THE CHECK THAT BOUGHT SUPERMAN
On May 24, 1626, Peter Minuet bought an island for $24 worth of goods. That island later became known as Manhattan.
On December 19, 1919, the New York Yankees bought a baseball player from the cash-strapped Boston Red Sox. That player was Babe Ruth.
On March 1, 1938, DC Comics gave two young men from Cleveland $130 for the rights to a comic character named Superman. That $130 check essentially created a billion dollar industry and set in motion nearly 70 years of legal battles that continue to this day.
Much has been made of the original 1938 $130 payment to Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster. Did DC Comics take advantage of two eager young men looking for their big break in the comic business, or was this an unequivocally fair business practice between comic book writers and publishers in 1938 America? Whatever you believe, the $130 check is the quintessential symbol of the debate.
But whatever happened to the check? The consensus has always been that it had been simply lost to time, thrown out by some DC employee without a second thought. Or so we thought…
The check exists!
This March 1, 1938 Detective Comics check, signed by Jack Liebowitz, is made payable to Jerome Seigel and Joe Schuster. (You would think that DC would have spelled Siegel and Shuster's name correctly for a character as important as Superman!) The check, in the amount of $412, includes an account of items being paid for. At the very top is “Superman $130.” Next is the payment for the June, 1938 Detective Comics at $210. Following that are payments of $36 each for Adventure Comics and More Fun. It also appears that DC Comics used this check as evidence in their 1939 lawsuit against Victor Fox, with the evidence stamp from the case clearly visible on the reverse of the check, along with Siegel’s and Shuster’s actual endorsement signatures.
The final clincher is that the check exactly matches the signed agreement between DC and Siegel and Shuster, which transfers to DC “exclusive right to the use of Superman in consideration of $130.” The date of this agreement is March 1, 1938—the same date as the check.
In the comic collecting world, we often fixate on a character’s or an artist’s first issue, or on a book’s condition. This item is completely different, a truly unique pop-culture artifact. The value must be considered in the same breath as the most valuable contracts, checks and signatures known to exist in the collecting world.
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