Thursday, March 31, 2005

Lamont Larson

Joe Tricarichi found the collection. Jon Berk found the collector.

When Tricarichi, a Cleveland dealer, unearthed Larson's distinctively marked collection of 1,000 Golden Age books in the early '70s, he jealously guarded the identity of the original owner. It took Berk, the president of the American Association of Comic Collectors in 1994, to track Larson down, not far from where Larson grew up in Nebraska.

Born in 1927, Larson began reading comic books in 1936, picking up his favorite issues at the Cruetz Drug Store. Because the kid periodically missed a comic, store owner Fred Cruetz said, "I'll tell you what: We'll put your name on them...and when you want to come in and get them, they'll be here."

To reserve the comics, two store employees- Tryg Hagen and Cecil Coop - would scrawl his name on the covers. Larson told Berk that Hagen wrote either "Lamont" or "Larson" in a flowing cursive," while Coop, who came on staff after Hagen died in 1940, wrote "Larson" in a somewhat tighter script. The initials on some of the comics - "PN" for Publishers NEws and "ON" for Omaha News - marked the distributors to which unsold books would be returned.

Larson stopped reading the funny books in 1941, but he carefully stored his comics in a box. That box ended up in a Nebraska barn for most of the next 30 years. The comics were eventually purchased by antique dealer Dwaine Nelson, who in turn sold the collection for less than $100.

The condition of the Larson books varies, often falling far short of the Mile Highs, but the two characteristics of the collection- its original owner and the length of time it remained intact- warrant its pedigree.

--Comics: Between the Panels

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