Robert Sorrell | Washington County News
ABINGDON, Va. – About 130,000 comic books once owned by a Bristol collector and businessman went to auction on Dec. 1, marking “the end of an era.”
John Stone, 71, died last summer at his home in Bristol, Tennessee, where he had amassed a giant collection of comic books. Stone was co-owner of Mountain Empire Comics, with locations in Bristol and Johnson City, but he had also collected comic books for the past 40 to 50 years.
“That’s what he had in his basement,” said Alan Shope, owner of A-OK Auctions in Abingdon, which hosted the more than six-hour auction. “It was something he was proud of.”
Shope described Stone’s collection as the largest collection of comic books he had ever auctioned.
“We sell everything from cars to jewelry to comic books,” Shope said. “We do full estates. We had 30,000 to 40,000 comic collections.
Stone was an active dealer and collector for approximately four decades.
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Robert Pilk, Stone’s business partner, said the man has everything from classic Western comics to more modern editions.
Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and other popular series were on sale.
“It was interesting going through it,” said Shope, who spent more than three weeks cataloging each book.
“He had his own comic book store, but over the years he kept what he wanted,” Shope said.
The comics were sold in 646 bundles, ranging from individual popular books to large series collections.
About 20 people attended the auction in person, and hundreds more from 18 different countries were actively bidding on lots online. The UK, Germany and Australia all had representation looking for part 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 that people have never seen before.”
Pilk, the namesake of the annual RobCon comic book convention, first met Stone at a convention in Blacksburg, Virginia.
“He was a salesman 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 Theater here. It was John’s idea. to open [Mountain Empire Comics].”
Before opening a store, Stone was busy selling and buying at flea markets and comic book conventions.
Stone’s first comic book store opened along State Street on Piedmont Avenue in October 1984. Stone and his partners soon opened a store in Kingsport and another in Johnson City.
The Bristol store has since moved to Sixth Street, the Kingsport store has closed and the Johnson City store has just moved to the North Roan Street area.
“It feels like the end of an era,” Pilk said.
Stone has bought comics at auction in the past and visited Shope’s auction house in Abingdon.
Pilk recalled when Stone once told him he had attended an auction in Johnson City. Stone said Steven Spielberg and Michael Jackson had representatives hoping to purchase items.
“Did you overbid? Pilk asked Stone.
No, Stone couldn’t outbid the two celebrities.
The financial aspect of collecting comics was “the least important part” for Stone, Pilk said. He was particularly interested in people, he added.
All but four lots were sold at auction. The most successful lot included a collection of horror books that sold for $800, Shope said.
“It was a very successful sale,” Shope said Saturday night.
Around 70% of items sold to online buyers, but many of those who participated placed bids throughout the day.
Jim Jurgensen, a former Pennsylvania comic book store owner, traveled from Charlotte, North Carolina to attend the auction. He had heard about the event and started researching the collection online.
The collector purchased several items, including a large number of “Dark Shadows” and Boris Karloff issues, as well as a set of 10 “Beverly Hillbillies” books.
Shope said he plans to auction off more Stone items in the future, including comic book and movie memorabilia.
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