ABINGDON, Va. — About 130,000 comic books that once belonged to a Bristol collector and businessman were auctioned Saturday, marking “an end of an era.”
John Stone, 71, died this past summer at his home in Bristol, Tennessee, where he had amassed a giant comic book collection. Stone had been co-owner of Mountain Empire Comics, with locations in Bristol and Johnson City, but he had also collected comic books for the past 40-50 years.
“This is what he had in his basement,” said Alan Shope, owner of A-OK Auctions in Abingdon, which ran Saturday’s more than six-hour auction. “This is stuff he prided himself in.”
Shope described Stone’s collection as the largest comic collection he has ever auctioned.
“We sell everything from cars to jewelry to comic books,” Shope said. “We do full estates. We’ve had 30,000 to 40,000 comic book collections.”
Stone was an active dealer and collector for about four decades.
Robert Pilk, Stone’s business partner, said the man had everything from classic Western comic books to more modern editions.
Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and other popular series were present Saturday.
“It was interesting going through this,” said Shope, who spent more than three weeks cataloging each book.
“He had his own comic shop, but over the years, he kept what he wanted,” Shope said.
The comic books were sold in 646 lots, ranging from individual popular books to large collections of series.
Around 20 people attended the auction in person, and hundreds more from 18 different countries were actively bidding on lots online. The United Kingdom, Germany and Australia all had representation seeking some of Stone’s collection.
“People thought highly of John,” Shope said.
Pilk, who was unable to attend Saturday’s auction, said it was a nice, large collection.
“It’s different,” Pilk said. “There will be things people haven’t seen before.”
Pilk, the namesake of the annual RobCon comic convention, first met Stone at a convention in Blacksburg, Virginia.
“He was a vendor up there,” Pilk recalled, noting that he already knew Stone’s brother. “I knew him as soon as I saw him. We just hit it off from then on. We were good friends, and he opened the Cameo Theatre up here. It was John’s idea to open [Mountain Empire Comics].”
Before opening a store, Stone had been busy selling and buying at flea markets and comic book conventions.
Stone’s first comic shop opened along State Street at Piedmont Avenue in October of 1984. Stone and his partners soon opened a shop in Kingsport and another in Johnson City.
The Bristol shop has since moved to Sixth Street, the Kingsport shop has closed, and the Johnson City shop is moving this weekend to the North Roan Street area.
“It feels like an end of an era,” Pilk said.
Stone has purchased comics from auctions in the past and has visited Shope’s auction house in Abingdon.
Pilk recalled when Stone once told him about attending an auction in Johnson City. Stone said that Steven Spielberg and Michael Jackson had representatives hoping to buy items.
“Did you outbid them?” Pilk asked Stone.
No, Stone wasn’t able to outbid the two celebrities.
The financial aspect of comic book collecting was the “least important part” for Stone, Pilk said. He was especially interested in the people, he added.
All but four lots were sold on Saturday. The most successful lot featured a collection of horror books that sold for $800, Shope said.
“It was a very successful sale,” Shope said late Saturday.
About 70 percent of items sold to buyers online, but many of those who attended actively placed bids throughout the day.
Jim Jurgensen, a former Pennsylvania comic book shop owner, traveled from Charlotte, North Carolina, to attend the auction. He had heard about the event and began studying the collection online.
The collector purchased several items, including a large lot of “Dark Shadows” and Boris Karloff issues, as well as a lot of 10 “Beverly Hillbillies” books.
Shope said he expects to auction more of Stone’s items in the future, including comic and movie memorabilia.