On History: Pop Hollinger

By | Tuesday, December 01, 2015 9 comments
Although most comic fans think of comic shop retailing as a relatively recent development from perhaps the 1960s or '70s, Pop Hollinger was a fan and comics re-seller going back as far as 1939. (As a quick sense of perspective, that's the year Batman debuted.) I was going to write a short bio here, but I found that there was an excellent one written in Overstreet's Comic Book Price Guide #12 from 1982/83, so I'm opting to republish that here...

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 96 years ago.

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, ahundred 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. The words "maverick" and "rugged individualist" applied to Pop.

In 1908, tiring of the vagabond life, 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 other periodicals.

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 Corcordia, 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 catalogue 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 corrimunity 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 U.S.A."

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, however, 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, much to the chagrin of his children. 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 life.

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 after 12 years. 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 while browsing through Pop's comic book racks must 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 store.

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 most 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 fascinating information.

Of course, Saturdays at Pop's was the focal point of my early teen years. The anticipatory excitement started to rise from the pit of my stomach Friday evening. Would this Saturday be the one Pop brought out from his storeroom a box of comics he had stashed away years before?

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. I , All Winners No. I , 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 for, 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 for his creative and original thinking: 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.
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Bud Planr said...

I think I read that original Overstreet piece some 38 years ago now. But not since then, so thanks for bringing it all back. I had long forgotten the brown tape of Pop’s repairs, but I think I have a few in my collection. Time to go look.

It’s odd that I don’t see these identified in dealer stocks at shows or by mail. I don’t buy off EBay but I have gotten comics from most of the current players at one time or another. I’ll have to check in with my “comic buddies” on their experiences finding Pop’s repairs/preservations.

Thanks for getting this online.

Bud Plant said...

No wonder you haven’t any comments. Took me five minutes and way too many screens to prove I am not a robot. Too many nuanced pictures that can be interpreted differently...maybe designed by a robot? Aughh! But I made it, finally.

Sorry you had issues commenting, Bud. Unfortunately, I don't have much direct control over how that gets implemented. (That's one of the big downsides of using a free platform like this to blog on!)

I'm glad I was able to bring this piece back for you, though! There's precious little written about the history of comics retailing in the first place, so for those of us who haven't lived it the way you have, getting this type of thing online is invaluable, I think! I wonder how many of Pop's repaired books are still actually in circulation -- how many have just bit the dust entirely or were "properly" restored?

Bud Plant said...

Good question, Sean. Do you know of any more pieces done about “Pop” and his comics? I’ll check in with Gary Carter, he might know if more has surfaced on Pop. Did you get ahold of the book Comic Shop by Dan Gearino? He did a pretty good job of tracking back to what might be the first stores, i.e. possibly Robert Bell in New Jersey or NYC, circa 1961 or so...My buddies and I didn’t open our store, Seven Sons Comic shop, until March 1968. The book is on my website. I’d be happy to send you one, gratis, my customers aren’t eating it up, even with me signing copies. Gearino he interviewed me a couple times and visited once. We had a great book signing at Flying Colors Comic Shop and its on YouTube, with Brian Hibbs and Mike Friedrich (Star Reach), Dick Swan and I.

So my early stores are a presence in it. I remember when I first got into fandom in 1965, Claude Held, who was in your Pop Article, was firmly established. So was Ken Mitchell, and Bill Thailing, who I visited once in Cleveland in the seventies. Bill sent me a catalog, maybe in the eighties, which got me back collecting Golden Age again after I laid off for several years. Haven’t stopped since!

Rogofsky was pretty much a newcomer In 1965-66 but he got big fast. In the right place at the right time, as reviled as he was. Buddy Saunders had also been around in 1965, but he was another youngster...I’ve known Buddy since then, he’s a good friend, and he’s only got a few years on me. I was born in 1952, Buddy in 1947. But Held, Thailing and Mitchell were all “much” older, from my perspective, and deep into Golden Age books, whereas Buddy sold mostly sixties titles...”recent” books back then.

I just accessed an article Bill Schelly did in Alter Ego. Its on the early comics historian Raymond Miller, who was born in 1931 and met Bill Thailing, as a comics dealer, in 1960. I can’t verify Bill’s birth, but it may be 1926 if I have the right Thailing. Ken Mitchell, I can’t find anything other than a few mentions. Looks like Claude Held was born in 1926. So these guys were pretty close in age, 12 years old or so when Action #1 appeared. To my mind, they were the first generation of comics dealers.

Thanks, Bud! I did pick up Dan's book once it came out in paperback, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet. I'm nearing the end of one on the Yellow Kid, so I'll definitely move Dan's to the top of my TO READ pile. :)

I'll have to track down that issue of Alter Ego though. I stopped getting it regularly almost a decade ago now (Damn, how did THAT happen?!?) so I must have missed that issue with Schelly's piece. He's usually able to dig up some fantastic and obscure details -- that piece sounds like it'd definitely be worth it!

Bud Plant said...

Sean, I found it when I did a google search on Thailing. Here it is, the online piece on Ray Miller:


Miller was THE historian in the old Rocket’s Blast in the 1960s ans also write several “specials” like one on Timely Comics. It was very truely the furst comprehensive history of Timely, and as a kid of 13 or 14, in 1965 or ‘66, I read that sucker over and over, learning about Simon and Kirby and Billl Everett and all the cool, weird heroes Timely pumped put in the 1940s. I have a coverless Feature #26, which is the first Dollman, and it has a hand-done cover in colored pencil by...Raymond Miller! He was not the only old fan to create his own replacement covers. Ed Lahman, who turns uo in early fanzines, once sent me a hand-done repro of a cover he did, just for fun. Publisher Al Dellinges used to TRACE vintage covers and run them in his cheaply produced fanzines about the Golden Age.

That’s dedication!

TBrady said...

I too read that piece many years ago in Overstreet. Great to see it again. The early history of fandom is quite interesting. Currently reading the book about the first comic con in NYC in ‘64.

Ballman's book? I picked it up a while back but I've never gotten around to reading it. Let me know what you think of it.

TBrady said...

Yes, thats it. I’ve only ready the first several chapters. It gets a little confusing with many names I’m not familiar with, but so far it’s just covered the events leading up to the con, who posted what first in this or that fanzine, etc.