Pop Hollinger ran a used comic book store in Concordia, Kansas from the late 1930s until 1971. Pop bought and sold old comic books thruout the Golden Age and Silver Age. Pop was there when ACTION COMICS #1, DETECTIVE COMICS #27, SUPERMAN #1, BATMAN #1 and all the other classic Golden Age books hit the stands.
Superman #6 Captain Marvel #3 Showcase #4 Wonder Woman #2 Captain America #76 Spider-Man #25 Batman #67 All-Flash #6---Classic 'rebuilt' Golden and Silver Age comics featuring Pop's trademarks: brown or green paper tape on the spine.
THE POP HOLLINGER STORY: The First Comic Book Collector/Dealer
While browsing through a dealer's Golden Age comic books or
looking at a friend's collection, have you come across comics from the 1940s
or 1950s with brown paper tape on the spine and inside edges of the cover,
restapled and possibly trimmed, and wondered who did it and why? This is
the story of the man responsible-Pop Hollinger. Pop received two college
degrees before World War 1, earned four patents from the U. S. Govern-
ment, and started an old comic book shop in the late 1930s. His story begins
Harvey T. Hollinger was born during the last days of the Old
West in Chapman, Kansas, on October 13, 1886. He was six when the Dalton
Gang was butchered in Coffeyville, Kansas, a hundred miles south of
Chapman, during their last bank robbery attempt; ten when Henry Ford's
first cars rolled off a Detroit assembly line; 17 when the Wright brothers flew
at Kitty Hawk. After high school, many of his classmates returned to the family
farm, but not Pop. He left his parents' farm and bought two of those newfangled
gadgets-a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and a photography camera. He biked
around the Midwest earning money for gas and food selling photos he took
of local people and communities. Life on the road was tough and Pop acquired
much useful experience from the school of hard knocks. Having the motorcycle
break down on a lonely country road was a quick teacher in the art of mechanics.
"Maverick" and "rugged individualist" applied to Pop.
In 1908 Pop married and in the same
year enrolled at McPherson College in McPherson, Kansas. At the turn of
the century, college was not necessary for many occupations. To teach in
most public schools, a high school diploma was all that was needed and
few people continued their formal education. While in college Pop played
football and basketball. To help defray expenses, he and his wife Marie
managed a boarding house and took in laundry. In 1912 Pop graduated
with a degree in liberal arts. While completing his masters he taught high
school woodworking and shop.
In 1914 Pop and his family moved to Concordia, a North
Central Kansas farm community of 8,000, to accept the position of teacher
of applied sciences in the public high school. At the height of the Great
Depression in 1933, Pop, now 47 years old, retired from his teaching job
to become self-employed running a service station. He operated a secondhand
store as a sideline in the basement under Glenn Cook's food store. From
furniture and appliances to books and magazines, Pop sold anything people
brought into his shop.
Pocket Books had started issuing 25 cent paperback editions
of best-selling hardbacks in 1939. They caught on quickly with the public
as a cheap means of reading current novels. Comic books had also just
started to hit their stride with original material being created to help satisfy
the demand. Used pulps, paperbacks, magazines, and comic books were
consistent good sellers for Pop. In the late 1930s with his parental
responsibilities completed, as his children were all grown and married,
Pop sold his service station and made the transition from dealing part-time
in second-hand merchandise to dealing full-time in used comic books and
Always an innovator, Pop used several ways to expand
his comic book business. By 1940 he had enough stock to wholesale
comic books to various businesses from cafes to food stores. Pop soon
had 15 to 20 outlets all over North Central Kansas. At one time he had
five stores selling used comic books in Concordia, compared to only three
Concordia stores selling new comics. During this period, he started a mail
order comic book club where for 20 cents or 30 cents a week a person
could receive five or ten comics, respectively. Pop published a comic
book catalog in 1942. His ads for it stated: "Old or used comic books
are worth money. We pay from 1c to $1.00 each for certain old comics....
Be among the first in your community to collect old comics." In this same
ad Pop claimed to "carry a large assortment of every comic book published."
He offered a "free hospital reading service for any patient in any hospital in
This service was available to shut-ins and recovering wounded
military personnel. The advertising inserts that Pop placed in his comic books
generated mail order business from across the country. He corresponded
with and sold comics to several adult collectors from Iowa to North Carolina
in the 1940s and 1950s. At least one collector made several trips over the
years from Iowa to visit Pop's comic book shop.
