In my meanderings through the oft-times strange world of comic collecting and general geeky fandom, I am frequently surprised that some things that I have known since my knowledge about the world began to accumulate is something that is unknown to many others. As these are unknown to some people, it makes me wonder if these are practices that are unknown outside the UK so here goes my attempt to explain some things that I have taken for granted about comics.
The first is the newsagent. Up until the 1990s, the newsagent was the first port of call for most comic collectors as you would go to your local newsagent and order your papers, comics and/or magazines. Now each newsagent had to sort them so that countless generations of delivery boys and girls could make sure that you got what you ordered. If the order was delivered, then the easiest thing for the newsagent to write on the item the address in shortened format so that the comic went to the right door. So if you collect old comics and you find such a legend as 29 Acacia Avenue, then that would indicate that the comic you bought had been first delivered to a doorstep at that address in the local area.
However, if the person ordering the comic lived a bit further afield such as kids who lived in the country and bought them from the shop closest to the school or a chap who would buy them on his way home from work, then you would not find an address on the comic, but a name. And these would be held on a sale or return basis. I’ll come back to the sale or return in a bit.
Nowadays, I have heard many collectors moan about this minor defacement in the last few months and it annoys me because without these subscribers, the comics that we are collecting now would not be around as no-one would have bought them and as a result, the publishers would not have created or published them. For me, it adds character to the comic and it also gives us a provenance that is unassailable as no one will ever try to forge a comic with such an obvious legend as 4 Privet Drive defacing the cover.
The second item that I have taken for granted is the exchange stamp. For those of us that grew up with a thriving second hand book dealer in our local area, this needs no explanation, but will raise fond smiles as we think of those shops that fed our reading habits. The exchange stamp was nothing more than a simple yet effective loyalty scheme. If you brought books or comics to your local second hand book dealer then they would have a fixed price that they would buy them from you for. However, if you brought back any books or comics with the shop stamp then you would get a more preferential rate of exchange as a loyal customer. It never worked for me as I would buy the book or comic and never let it go, but would read it over and over.
The third item is one that I learned in my teens and have only seen every so often, but every time I see it, it makes me smile. And this third item is the price hiding sticker. The only company I have ever seen employ it is D C Thomson and even now the simplicity of how it worked blows me away. As comic sales went into freefall in the 1980s, D C Thomson had the really smart idea of giving away a comic as a free gift. Now whether this was to avoid pulping perfectly good versions of comics or just cheaper to use surplus stock than using the Made in China free gift that was the normal option, I don’t know, but I do know that it meant that I would now see Commando comics with little circle stickers over the price in most charity shop and second hand dealers that I would visit.
Again I have seen quite a few collectors ask about these stickers and I have been surprised that the question was even asked, but I forget that not everyone shares the same experiences as I. The reason for the sticker is so simple. As Commandos comics were being given as a free gift, D C Thomson wanted to avoid the “free gift” Commando from becoming detached from the host comic and becoming another item on the shelf of the newsagent being sold at full price with D C Thomson receiving nothing for that sale, which is why D C Thomson stuck a really annoying hard to remove sticker over the price on the “free gift” Commandos. Even now, 20 plus years on, you can still feel the stickiness if you find a Commando comic where the sticker has been removed. And you don’t always find the FREE tape on the comic as a hint.