We start the month of April off with the most exciting comic book news in decades -- the discovery of a previously-unheard-of comic book dating back to 1901! A brown and fragile copy of Honus Wagner, Boy Detective #1 was found by workmen behind the fireplace bricks of an old house being torn down in Pittsburgh . Research has shown that the house once belonged to Edmund S. Sterling, who once worked for the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball franchise. Honus Wagner (1874-1955), of course was the famed shortstop for the Pirates professional baseball team from 1900 to 1917. He later served as a coach for the team from 1933 to 1951. Wagner holds the distinction of being the player on the most valuable baseball card ever -- the T206 Honus Wagner card from the American Tobacco company. With this recent discovery, Wagner undoubedly brings a similar value to the comic book.
The discovery was evidently made some eight months ago, in August 2016, but had been kept secret until experts could verify its age and provenance. According to the owner of the comic book, Miss Patricia Mae Skelnik, it appears that this was the first of possibly three or more issues of the comic book published. I should be noted that no other copies of this comic book or of any other issues have year been discovered. While going through the stored records of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, researchers are "relatively assured" that the Honus Wagner series was planned as a promotional giveaway, capitalizing on the popularity of "The Flying Dutchman," who was a mainstay of the team.
In format, the book resembles many of the dime novels of the era, at least in size. Rather than a text story, each page contains one illustration with a two- or three-line description below it, forming a continuous narrative. The storyline follows young Honus hauling slag from a coal mine (in real-life Honus Wagner dropped out of school at age twelve to work with his father and brothers in a coal mine) when he overhears a plot to rob the mine offices. It turns out that this is just the beginning of an orchestrated plot by rival mine owners to destroy Hiram J. Hornstrung, the owner of the mine where young Honus worked. Thrill after thrill follows, as Honus manages to retrieve the stolen payroll, save the mine from being blown up, rescue the young daughter of the mine's manager, and finally putting a kibosh on the whole nefarious plot. Honus uses his wits, his speed, and his daring to save the day, along with a heavy helping of his speed and accuracy in throwing. Honus is also portrayed as being pure of heart.
The author and artist of this comic book are unknown, although reports are that the artwork is similar to that of Winsor McKay. Actual copies of the comic book have not been available for examination. Fans will have to wait until later this year for that thrill.
Skelnik said that Honus Wagner, Boy Detective #1 will be reprinted this November in a deluxe boxed edition from Knopf.
Meanwhile, the search has been intensified to find further issues about the adventures of young Honus. Perhaps in your attic...