At this time Pop made another decision. First issues and excess
stock would be stashed away for the future. Remembering this was 1942,
one's imagination cannot do justice to the quantity and quality of the comics
Pop had. In 1968, he told me that among the many thousands of comic
books he put away, there were 200 untaped Roy Rogers No. 1. This
was an exception as Pop usually put back just three or four of
every first issue. Why Pop felt comic books would be collectible in the future
can only be guessed. Children came in requesting back issues of their favorite
comic. Most people treated comic books like newspapers and magazines:
they threw them away. His ads generated interest in back-issue comic books
from several adult collectors across the country. Noting all this and since he
had enough storage space and more comic books than he knew what to do
with, Pop evidently came to the conclusion that saving the excess books
would not be a bad idea.
World War II was at its height in 1942. With most of Concordia's
men from 18 to 40 years old in the service there was a local shortage of manpower.
Women, older men, and children helped out with many working more than
one job. Pop, in his mid-5Os, volunteered to work where he could be most
useful. He was asked to teach part-time in various high schools in the Concordia
area. He did so and worked in his store in the evenings and on weekends.
Pop soon found out comic books did not wear well under constant
buying, selling, and trading. Also, insects loved to munch on pulp paper in a
damp basement. An elaborate system was devised for taking the staples out,
treating the comic book with chemicals to keep insects at bay, applying
brown paper tape to the spine and inside edges of the cover, restapling the
comic book and, finally, pressing it flat using a press of his own design that
exerted several hundred pounds of pressure. Pop treated several dozen
comics at a time, the whole process taking four to five days. He referred
to these as "rebuilt" comics.
After Pop's wife Marie died in 1946, he slept, ate, and lived
in his store. Pop partitioned off a section
and installed a bed and hot plate. His children tried to persuade him to do
otherwise, but he would not listen. Pop sold his house and lived a bachelor's
Pop stored his excess stock of comic books in boxes stacked
from floor to ceiling. The comics from the early 1940s were generally in the
lower boxes with the later issues in the upper ones. In 1951 it rained all spring.
The flood stage of the Republican River was reached that June. The river's
winding course brought it one mile north of Concordia. The central
business district was inundated, including Pop's basement. After the
water receded, Pop surveyed the carnage. The majority of his comic
books were destroyed. With a few exceptions, everything prior to
1949 was lost. Pop hauled several truckloads of ruined comics to his
son-in-law's farm and dumped them in a landfill. Those comic books
from the early 1940s, including the 200 Roy Rogers No. l, were gone
forever. Undaunted, Pop, now 64, rebuilt his business and was able to
continue servicing most of his wholesale accounts. His business, however,
never fully recovered its pre-flood level.
In 1954, the nationwide cry of alarm concerning comic
books spurred by Dr. Wertham and the Senate investigation caused
a major recession throughout the comic book industry. Each passing
month fewer new comic books were distributed, as some publishers
went out of business and others cut back on the number of titles they
published. Around the Concordia area some stores stopped selling
new comic books altogether. This further encroached on Pop's comic
store business. Since he was over 65 now, Pop opted for semiretirement
and opened his comic book shop only on Saturdays.
By the mid-1960s, Pop, in his late 70s, had set a slower pace
for himself. During the weekdays he "rebuilt" comic books, hung out at the
local pool hall playing rummy at a dollar a game, serviced his remaining
wholesale accounts, worked on woodworking projects, or more often
than not went fishing. On a lazy creek bank with the fishing slow and the
sun warm, Pop would sometimes nod off. Finding it hard to catch a fish
while asleep, he built a device to wake himself up. He attached it to his
fishing line. A fish would bite, draw the line taut, trigger an alarm, and
wake Pop. He built several for friends with a similar problem. Sundays
he usually spent with his daughters and grandchildren eating dinner and
enjoying their company.
I first became aware of Pop Hollinger on a Wednesday in
the summer of 1965 when I was 12. Noting I was fascinated with comic
books, my father, who traded comic books at Pop's store when he was a
kid, told me about Pop. This was certainly good news. I promptly rode
my bike downtown, found Cook's food store, and descended the stairwell.
