COLLECTOR RANDY LAWRENCE PARTS WITH SOME OF THE HIGHEST-GRADED DARK KNIGHT COMICS EVER ASSEMBLED
By Robert Wilonsky
Two years ago, one of the world’s most prominent collections of Batman comic books was stolen from a Florida self-storage unit.
COMICS & COMIC ART SIGNATURE® AUCTION 7239
Jan. 14-15, 2021
It was the CGC-certified, award-winning, headline-making Alfred Pennyworth Collection amassed by Randy Lawrence, who until recently thought he might never again see the comics he spent most of his 60 years collecting. The brazen theft around the beginning of 2019 made national headlines; the arrests did, too. For nearly two painful and terrifying years, Lawrence almost singlehandedly worked to secure the collection’s return.
When he said farewell to the Batman books for a second time, at least it was on his terms: Lawrence helped load the comics into a van headed for Heritage Auctions’ Dallas headquarters so part of the collection could be auctioned in November. Part II of the auction is scheduled for Jan. 14-15, 2021. “And when they went on the van and it drove away, it was like saying goodbye to your kid going off to college,” Lawrence says, “except I am not going to see them again.”
Lawrence’s decision to part with his collection of more than 1,000 Dark Knight issues brings to market some of the finest-graded Batman and Detective Comics issues ever available in a single place. The Golden Age issues offered in November included Batman No. 2, graded CGC 9.0; Batman No. 6 at CGC 9.4; and Detective No. 140 at CGC 8.0.
The collection’s Silver and Bronze age issues will be available in January’s sale. And additional titles, most of which are more modern in vintage, will be available in weekly Sunday sales beginning in January. Many of the books in the collection – named for Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler, Alfred Pennyworth – are among the highest-graded copies ever to hit the market.
“Randy was diligent in building his collection,” says Aaron White, a consignment director in Heritage’s Comics & Comic Art department. “He was devastated when the books were stolen, but earlier this year , he called me and said, ‘I got the books back and I would feel more comfortable selling them now so it doesn’t happen again.’
“I can totally understand. He went through a terrible ordeal and worked really, really hard to recover the books. He was thrilled to get them back, and I’m excited we’re getting to sell them. It’s a really special collection.”
It’s one Lawrence began assembling in the spring of 1965, in Cedarhurst, N.Y., a village on Long Island’s South Shore.
This is how Lawrence tells the story.
It’s Sunday morning. A 6-year-old boy wakes up and climbs out of bed. He spies something unfamiliar lying on the bedroom floor: two comics books. On the cover of one, Batman and Robin punch away at the Riddler, who’s spinning like a top and laughing manically. On the other, Spider-Man is snared in the steel tentacles of a robot powered by Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jamison.
Lawrence devoured his copies of Batman No. 171 and The Amazing Spider-Man No. 25. He read them over and over, at least until the next Sunday morning, when his father delivered more books. On and on this went. “For years,” Lawrence recalls, his voice rising in delight at the distant memory. Every little boy should be so lucky.
In time, the young boy took to hiding his prized possessions. First, in a secret room in the family’s finished-out basement. Then a safe-deposit box. Then, as the collection grew and grew, storage lockers and, eventually, self-storage units large enough to contain what became one of the world’s finest Batman collections. A father’s gift became a hobby that blossomed into a passion that morphed into a lifestyle.
Then came Jan. 8, 2019.
That afternoon, Lawrence drove to his self-storage unit in Boca Raton, Fla., to drop off some comic books in need of filing. For almost a year, Lawrence kept his cache of comics in this unit. Because the collection of more than 600 books was too large to keep at home. And because the unit was fire-proofed. And secured.
Or so he thought.
That morning, Lawrence opened the door to the unit and immediately noticed a cardboard box was out of place – “just a little,” he recalls, but enough to make him fear the worst. He yanked off the tarps covering the long white boxes that held his comics. All of them were empty. His worst fears had been realized.
“I just remember letting out a wounded-animal scream,” Lawrence says. “It was the most horrible feeling I’ve ever had. I ran downstairs to the manager. She came up to take pictures. The police came out. I was hysterical.”
Lawrence posted his inventory of graded titles to comics message boards, begging collectors and shop owners to keep a look-out for his pilfered nest egg. In short order, the theft made headlines. The Sun Sentinel in South Florida ran a story beneath this banner: “Holy heist, Batman! Thief drops through roof to nab $1.4 million in comics.” (The real value of the pilfered assemblage of historic Batman titles was closer to $2 million.) The Associated Press quickly followed; so, too, the local and national TV news.
On Jan. 21 came another wave of headlines, after a comic-store owner in Phoenix caught a man trying to sell a handful of the stolen books. As Fox News reported at the time: “Florida man arrested after he allegedly tried to sell Batman comics from $1.4M collection.”
Lawrence and attorney Wayne Schwartz spent a long time trying to reclaim his comics – first, from the man who pleaded guilty to trafficking Lawrence’s stolen property; then, from the investigators and attorneys who had taken custody of his books. When he finally got them back in early 2020, “I felt like the luckiest, luckiest guy,” Lawrence says.
“The first night, when I went to bed surrounded by my comics, it was such an incredible feeling,” he says. “I could look at each book and remember where I bought it, what the deal was. Every book had a story.”
For a time, he started collecting again. But eventually, after the thrill and relief dissipated and worry again returned, Lawrence called Aaron White at Heritage and said: Now’s the time. Come get them. Lawrence is 60 years old, and ready to retire and cut loose his prized possessions. It’s a moment familiar to many collectors who believe themselves but temporary custodians of history.
So he summoned the van. And he said his farewells. And it was not easy, most of all because the man who made him fall in love with comic books isn’t around to see what those copies of Batman and Spider-Man wrought.
“I wish my father had been around,” Lawrence says. He sniffles a bit. “I get a little emotional. This whole thing was really because of him. I don’t know if I ever would have read a comic or bought a comic. It was all because of that Sunday morning, waking up with those comics on the floor. He would have kept me sane the whole time the comics were gone, and he would have relished their return.”
ROBERT WILONSKY is a staff writer at The Intelligent Collector.
This article appears in the Winter 2020-2021 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.