Walter Yacoboski scraped together nearly every penny he made as short-order cook in 1979 to begin buying a small collection of rare comic books for $10,000, hoping his boyhood passion could one day pay off as an investment.
That day may soon be here.
Yacoboski's copy of "Amazing Fantasy" No. 15 from 1962 — which introduced the world to Spider-Man — could fetch $400,000 or more when it goes up for auction later this month.
"This is the first time I really sold anything," said the 60-year-old Yacoboski, who wants to use the proceeds to buy his late father's 17-acre vegetable farm in Calverton on eastern Long Island.
He insisted that the fact that he was recently laid off as a supermarket baker after more than 27 years is not the reason he's selling now.
"I have had it for 36 years and it's just time," said Yacoboski, who is also is selling a 1963 Spider-Man, as well as two "Fantastic Four" editions and a "Justice League of America," which combined could bring an additional $75,000.
But the crown jewel is the "Amazing Fantasy" issue, which Yacoboski originally purchased individually for $1,200 in 1980. Its cover, featuring a price of 12 cents, shows Spider-Man clutching a villain in one arm and swinging from his web with the other.
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko co-created the web-slinger and his alter ego, the educationally gifted but awkward Peter Parker, whose life changed forever when he was bitten by a radioactive spider. It paved the way for Spider-Man adventures on television and the big screen.
Lon Allen, managing director of the comics department at Dallas-based Heritage Auctions — which is conducting the sale Thursday — said there are probably 4,000 to 5,000 copies of "Amazing Fantasy" No. 15 in circulation. But Yacoboski's copy is in nearly mint condition.
"It was graded 9.4 on a scale of 1 to 10, that's what makes it super desirable and really special," Allen said. "Whoever buys this comic will be joining an elite club."
Allen said a private collector reportedly paid $1.1 million for a near-mint copy of "Amazing Fantasy" No. 15 in 2011, but estimated the $400,000 or more Yacoboski's edition may fetch could be a record for a public auction of the comic book.
Vincent Zurzolo, co-owner of New York-based Metropolis Collectibles, said the $1.1 million sale — which he was involved with — involved a comic book graded higher at 9.6.
"This book will do great; it's an incredibly important book," said Zurzolo. "When you have a sale like this there is a residual effect on the entire market, so that also makes it very exciting. It's definitely a special book."
Yacoboski admits he never thought about such a payday when he began reading comic books as a child, sometimes sneaking away from trips to the library to visit a nearby comic books store.
The collecting of rare editions continued as an adult and Yacoboski says mother thought it was a crazy way to spend his hard-earned money. His most cherished copies were stashed in a bank safety deposit box — he still has 38 prized editions left — while lesser comics fill cabinets in his Middle Island, New York, home.
Heritage Auctions' Allen credits Yacoboski for having a good eye for what might become valuable. He said while others sought to buy entire collections, Yacoboski targeted what he thought were the highest quality and rarest comics.
"The best stuff always outpaces the market, and he bought the best stuff," Allen said. "That was genius."