A ragged old comic book poster in a window proclaimed, "Superman
sold here." The sign on the door said, "Hollinger's-Saturday 9-5." Stacks
of old comic books were visible through the window of the door, and
Saturday was three days away!
That Saturday morning I met Pop. He was sitting in a chair,
hands behind his head, feet propped on a box, wearing a grey work shirt
and pants. I never saw Pop in any other outfit. He was grey-haired,
portly, almost toothless, with a receding hairline, a craggy nose, and
rheumy eyes. Pop called me "Bud" as he did everyone except women,
and he called them "Girlie." I cannot remember him ever using my given
name. His ground rules were quickly learned: trade two for one, five cents
each, or seven cents if the comic book was "rebuilt." With new comics now
12 cents, Pop figured the time he spent on the taped ones made them worth
more. This was the beginning of a weekly relationship lasting six years.
The atmosphere of Pop's store was as much a part of it as
the comic books he sold. On my first visit, I came into his shop out of bright
sunlight to find myself standing in apparent darkness. The musty smell of age
and mildew was my first sensory experience. Pop's comic books reeked of it.
I came to love that pungent odor, and the "rebuilt" comics of Pop's still retain
that smell today. Looking straight ahead from the doorway,
racks of comic books from knee to eye level became visible to me against
the back wall. To the left of the comic book racks were the paperbacks;
to the right, magazines. On the left of the doorway were Pop's desk,
counter, comic book press, and work area where Pop kept his account
books and "rebuilt" his comics. In front of the counter was Pop's chair.
On the right of the doorway sat a potbelly wood stove and a rack of
comics for which Pop had recently traded. In the center of his store stood
a bench saw which Pop used in his woodworking. Pop made all the shelving
for his shop and comic book outlets. His store was small-only about 20 feet
wide and 30 feet Iong. The floor was unvarnished wood stained grey with
the accumulation of dust, wear, and age. In back of his counter and desk
was an empty room. Pop was in the process of moving into it before I met
him and during the entire six years I frequented his store. It soon became a
standing joke. Pop never did finish moving.
Pop's doorway was a time portal to the past. I could leave
1965 and enter the 1940s with one step. Pop's furnishings, from his wood
stove to his comic book racks, were unchanged since he started his business
25 years before. The dust I stirred browsing Pop's comic
book racks could have been the same dust my father stirred when he was
12. The accumulation of time changed almost everything in Concordia
except Pop Hollinger's comic book shop.
Walking into his basement, I usually found him in a familiar
position, lounging in his chair, chewing tobacco or smoking a Pall Mall,
and shooting the breeze with regular customers. Men he had known for
years dropped by with armfuls of paperbacks and left with just as many.
Old fishing buddies stopped in to let Pop know of the big one he missed
out on that morning. Kids brought in comic books for trade, many of them
purchased at stores selling Pop's taped comics. The advertising inserts he
placed in some of his comic books constantly generated new business.
Sometimes former customers dropped by to introduce their children to
Pop or sell some old "rebuilt" comic books they found gathering dust in
the attic. Almost every Saturday, Glenn Cook took time off from his store
and dropped down to exchange fish stories or talk shop. In the winter the
warmth of Pop's wood stove greeted patrons. In the summer a roving fan
provided air circulation in the usually cool but damp basement.
As the old cliche goes, Pop had forgotten more than I knew
about comic books. I had never seen a comic older than the 1960s and
was ignorant of anything besides the current DC and Marvel superheroes.
Pop introduced me to the Justice Society of America via an old All Star
comic book. I was awed by a sense of wonder and a feeling of growing
excitement. Who was this Hourman, Dr. Fate, Dr. Mid-nite, and Johnny
Thunder? I could identify Wonder Woman and Hawkman, but the Flash
and Green Lantern wore unfamiliar costumes, and the Atom was recognizable
in name only. Yet I was reading a DC comic book advertising Superman
and Batman comics! What had happened during the preceding 17 years?
Thanks to Pop I acquired Justice League of America No. 21 and No.
22 which reintroduced the Justice Society and explained a lot of my dilemma.
