Inside one of the largest U.S. pop culture auction houses, located in York County
In Detective Comics No. 27, a mysterious figure is illuminated against the pale moon of a midnight blue sky. With a costume dark as night and a cape resembling wings, readers in 1939 were first introduced to a character synonymous with "superhero" itself — Batman.
That comic sold at a winning bid just shy of $570,000 at Hake's Auctions last year, making it the most expensive item ever sold at the auction house in Springettsbury Township.
For the business known as a smorgasbord of pop culture and historical memorabilia, high bidding and hungry competition from devoted collectors is par for the course.
"I've been getting surprised for 52 years now," Hake's Auctions founder Ted Hake said with a laugh.
Hake, who opened the auction house in 1967, got his start collecting coins at age 7.
By the time he entered college, Hake was running a part-time business out of his apartment as a collectibles dealer, primarily working with presidential campaign collectibles and coins.
"Just finding stuff that I personally enjoy, and knowing someone else enjoys it the same as I do, is the inspiration for spending my life doing this," he said.
Alex Winter, the president of Hake's Auctions, said the items that come through the auction house are usually either from family members who inherit memorabilia or from fellow collectors who "moved on."
Winter, along with staff members and freelance "pickers," will also search tag sales and flea markets looking for rare finds.
"There's never a day off," he said.
Often, items are turned away for not meeting two criteria: monetary value and quality.
Conducting research and bringing in experts to weigh in on items are a big part of the process.
When Hake first started his auction business, he said customers gravitated toward Popeye and Dick Tracy collectibles. Since then, comic books and Star Wars memorabilia have heavily dominated the business.
Typically, Hake's has three big auctions each year: in March, July and November. At its July auction, more than 2,000 items are being auctioned on the website.
Two hot items in particular, an X-Men Vol. 1 No. 95 original art splash page by Dave Cockrum and a Star Wars Boba Fett rocket-firing prototype, are at the current bids of $47,531 and $72,473 respectively, as of Thursday afternoon.
The auctioning process is done online through the Hake's Auctions website, www.hakes.com. The company's 17,000-square-foot property at 3679 Concord Road manages the rest, with a team of passionate collectors handling everything from photography, to marketing and shipping.
The day after an auction ends, items are packed and shipped to the lucky collector who bid the highest.
The current auction will end July 10 for historical memorabilia and July 11 for pop culture items.
Winter said it's unpredictable which items will increase in value. For items such as comic books and figurines, it can depend on the climate of the pop culture market.
For example, if a new movie featuring a superhero is announced, products involving that character will go up in value, he said.
"Buy what you love, and love what you buy," Winter said.
— Reach Tina Locurto at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.