Collector Spotlight: Samantha Stephens
How do you describe your collection?
My collection includes nearly 3,000 Archie comics and over 500 related collectibles including board games, cereal prizes, colouring books, dolls, lunchboxes, pin-back buttons, puzzles, rack toys, stickers, vinyl records, and other items.
I have very much focused on classic Archie collectibles from the 1960s to the 1980s. Of course I do enjoy reading modern Archie titles and watching the CW’s Riverdale and other live action shows.
My focus has always been more on the classic design that was implemented by Archie artists in the 1940s to the 1960s.
When and why did you start your collection?
I began collecting Archie when I was about 10 years old.
I grew up in a family of collectors. We often went on road trips, travelling to visit my grandparents each summer or relocating to a new Army post. During our travels, we would stop at antique stores. At one of those stops, I made my first Archie purchase — Archie’s Double Digest #14 — with my hard-earned babysitting money.
I originally gravitated towards the comic books’ bright illustrations as I really didn’t care much for reading then. In fact, I struggled with reading and comprehension, but I soon fell in love with the zany antics of Archie and his friends. I’m sure, much to the delight of my parents, I also fell in love with reading them. I was hooked and have been on the hunt for all things Archie for the past 25 years.
My collection ultimately reminds me of my childhood and what I had hoped my high school experience would be like. I really enjoyed the friendships and the crazy experiences of the core characters — Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica. But I perhaps mostly related to Dilton — he was known for his inventions and love of science. He was somebody I felt I could be friends with.
My favorite character, though, has always been Archie. I felt like he was the most relatable, as he was humorous and kind of klutzy and didn’t always fit in but had a good core group of friends. That felt like me.
My family relocated every two or three years. Having to make new friends in each one of those locations could be a struggle, but I always had my Archie comics.
How do you display and store your collection?
I initially displayed my collection on my childhood desk and bookcases and then gradually in closets and a curio cabinet I bought at an estate sale. But really, I would display my collectibles wherever I had space to do so, whether it was in my childhood homes or my former apartments.
After the purchase of my first house, and in particular during the pandemic, I decided to repurpose my home office space and create an official Archie room to bring everything together.
I purchased several IKEA Billy bookcases with glass doors to display my collectibles and help minimize dust. I use acrylic stands and risers within the cases to add dimension and to allow items to be stacked behind one another and still be partially visible.
My comics are stored in BCW bags with acid free boards on a comic rack or within short boxes or magazine holders to minimize improper handling. Animation cels, comic art, and posters similarly are stored in art portfolio folders or framed and displayed within the space. Everything in my collection — minus my Archie digests, which are still in bookcases in the living room — is located in my Archie room.
I’ve really focused on trying to make sure the collection is visually appealing but also displayed in a way that’s archivally safe.
In addition to displaying my collection at home, I had the unique opportunity to showcase part of it at the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures in Kansas City in 2019. I was able to do an in-person guest lecture to talk about my collection and meet other collectors. They often asked about how I catalog my comic collection. I use Comics Price Guide. I also use a Microsoft Excel document I created to keep track of my collectibles.
The whole reason I have an Instagram page is to create a visual Inventory to keep track of my collectibles. Just like I’m sure is the case with many other collectors, once you start to collect something, your friends and family tend to purchase those items for you on gift-giving occasions. I quickly started to get duplicates or triplicates. Having that visual inventory on Instagram allowed my family and friends to know what I already have but it is also a quick way for me to know if I had something or had found something in better condition.
Each Instagram post typically features an item that’s new to my collection or a newly completed set. I take a photograph of the item and I then document the details in the comments. It has been a unique opportunity because it’s led to genuine friendships with other collectors. Oftentimes, they share their insights on something I’ve posted that I wasn’t able to find information about. There are no price guides or collectors guides that have been focused entirely on Archie. That was another reason for creating an Instagram page — this is a full visual inventory for me but also for other collectors to learn more about things that may be available that they have not yet come across.