Pop was a walking encyclopedia of comic book history. He enlightened
me on what Four-Color comics were and how Dell numbered them;
how comic books started as newspaper strip reprints and progressed
to original material; how the comics code came about and the collapse
of the majority of comic book publishers; how DC and Dell benefited
from the code at the expense of other comic book companies; what
EC comics were and their progression into Mad magazine; and other
Of course, Saturdays at Pop's was the focal point of my
early teen years. The anticipatory excitement started Friday evening. Would this Saturday be the one Pop
brought from his storeroom a box of comics he had stashed away years
I would awake early Saturday morning, make the rounds of
the drug stores and supermarkets selling new comic books and the ones
selling Pop's "rebuilt" comics, and descend the stairwell of Pop's store
promptly at nine a.m. After browsing Pop's comic book racks looking
for any new additions, he and I would shoot the breeze. Over the
years he told me about his comic book "rebuilding" process, the
patents he had earned, the history behind his store, and introduced
me to new gadgets he was working on. About once a month Pop
would ask me to bring out a box of comic books from his storeroom.
As I thumbed through them, my excitement rose with each discovery.
Usually many good DC, Quality, Fawcett, EC, and Atlas titles turned
up. Out of a box containing around 500 comic books, I would find
30 to 50 books to buy. Looking back and considering that all the
comic books were from the late 1940s through the 1950s, I wonder
today what I passed up all those years ago.
In 1966 I wrote to a guy whose letter was published in
SpiderMan. From this contact I discovered the Rocket's Blast -Comic
Collector and comic fandom. On a Saturday soon after, Pop, knowing I
never traded any of the comic books I bought, asked me, "What do you
do with all your comics?" I replied, "I keep what I want and trade or
sell the rest to other collectors." A copy of the RB-CC was in Pop's
hands the next Saturday. A few months later Pop said, "I have some comic
books I want you to sell for me." He pulled out a stack from his desk
drawer, all taped. Walt Disney's Comics and Stories No. 1 , All Winners
No. 1 , All Select No. 1 , All Flash No. 1 , Green Lama No. 1 ,
All Hero No. 1, and Young Allies No. 1 were some of them. They
represented a treasure trove of classic Golden Age comic books
that I had only read about, never hoped to see, and have not seen
since. I sold them all for $150, a reasonable price at the time. The
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories No. 1 pictured in The Comic Book
Price Guide from 1972-1976 is this very one.
By 1971 Pop had been in the comic book business 32 years.
This would be his last year, in the spring a fire occurred in the attic of
Cook's food store. The insurance man told Glenn Cook that he was
lucky in that if the fire had started in the basement among all the comic
books, the entire building would have been lost. In order for the insurance
policy to continue, the insurance man said Pop's comic books would have
to go. Pop closed his shop shortly thereafter. He spent his retirement years
fishing and continued with his woodworking. He continued to live in the
basement under Cook's food store until 1976 when he moved to St. Ann's
Nursing Home. At the age of 90, Pop Hollinger died on March 6, 1977.
Glenn Cook, recalling his almost 40 year relationship with
Pop, told me, "Pop and I were real pals. We did much fishing together.
We both liked fishing at night. One cloudy night we got lost and had
trouble even finding the car! Pop had me climbing trees to see if I
could find any lights so we could follow our way out. This was one
night we did not get home until the wee hours of the morning. Pop always
had a project of some kind going. During one Christmas season he
and I made a Christmas tree holder so the trees would stand up while
on display in front of my store. It folded up for easy storage. We
traveled from town to town selling several of them. He had many
friends and students of years back who often came to see him. He
was good-natured, always agreeable, and very well thought of around
Concordia. We had many funny experiences. He was such a jolly guy
and a pleasure to be with." A cynical person might take these positive
recollections with a grain of salt, but if Pop had a negative side, he
kept it to himself. I never saw him in bad temper or heard him speak
derogatorily of anyone during the 12 years I knew him.
During his life, Pop was awarded four patents:
the first one in 1916, the last one when he was in his 80s.
The first patent concerned a problem Pop encountered
while teaching high school woodworking. His students
needed something besides the small desks they had to work on
designs of projects they made prior to constructing them. Pop
came up with a practical drawing board support and sold it to
many schools and businesses. His other patents were for a tray
dispenser unit used in supermarket meat departments, a tape
dispenser for same, and a cabinet file for student records.
Pop Hollinger collected and stored thousands of
comic books in the 1940s, knowing there would be a collector's
market for them one day. He assured himself a certain amount of
immortality with thousands of comic books in many private collections
bearing his trademark: brown paper tape on the spine and inside
edges of the cover. I think of Pop everytime I see one.