Marvel Value Stamps: A Visual History

What a fascinating tiny bit of comic history! I’d only heard about Marvel value stamps before in the context of back issues with clipped pages. I had no idea of the scope of the project, or what any of them actually looked like.

Marvel Value Stamps: A Visual History, edited by Charles Kochman, is incredibly comprehensive. Every stamp is pictured in the context of one of the letter pages where it first appeared, with a list of any other appearances, as well as assembled in the collection booklet. Each is accompanied by a picture of the original art source, with explanation when different pieces were combined.

Marvel Value Stamps: A Visual History

Cover by Alex Ross

The introduction by Roy Thomas gives a lengthy overview of how the project came about, including the earlier Marvel UK coupon giveaway that had a lot of similarities (and is also reproduced here). It was created by Stan Lee to encourage readers to buy “every Marvel comic, if possible.” My favorite part was when Roy gets really annoyed with Stan’s idea that they would need to cut up their comic books because he was a “true comics collector.”

There’s a lot of hand-waving around the actual execution, particularly that it was mostly a scam, promising deals and discounts that rarely actually happened. At key moments, Roy’s introduction falls back on “I don’t recall.” That’s plausible, as who pays attention to these kinds of marketing efforts in that great detail, or expects people to still be wondering about them 50 years later?

I don’t have the nostalgia for the original project, but I loved seeing the 70s letter page headers:

  • The Hyborian Page
  • Comments to Cage
  • Greenskin’s Grab-Bag
  • Mail It to Mar-Vell
  • Let’s Level With Daredevil
  • Sock It to Shell-Head
  • Let’s Rap With Cap

And there’s certainly lessons to be learned here about early days of superhero comic promotion. Marvel Value Stamps: A Visual History is a significant catalog of a marketing effort that reflects the attitudes and fandom of a certain time in superhero comic history.

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