The Original Mile High Collection Part VII

Part seven in the story of the discovery of the original Edgar Church/Mile High collection of mint Golden Age comics.

Last week, I ended my column at the point where I made the resolution to save Edgar Church's artwork and files. His heirs, for reasons I was never able to clearly understand, had an extreme antipathy toward anything paper that Mr. Church had accumulated during his lifetime. One theory I have about their dislike of his files is that the cost of all the comics and magazines that Mr. Church purchased during the 1920-1955 period put a severe drain on the family finances. Mr. Church collected every super-hero and adventure/horror comic printed, quite a few non-super-hero comics, vast numbers of pulp magazines, and even a large quantity of magazines with line-art covers. The cost of all those purchases, plus the fact that his files ended up filling darn near the entire basement, must have been quite an annoyance to the rest of his family.

Mr. Church's reason for collecting all these comics and magazines was that he needed them for "reference" for his commercial art career. During the period from about 1925-1953 he was on the staff of Mountain Bell, the phone company for the Rocky Mountain region. He worked in the advertising department, designing and drawing ads for the first commercial directories (later to be know as Yellow Pages). He had started his career as a freelance artist in about 1912, and had his own studio prior to going to work at the phone company full time. Judging by the huge collection of his artwork that I eventually managed to save, Mr. Church continued to produce freelance artwork all through the 1920's and 1930's. He was an accomplished artist, with the ability to mimic almost any style. It clearly helped him, however, to have a vast clipping file from which to borrow ideas. It was part of his enormous collection of line art magazine covers, interior artwork, and advertising pages that the heirs had thrown away during my first visit to the house.

At this point I need to draw an important distinction between Mr. Church's attitude toward his reference files, and his comics. The reference files were made up entirely of clippings and covers from line art magazines, and pulps. Mr. Church was ruthless with these magazines, chopping them into bits with gusto. The pieces he wanted to keep were then put into legal storage boxes shaped to look like books. These boxes had hinged lids that opened, and each was about 5 inches deep. Mr. Church had labeled each of his storage boxes, so he could quickly go to his bookshelf and easily pull down categories such as "Maxfield Parrish," "Dogs," or "Bridal." To this day, I have this vision of him sitting in his basement during the Great Depression, listening to old-time radio, and happily cutting up his magazines. My best estimate is that he filled about 300-400 boxes with clippings during his years of effort.

His comics (at least all the ones he purchased from 1938-1947), on the other hand, were in a room that had been padlocked for years. I think I eventually found one comic (out of 18,000) that had some notes in the margins. Other than that single book, he kept his comics in perfect condition. It was clear to me from the fact that the heirs had to break the padlock off of the closet that his children were never allowed to touch his comics. That, too, may have led to some antagonism on their part toward his comics collection. I think it's safe to surmise that Mr. Church viewed his comics as his own private passion, and wanted to share them with no one. Is it any wonder that his heirs didn't show any fondness for them?

An interesting sidebar to this story is that Mr. Church was apparently the first person in the history of comics to have his issues reserved for him! He had one copy of every comic printed put aside for him by his local newsstand starting with ACTION COMICS #1 (that book is even marked very lightly in pencil with his name!) in 1938. Prior to 1938 he purchased all his comics from a half-price magazine store. As near as I could tell, his comics subscriptions were active from 1938-1953, when he retired from Mountain Bell. He then purchased comics used for about another five years, before giving up entirely. It was based upon my inspection of those 1953-1958 used comics by which I made my original bid for the collection

Returning to the topic of Mr. Church's clipping files, after I loaded the second half of the comics from the closet, I spent half an hour convincing the family that they shouldn't throw the remaining files away. I explained that I thought that I could mat and frame many of the magazine covers, and sell them through my store. As such, I was willing to give them a considerable sum of money if they would save the files for me for two weeks. The sum I offered must have been enough, as the heirs reluctantly agreed to hold off on throwing the files away.

My next problem was where to get the money to pay for the clipping files. I had tapped out all my money, and my best friend's money, buying just the comics. The only way I could raise any more money was to sell some more books. I was determined, however, to not give away any more of those great comics at below 1976 Overstreet Guide. The solution I came up with was for Nanette and myself to fly to a two-day comics show in Houston the following weekend. My theory was that if we took a suitcase full of those incredible Golden Age comics that we had to make a ton of money. Well, this was a case in which not everything always works out as you planned.

To be continued...

Please send your e-mails to chuck@milehighcomics.com, and your letters to:

Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221



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