Superman Check Fetches 388 Times Its Face Value

The $130 check given to Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster by Detective Comics, Inc. (later DC Comics) in 1938 fetched $160,000 at auction this week, according to Comicconnect, the auctioneers.

The check was used to buy the rights to Superman, making it not only a unique historical document but also instrumental in one of the most controversial intellectual property disputes in American history. The family of Jerry Siegel have been suing DC for years now, and even before that Siegel and Shuster filed suit while they were still alive, reportedly receiving a substantial (but undisclosed) settlement shortly before the release of Superman: The Movie in 1978.

Dated March 1, 1938, the check is for $412, because it included line items for work done on Detective Comics, More Fun Comics and New Adventure Comics.  The $130 for Superman was broken out as a line-item. According to Comicconnect, the check was rescued from the trash by a DC employee in the 1970s. As reported by Bleeding Cool:

In the early 1970′s, Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster once again found themselves embroiled in an unsuccessful legal battle with D.C. Comics for the rights to Superman. The decision of the court, once again in D.C.’s favor, was rendered in August 1973  and at the time was felt by all parties to be the last word on what was then a 35 year old dispute. [Mark's note:  I believe the date here may be slightly off,  as Siegel v. National Periodical Publications, Inc. was decided in October 1973. The case was appealed and the appeal was decided December 1974] (Unknown to anyone in 1973, Congress would soon pass the 1976 Copyright Act that allowed creators to take back certain copyrighted works under certain conditions, which would in turn launch the next 35-year high-stakes battle that is still not fully settled!)

So it was no wonder that one afternoon in the autumn of 1973, a group representing the triumphant legal team and the D.C. Comics executives had a “final” celebratory lunch meeting at the Metropolitan Club in New York City. Celebratory because, after all, D.C. Comics had prevailed not just in the latest litigation but in all of the prior disputes, dating as far back as the very first D.C. lawsuit in 1939 against Victor Fox and Wonderman. When the lunch meeting ended, a box of old court documents that had accumulated over the years was handed over to one of the D.C team. When the box was delivered back to the D.C. executive office, the employee was told, “Just throw it all out. We don’t need any of it anymore!”

In addition to the piles of court papers and corporate records, the “Original Check” written to Siegel and Shuster for Action Comics #1 was discarded in the trash. Knowing that the check would have historical relevance, the D.C. employee salvaged it. For the next 38 years it was kept safe in a dresser drawer… until now.

Check out that Bleeding Cool article for a pretty thorough and fascinating history of the check in question.

The same auction house sold Nicolas Cage's $2 million copy of Action Comics #1 earlier this year. COO Vincent Zurzolo was quoted by The Hollywood Reporter as saying he believes it to be the highest amount ever paid for an historical check.