MILT ROSENBERG’S HISTORIC COLLECTION SPANS EIGHT DECADES OF MAN OF STEEL MERCHANDISING, FROM FAN-CLUB RINGS TO KRYPTO-RAYGUNS
By Robert Wilonsky
Milt Rosenberg was many things – a mathematician, says his son Adam, and an options trader and a world-class bridge player. He was also one of the world’s foremost collectors of Superman keepsakes, among them hundreds of items adorned with images of the Man of Steel rarely seen since they were first available beginning some eight decades ago. Among Rosenberg’s assemblage are things only dreamed about by collectors for whom they remain holy grails thought lost to history, including posters and lobby cards and toys that now serve as works of art, items once meant to be worn now more likely to be displayed and, yes, comic books, too.
Rosenberg owned a stunning Supermen of America Action Comics prize ring, one of nine known to survive the journey from 1940 to today. And the only known complimentary copy of Superman No. 18 from 1942, complete with the Superman pinback button still affixed to the front cover. And a coveted original Supermen of America Leader patch from the late 1930s and early ’40s, which bestowed “strength, courage, justice” to each member of the fan club that was once filled with young readers.
“Superman was his favorite the whole way,” Adam says of his father’s breathtaking collection, a portion of which comes to Heritage Auctions on July 7 as The Superman Patriotic Comics & Comic Art Showcase Auction. More than 250 items from Rosenberg’s estate will be available, many of them in excellent condition – even old bread wrappers and cereal displays – each loved by a man for whom collecting was less a hobby than a way of life.
“My dad often said that if you met a kid who was into collecting, you could count on the fact that the kid would go far,” Adam says. “He never really elaborated on the point to me, but I understood what he meant: To be a collector means you have the capacity to care for something fragile and rare, perhaps something that others see no value in. It means you have a reverence for the past and a keen eye toward the future. To collect means to organize, catalog and study. And it means you have a passion that is not so easily understood.”
But, of course, one can understand what Milt saw in these items, which he gathered out of love for the character and their connection to a childhood spent devouring Superman stories. Myriad offerings in this auction date to 1939 and 1940, when DC Comics’ Robert Maxwell licensed the Son of Krypton’s name and image to manufacturers who began putting Superman on anything and everything: “puzzles, paint sets, paper dolls, games, greeting cards, coloring books, candy,” as Les Daniels wrote in Superman: A Complete History. “Perhaps the year’s most unusual item was Daisy Manufacturing’s Official Superman Krypto-Raygun, a toy pistol loaded with film strip images that could be ‘shot’ onto a nearby wall.”
Rosenberg had one of those, too. Because of course he did. What others treated as ephemera, Milt revered as treasures.
They’re stunning totems that pay homage to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s creation, crisp and gleaming remnants from a time when art and commerce comfortably coexisted. Look no further than the jewelry pieces here, among them one of only 19 known Superman of America Member rings, this one in very good condition; a brass Superman “Crusader” ring offered by Kellogg’s Pep cereal, which sponsored The Adventures of Superman in the mid-1950s; and 1941’s Superman Secret Chamber Initial Ring originally offered in conjunction with the Defense Club Milk Program.
No item was too small, too dispensable for Rosenberg; anything with Superman or his logo caught his eye and captured his heart, from crude action figures to miniature film projectors to pencil cases and lunchboxes. His assemblage includes even loose pages of a comic book. Here is something seldom seen: four pages removed from the Aug. 5, 1939, issue of Triumph magazine – the first time Superman took flight on the front of and inside a British publication.
“I hope that whenever these keepsakes change hands again – maybe 50 years from now, perhaps longer – they will be as cherished as they were by my father,” Adam Rosenberg says. “I know my dad would want that, too.”
ROBERT WILONSKY is a staff writer at Intelligent Collector.