By Philip Schweier
Jan 13, 2004 - 8:29
Hitting The Motherlode In Utah
I took a trip to Salt Lake City recently, and one of the activities I looked forward to was exploring the local comic shops. Unfortunately, most of them are merely outlets for the new comics, perhaps a place to buy a few odd back issues, as long as one doesn’t look to far backward.
But in the heart of the downtown, in the shadow of the surrounding office buildings, is a small store called Utah Books & Magazines. Owned and operated by Peter Marshall since 1963, the store has been around since 1916. It was begun by his grandfather, Peter L. Marshall, Sr.
The stock is an eclectic collection of hard-bound novels and paperback thrillers, from best sellers to special interest. The subject matter is as broad as any you will find at national retailers, from science fiction to self help to children's books. Some of it comes from warehouse closeouts, or other bookstores going out of business.
Mr. Marsall says much of his stock comes from people clearing out attics and basements, or those that have outgrown their collections.There are magazines that date back well into the 1950s, and many of the books are even older than that. In a store such as this, there is bound to be a personal treasure hiding somewhere...and I found mine.
I wandered around the store, looking for the odd missing mystery novel from my collection. Eventually I found myself in the humor section, among the Garfield collections and Peanuts paperbacks. Bigger books were on the lower shelves, and I began sorting though them in search of something worthwhile. I had The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy, and the Buck Rogers collection didn’t particularly interest me. But then I saw it peaking out from under The Life and Hard Times of Little Orphan Annie: The Great Comic Book Heroes, by Jules Feiffer...times three.
Originally published in 1965, it has long since been out of print. A new edition is currently available from Bud Plant. However, these later copies omit over half of the material found in the original hardback, reduced from 189 pages to 80.
I got mine in 1974, for my 10th birthday, and it was an extraordinary introduction to the Golden Age of comic book heroes. One of the few treasures from my childhood I’d held onto, I poured over it for years, tracing some of the images of the Golden Age heroes. I was even able to get it autographed by Feiffer himself.
And now, 29 years later, I was looking at three excellent copies of this invaluable collection of early comics history. One was missing it’s dust jacket, another was in excellent shape, and the third fell in between. I didn’t care how much, I wasn’t leaving Salt Lake City without it. I needn’t have worried; it only cost me $12.00.
In the rear of the store, behind a locked glass-panel door, were the comics. I felt like a child gazing in the department store window at Christmas. Behind the rapidly-fogging glass lay a wealth of comics, Bronze Age and earlier. Stretched across the room were clothes lines, with bagged comics clipped to them, mostly seminal issues of Hawkman, Green Lantern, and The Atom.
I asked the owner if I could get in there, but was told it wouldn’t open until three pm. As I made my purchases, we chit-chatted a little about old comics, and I told him I’d be back around three. He then made me the offer to take the key and have a look at what I might be searching for.
You know the scene in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory when he first opens to the door to the candy room, unveiling the “world of pure imagination?” That’s what it was like. The room wasn’t nearly so large, but the shear wealth of comic book history in one location was overwhelming.
I could’ve easily spent several days, and hundreds of dollars sorting through a collection of books that stretched back to the 1950s, if not further. One rack offered copies of Shazam #1 with purchases of over $100. Each copy of these was in excellent condition, as were most of the comics in the room.
Most of it was well organized, although it seemed to be a work in progress. One side of the room was all long boxes, alphabetized by title, mostly in numerical order. On the wall over the boxes were peg-boards filled with comics from the 1950s and '60s. The opposite side was shelves, with comics (many of them unbagged) in foot-high stacks.
On the ceiling was posted a clipping from a local newspaper, with a picture of Mr. Marshall holding excellent copies of Amazing Fantasy #15 and Spider-Man #1. These are indicative of some of the noteworthy comic books have have passed through Marshall's possession.
But when it comes to what's valuable, that all depends on the eye of the collector. Sgt. Rcok #313 and 314 may not seem like much, but I had been unable to find them until now. What can I say, I like Doug Wildey's art.
As I said, I could have spent days in this room, sorting through box after box, stack after stack. But I had my budget to think of, as well as getting them back home. Our suitcases were pretty full as it is, and I have a pretty good idea what luggage goes through on a cross-country flight, as my brother works for American Airlines.
“I collected as a kid, mostly Archie. Then I got into the horror stuff, like House of Mystery” Marshall told me. "I outgrew it as most people do. I'm more of a dealer now, for 40 years. About all I read now is an occassional Archie."
If you’re lucky enough to live near Salt Lake City, I recommend making the trip to Utah Books & Magazine. If not, a phone call or letter would be worth your while. Unfortunately, they are not on the web. Building a website catalogue of the books, comics and magazines would be a monumental task, likely to take several years.
Utah Books & Magazines, 327 S. Main Street, Salt Lake City, Utah, 84111; (801) 359-4391; open 6am - 6pm, Mon-Sat.
Praise and adulation? Scorn and ridicule? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Past Articles by Philip Schweier