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Image: Batman issue No. 1
AP
This 1940 Batman issue No. 1 is expected to sell for more than $40,000.
updated 8/1/2010 8:21:07 PM ET 2010-08-02T00:21:07

A longtime Alaska comic book buff is selling one of the gems in his vast collection, a rare copy of Batman No. 1 published 70 years ago.

Mike Wheat of Fairbanks has put the 1940 comic book on the auction block through Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries, where it's expected to fetch more than $40,000. Online bids already have climbed to $35,000 for the book, believed to be one of fewer than 300 still in existence.

Online bids will compete with a live auction set for Thursday.

The second and fourth Batman issues also will be part of Thursday's auction. They are expected to bring more than $5,000 combined.

Wheat, a retired city wastewater treatment plant operator, said he considers the Batman comics an investment. He said it feels like the right time to sell.

"I just decided it's time for someone else to have it," he said.

Garage-sale find
The Batman No. 1 comic book was discovered after local businessman Ron Jaeger bought an old dresser at a garage sale in the early 1970s, then kept it in storage for a few years. When Jaeger finally brought it out, he noticed one of the drawers didn't slide easily.

Three comic books and a few old issues of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner were tucked beneath the drawer and a quarter-inch piece of plywood. The haul included a copy of Batman No. 1, Superman No. 17 and an old issue of a Red Ryder Western comic.

Wheat already had a reputation as an avid comic collector in 1974, and Jaeger sold him the comic books for $300.

Tip-top shape
The auction house has handled many copies of Batman No. 1, but Wheat's copy is notable because the low humidity and cool temperatures in Fairbanks have kept the paper in excellent condition, said Barry Sandoval, director of comic auctions and operations at Heritage. Old comics were printed on cheap newsprint, but the pages in Wheat's copy remain white and crisp.

"If we got a Batman No. 1 from Texas or Louisiana, if you opened it up after 70 years the pages would start to crumble," Sandoval said.

The condition of comics is graded on a scale of one to 10. Wheat's copy has been graded a 5.5. That's a middling score for a newer comic, but impressive for a vintage copy.

"I see how most comics from that era look," Sandoval said. "Most 70-year-old comics are in pretty rough shape."

Batman No. 1 was the first solo spin-off for the character, who made his first appearance in 1939 as a character in Detective Comics No. 27. The debut includes the original appearances by two of Batman's key foes, the Joker and Catwoman.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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