Review by C.J. Bunce
Abrams ComicArts’ new full-color, hardcover reference guide, Marvel Value Stamps: A Visual History, is the perfect kind of nonfiction read. It’s about a quirky niche that has taken almost legendary status over the years, how Stan Lee adapted Regal or S&H grocery “green” stamps into a way to sell more comics. It was a successful if short-lived initiative, and Roy Thomas, who was there through it all, presents the full story along with Lee’s first British initiative (called coupons), covers of many of the 400+ comics that contained the stamps, as well as large reproductions of them all: all 100 1974 Series A stamps and 100 1975 Series B stamps, in full-page reproductions of each page that contained them. It’s a fascinating nostalgia trip, 368 pages of advertisements, original art the stamps were derived from, letters pages, artist references, and complete albums, including all the completed puzzles of the second series.
Happily, Thomas’s account doesn’t take a harsh approach on the pastime that has cost many a comics collector big money. The most popular of the books is probably The Incredible Hulk Issue #181. Thousands of collectors can tell stories of buying the issue not realizing or remembering to check for that clipped page. At least the differences in the worst case between a clean book and a clipped book are in the hundreds of dollars and not tens of thousands.
Along with an overview of the British series by a Scottish expert on the subject, Thomas’s account provides some rare insight into the Marvel weekly comics series, which many American comic book readers first learned about via images of Star Wars Weekly in bonus sections of Marvel monthlies. It’s all a reminder that Stan Lee was a brilliant salesman and marketing strategist. He was also a guy who made up ideas as he went along, delivering the stamps and making albums available for sale before having any real idea what he was going to give kids for collecting all the stamps. To this day it seems like the highest point was a special event meet-and-greet at one of the first five years of San Diego Comic-Con.
Marvel Value Stamps: A Visual History is a perfect book for collectors of Abrams’ library of trading card references books (see our reviews here at borg). Digging into tangent areas of bigger collecting areas can be interesting and fun, a great way to spend hours with your favorite fandom.
Readers will get the feel for the breadth of Stan Lee and Roy Thomas’s scope of comic book coverage during the 1970s. The comics covered include the Avengers to X-Men, monster comics, Luke Cage, fantasy, Westerns–literally every corner of Marvel was represented by a stamp and readers wanting a complete set would have bought all the titles offered to get them. Again–brilliant marketing by Lee, who also was the king of promoting his own image, making himself the subject of the last stamp puzzle.
The book also includes reproductions of bonus stamps from years since 1975. Many of the stamps were pulled from popular Marvel covers, and you’ll find images of all of those covers, too, like King-Sized Conan the Barbarian #1, The Tomb of Dracula #1, and Doctor Strange #1.
If you love Marvel’s stamps, you might also want to check out the Marvel Value Stamps 2024 Day Calendar, available here at Amazon, also from Abrams. A must for all serious comic book collectors, grab Marvel Value Stamps: A Visual History now here at Elite Comics or your own comic shop, and order a copy here at Amazon, just released from AbramsComicArts.