It took losing his collection of Batman comics to make one collector realize, it was time to say goodbye.
Randy Lawrence has spent the better part of his 60 years putting together a legendary collection of high-grade, ultra-rare Batman comics. The CGC-certified "Alfred Pennyworth" collection is known in collecting circles as being the gold standard for Batman comic book collections. "This collection is so beautiful and it's such a cool high grade," Lawrence says. "It's the number one Batman collection on the [CGC] registry."
The 1,000+ issues are going up for auction in two separate events by Heritage Auctions, the first one of which will take place on Nov. 19-22. Any comics collection with a pedigree is a big deal, and this one, named after Bruce Wayne's loyal butler and father figure, is no exception. "It's called the Alfred Pennyworth collection because my name on the [CGC] registry was Alfred Pennyworth," explains Lawrence during an interview with SYFY WIRE. "I never wanted anyone to know it was me but also, I wanted the world to know that these books existed."
The collection includes gems such as Batman #2, a book that's sought-after in any condition. But Lawrence's is a CGC-graded 9.0, an absurdly high-grade copy of a Golden Age book. Other highlights include the highest-graded copies known to exist of Batman #20 (first cover appearance for the Dick Sprang-drawn Batmobile) and Detective Comics #140, the first appearance of The Riddler. That book is particularly hot since the character will be played by Paul Dano in Matt Reeves' upcoming film, The Batman. Pre-auction estimates have the Pennyworth books valued at nearly $2 million.
Of course, a lot of people learned about the existence of Lawrence's astonishing collection when it made headlines in January of 2019. Thieves broke into the storage facility in Boca Raton, Florida, where he had kept his collection and stolen nearly 500 of his valuable comics. Being a very careful and organized collector, Lawrence recalls that it was one box that was slightly out of place that made him think something was wrong. "I had only gone there to put some stuff away and inventory some new books that I had gotten. And I didn't remember touching that box," he says. "So I pulled the top off the first CGC box and it was empty. And then I ripped off the next one and it was empty and so on. And I remember I let out like, it was a primal scream, like a wounded animal. It was like my whole life had just disappeared."
To understand his pain, it's important to understand that Lawrence's love of comics was inspired and nurtured by his father.
"In the early 1940s, my father was starting to buy comics. He kept them under his bed and boxes. I can only imagine he had a nice collection. He told me he had an Action Comics #1, a Batman #1, he had a Detective Comics #27," Lawrence says. One day, however, after the U.S. entered World War II, Lawrence's grandmother donated all those comics to a paper drive. Just like that, they were gone. "He came home from school and his books were gone. It's something that bothered him forever."
Years later, six-year-old Randy Lawrence would wake up on a Sunday morning in 1965 to a pleasant surprise: comics! He found Detective Comics #171 and Amazing Spider-Man #25 in his bedroom (he's a comics collector; of course he remembers the first ones he ever read). That day began a Sunday tradition, where his father would go pick up the early edition of the Sunday paper and bring home some comics for Randy. "Each Sunday, I'd wake up and there was a Superman comic and a Batman comic and the Sunday funnies [comics section]. This went on every Sunday for years."
The younger Lawrence credits his dad for sparking his interest in comics history. He bought titles, like Green Lantern, because they were characters he knew from the forties. I remember when Shazam returned [in 1972, after DC Comics licensed the rights and renamed the original Captain Marvel]. It was a big deal to him because my father said, "That's my Captain Marvel, the real Captain Marvel, and they're bringing him back." He knew about C.C. Beck and he taught me these kinds of things."
His father was also a handy guy who built his comic book-obsessed son the perfect hidden HQ for his collection. "We had a finished basement and he built me a space for my comics," Lawrence remembers. "He took one of the shingles for our roof, and in the back of the room If you pressed the shingle, it opened the door to my comics room, where I had a big metal file cabinet [full of comics]. My father was the coolest guy. I wish he was still around."
As he grew older and his collecting tastes changed, Lawrence refocused on building the best Batman collection possible. He wanted as many key Batman books as he could get, in the best condition possible. He went to conventions, and when eBay helped turn comics collecting into an online activity, he adapted to that. When graded comics became a thing, thanks to CGC, he made sure to get his books graded. It was because of the registration numbers of those graded books, and Lawrence's detailed inventory notes, that helped him in his quest to regain his stolen comics.
"All my books, every single one, even the ones that weren't in the storage unit [the night of the theft], are on the CGC registry," he notes. It certainly helped that word quickly got out in the collecting world about the theft. In just a couple days, he received a call from the owner of a comics shop in Arizona, where one of the alleged thieves had tried to sell some of the stolen comics. "This hobby of ours, there's not many places where people could get away with selling stolen CGC books," says Lawrence. "It's really close-knit community. I was so lucky."
It would take more than a year, but he would recover every single comic that was stolen from the storage facility, except one (and Lawrence says it wasn't a key book). But after the ordeal, and the fight to get them all back, it made him realize that perhaps it was time to move on from comics. And then, a deal he thought he had to fill one hole in his collection, a high-grade copy of Batman #26, fell through in such a way that soured him on the current state of high-grade collecting. "I said, you know what, between the stress that I went through to get my comics back and now what happened trying to get that Batman issue, I said, 'it's time.'"
He contacted Heritage and arranged to auction off all his precious books... well, almost all.
"I kept six books, which I promised I would give to Heritage eventually, but I wanted to keep my finger kind of in the pie," he says. "I didn't want to give them every single thing."
Find out more details about The Alfred Pennyworth Collection auction here.
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