The illustration of me holding The Archie Doll that I use as my Instagram profile image was done by Dan Parent, a longtime Archie artist. That was a custom sketch that I commissioned.
What do you consider to be the Holy Grail of your collection?
I’ve long considered Archie’s car featuring Archie, Veronica, and Hot Dog from Aurora to be my Holy Grail. It debuted in 1969. I was on the search for it for over 20 years. I’m happy to report that I now have two in my collection, one which was never opened and the other that my dad built and painted for me during the pandemic. They are on display side-by-side. My dad collects models and toys from the 1960s and 1970s so it’s really nice that he was able to build that for me.
Some of the other Holy Grails or all-time favourites in my collection include the Post Super Sugar Crisp cereal box from 1969. It features a cardboard record by The Archies on the back. I actually just acquired that. The Archie instruments from Emenee that were released from 1969 to 1972, in particular the guitar and the snare drum, are also Holy Grails. They not only have Archie graphics but the packaging is also very unique. The Archie Comic Game released by Mattel in 1971 is very rare to find no matter the condition. I have the game in its original packaging as well as the original cardboard display with the other comic games that were marketed and sold side by side. Hand puppets of Archie and Betty released by Ideal in 1973. And finally, the title show animation cel from The New Archie and Sabrina Hour that aired in 1977.
And, although not as rare as some of my other collectibles, I have a 1973 The Archie Doll that was one of my first collectibles and really my first Holy Grail. I saw it advertised on the back of an Archie digest when I was about 10 years old and knew I had to have it. eBay was still in its infancy then, but I found a photo of the doll that had sold and printed it and posted it on my wall, telling my parents that this is what I want to look for when we go antiquing next. Thankfully, they found it within a few years. I received it almost 20 years ago this Christmas and it’s still one of my favorite items in the collection.
In addition to that doll that I love so much, I also have three others including one in its original mail-order bag. That one’s really near and dear to my heart.
I really focus on the collectibles. There are so many comic titles that have been produced since Archie’s introduction in 1941, it would be nearly impossible to have one of every single comic book. And, the collectibles are what reminds me of my childhood. I grew up playing with some of these toys. Some of them are open and played with but some are still in their original packaging.
I’m still on the hunt for quite a few items. In particular, I would love to add an Archie Club Member pocket watch from the 1950s, Archie’s Fun Game by Hasbro from 1963, and the Archie AM Radio by Vanity Fair Electronics from 1977. Those are the items I would consider to be my Holy Grails today. They don’t often come up for sale, I’ve only really seen them in others collector’s collections.
What advice would you give to someone interested in starting an Archie collection?
I would recommend starting small and focusing on a specific era. For example, the Silver Age, modern comics, or a genre like classic Archie, Riverdale, or maybe Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. You could also focus on a specific character like Jughead or Sabrina. This approach would prevent a collector from being intimidated by how much is available in the marketplace. But really, it allows you to focus on what you love most about Archie. There is over 80 years of Archie; it can be quite daunting.
I’d also recommend setting a budget per item or perhaps per month, especially when starting out. There is so much out there, particularly from a comic books perspective.
You can gradually expand from there but collect what you love and what gives you joy.
I often credit my love of Archie Comics for paving the way to my career. I am a business historian and archivist. I also teach preservation and management of archival material at a local university. I wouldn’t have pursued this career path if I very early on hadn’t learned about proper care, handling, and storage techniques. I started to learn about these things without realizing what preservation was at the time. I learned how to properly store materials from my dad first and foremost, as well as from other collectors and comic book and antique shops. I’d often ask people how they displayed their materials or how they stored items, and then copied what they were doing. When I saw people bagging and boarding comics, I started to do that.
I definitely think you can learn a lot from other collectors. And, if you start collecting at a young age, perhaps it might inspire your future career.
Visit Instagram to see more of Samantha’s collection and learn more about Archie collectibles.
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