My Recent Buy: The Mutt and Jeff Cartoons, Book 2
“My Recent Buy” will be a regular feature in The Insider. What did you buy recently that brings a smile to your face? Share the object and your story with our readers. Send the story of your buy and two to four images to email@example.com. Your recent buy might appear in a future issue. This week we bring you a recent buy made by our very own expert, Harry Rinker.
I recently purchased a cartoon compilation book—Bud Fisher’s The Mutt and Jeff Cartoons Book 2 published by The Ball Publishing Company of Boston in 1911.
When reviewing tapes and visiting homes to tape segments of Collector Inspector, my television show on HGTV that ran from October 2002 to December 2004, I used three criteria to select the objects that appeared in the show. Each object had to evoke one or more of these responses: (1) I had one of those; (2) I remember one of those; and/or (3) I wish I owned one of those. Unlike The Antique Roadshow, Collector Inspector focused on the ordinary, everyday objects that were part of people’s lives.
I recently purchased a cartoon compilation book—Bud Fisher’s The Mutt and Jeff Cartoons Book 2 published by The Ball Publishing Company of Boston in 1911. The stiff cardboard cover measures 15 1/2 inches by 5 1/2 inches. I paid $35.00 from an estate sale specialist. These cartoon compilations were the forerunners of comic books – more about this later.
I paid $35.00 from an estate sale specialist. These cartoon compilations were the forerunners of comic books.
As a youngster, adolescent, and adult, I was and remain an avid reader of the Funnies. Growing up in the late 1940s and early 1950s, I was extremely fortunate. Seven major newspapers served Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. Allentown and Bethlehem had morning and evening papers. Easton had an evening paper. Between them I had access to almost a hundred different newspaper cartoon strips. Sunday was a special day. In addition to reading the Sunday funnies, local radio stations and eventually one of the television networks had programs whereby a host read the funnies.
It was a time when a Funnies devotee could have a foot in four camps: (1) the older strips that dated back into the teens such as the Katzenjammer Kids and Little Orphan Annie, (2) the tail end of the World War II strips such as Don Winslow of the Navy; (3) the spinoff newspaper strips from comics such as Batman, Spiderman, and Wonder Woman, and (4) the strips spawned by television shows. Gene, Hoppy, the Lone Ranger, and Roy all had their own strips.
Each one was my favorite. The irreverence of Al Capp’s Li’l Abner had strong appeal as did the Dragon Lady from Terry and the Pirates. The newspaper comic strips escapist themes spurred my imagination and allowed me to participate in adventures while safely ensconced in my living room.
Cartoons topics ranged from humor to common sense to the serious. Mutt and Jeff relied on subtle humor. In his dedication to Book 2, Bud Fisher wrote: “Yes, this is Book Two. The only excuse for publishing Book Two is the fact that Book One put several pennies in the strong box. Once when I was very young, some boob slipped me the advice, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’; but he failed to say what to do in case you put one over the first time at bat. Now believe me, if Book One had been a flivver, there would have been no Book Two; therefore, I say if at first you don’t succeed, press your luck…This book was published in an effort to entice a few more pieces of mazuma into the cash drawer. If Book Two goes as strong as Book One, believe me, next year will see Book Three. In fact, I will publish them as long as you’ll stand for ‘em, one book per year; for as Shakespeare didn’t say, ‘Faint heart never filled a spade flush’…” No one writes like this today – boob, flivver, mazuma. The price I paid was worth every penny just to read Fisher’s Book 2 Introduction.
Bill Fisher developed Mutt and Jeff, his “two mismatched tinhorns,” in 1907. First called A. Mutt, the strip premiered on November 15, 1907, on the sports page of the San Francisco Chronicle. The strip has the distinction of being one of the first newspaper comics to be published as a strip of panels rather than a single panel. Jeff appeared for the first time on March 27, 1908. When King Features began syndicating the strip, it moved to Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner. Fortunately for Fisher, he copyrighted the strip in his own name. Following a dispute with King Features, Fisher moved the strip to the Wheeler Syndicate, where Fisher received 60% of the revenue. By 1920, his income exceeded $250,000. Now, that is a lot of mazuma.
The Sunday strip appeared in 1918. As Mutt and Jeff’s success grew, Fisher relied more and more on assistants to draw the strip. The strip remained in publication until 1983. Cartoonist Al Smith drew the strip for almost 50 years after Fisher stepped away from the drawing board.
Mutt and Jeff also became a comic book, published by the likes of All-American Publications, DC Comics, Dell Comics, and Harvey Comics. Between 1919 and 1933, Cupples & Lion issued 18 reprint editions in a 10 by 10-inch softcover format. Mutt and Jeff appeared in Broadway shows and on the covers of sheet music. There were Mutt and Jeff silent movie comedy shorts. From the 1920s through the early 1960s, Mutt and Jeff, Texas, was located at the junction of State Highway 37 and Farm Road 13 near Big Sandy Creek.
Robert Overstreet designates early cartoon compilations as the Platinum Age (1883 to 1938) of the American comic book. The list of cartoons for which compilations were published is lengthy and includes such classics as Foxy Grandpa, Happy Holigan, The Katzenjammer Kids, The Yellow Kid, and Tillie the Toiler. These compilations were followed by Big Little Books, a story for another time.
Ball Publications issued five Mutt and Jeff annuals. Cupples & Leon issued Number 6 through 18. Because Book 2 features a panel of Jeff smoking an opium pipe, it collectability is enhanced. In 2009, Overstreet valued Book 2 at $71.00 in good condition and $286.00 in fine condition. Using Overstreet’s grading criteria, the copy I bought is between good and very good condition.
A lot has happened in the trade since 2009. I consulted Worthpoint’s Worthopedia to check the current market. An example of Book 2 sold in April 2018 for $30.00. I was not surprised when I did not find many recent sales. The number of Platinum Age comic collectors is diminishing. Most are 70 or above. Younger collectors have little interest in the Platinum Age cartoon characters. Their home is now museums.
The good news is that I do not care. I wanted to own one of these cartoon compilations for a long time. I turned them down in the past because I felt they were too high priced. In 2018, they are well within my budget. Usually, one is not enough from my collecting perspective. In this case, I suspect it will be. Of course, if I find others in very good or better condition price at $20.00 or less, my conviction will be sorely tested.
Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out Harry’s Web site. You can listen and participate in Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show “Whatcha Got?” on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on the Genesis Communications Network. “Sell, Keep Or Toss? How To Downsize A Home, Settle An Estate, And Appraise Personal Property” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site.
Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected queries will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Pond Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You can e-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.
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