It appeared to be just another routine sale at Ogre’s Grove in Milton.
Shop owner Justin Sinnott sold friend and customer Michael Rowan a second-edition printing of DC Comics “Batman,” Vol.1, edition 457 for $5.
The comic is notable as the first appearance of Tim Drake as Robin, the third character to take on the role of Batman’s sidekick after Dick Grayson, who moved on into his own universe as Nightwing, and Jason Todd, who was introduced as the second Robin but proved unpopular with comic fans. He was killed off by the Joker in 1988.
The Tim Drake character was more popular, and went on to be the basis for Robin in the popular Teen Titans Go animated series.
“He’s a very significant character in the Batman world,” Sinnott said. So when he found the comic in which Drake was introduced, he let Rowan know.
Rowan said he purchased the book in the interest of completing his collection. Sinnott had found two copies within his own boxes of books, and sold one to his friend.
“The shop has been open for a year, but I’ve been collecting for 30 years, so half the time, I don’t know what I’ve got. I will just randomly start digging through a box, to fill in some gaps for people. Mainly for Mike – some smaller, key things. First appearance here, a death here. Just something for a collector,” he said.
It was only on closer inspection that Rowan and Sinnott realized what they had.
“He was hitting me up all day saying, ‘You really need to check that copy,’ Rowan said. “I started checking it out and thought, ‘Wait a minute.’”
It turns out various editions of a particular comic are not equal, and some second printings are more valuable than first printings.. Rowan said there are three hallmarks of this particular book. First, it says “New Robin Issue” at the top, words the first printing did not have. Second, and most importantly, Rowan and Sinnott said, is the barcode, which indicates that the copy was sold at news stands. Other printings do not have the barcode in the bottom right corner. Finally, Rowan said, the inside of the book says “Second Printing.”
“If you ordered directly from DC, you never had a barcode,” Sinnott said. “They would always have a little picture.”
Rowan said other variants of the second printing include having the Batman symbol in place of the barcode.
“This was clearly the last of the run. They probably threw out just a small run. We started looking into odd variants, and all the sudden, we came across it and thought, ‘That’s not the right copy.’ But everything lined up and it was,” Sinnott said.
Sinnott said what makes this particular book special is its rarity. He said it is believed that only 14 copies of this book exist, with himself and Rowan having copies No. 13 and 14.
“The last time anybody found one of these was 2016,” Sinnott said. “At that time, that was the 12th one to be found.”
Rowan added, “There was a time people thought this was an urban legend. It’s so rare. DC had to come out and say, ‘This exists.’”
Sinnott said at this time, the comic is valued at $3,500 although he expects that to go down a bit thanks to the discovery of his and Rowan’s copies.
The comic itself was put out in 1990; Sinnott said first edition printings of this book are plentiful, valued around $5. He said DC would typically do second printings for books that sold relatively well, and there are multiple variations in the run. Sinnott said DC would send copies out and unsold books typically had the covers ripped off and the contents were sent back to make new books. He said when he took a closer look at his copy he realized it had all the hallmarks of the ultra-rare news stand edition. Rowan and Sinnott say they are not sure why so few copies were made, especially for a book published in the 1990s, a time when comics were cranked out in high volume to generate as much money as possible. Sinnott said he believes most of the versions of this book were trashed, with few surviving.
Rowan and Sinnott both had their copies sent to Certified Guaranty Company in Sarasota, Fla. to be graded for condition. CGC’s grading curve gives a 10 for perfect mint condition to a .5 for poor condition. Sinnott said his copy graded out at an 8.0, very fine, while Rowan’s is likely to be an 8.5, close to near-mint condition. Rowan said he has not seen any copies of the book higher than an 8.0 yet. Both Rowan and Sinnott plan to hold on to their copies.
“People hunt for this,” Rowan said. “To have it happen like this is insane.”
“To have some that survived, and to find it here in Milton, Delaware, is crazy,” he said. “This is a really cool piece of history.”