the books unloaded, my mind turned to the 8,000 books I had left behind. I had a deal to buy them at the same low price, but I was out of money! I had withdrawn the money from the bank that was supposed to go to Emil the next week for our new comics in order to raise the cash with which I had purchased the first load of the collection. Now I was completely flat broke. What was I going to do?
To be continued...
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your letters to:
Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221