H&H: A Memoir of Seeking Back Issue Marvel Comics in Second-Hand Stores About 50 Years Ago


Well-Known Member
Aug 21, 2010
H&H: A Memoir

In 1976 I returned to Coos Bay, Oregon. I visited an old friend and took pictures at the beach. I photographed the formal gardens at Shore Acres and took pictures at Mingus Park downtown. Also, I took two pictures of an old building, on 785 South Broadway, about a block from the then-decaying waterfront. Nearby were the Blue Moon Tavern and the Jungle Room, the Black and White Dollarteria, a trash-specked vacant lot, an Arctic Circle drive-in, and the Sunset Automatic Music Company, where you could buy 45 rpm singles of pop music.

The building that I photographed was a small one-story box painted pastel green, the color of old school cafeterias. Its door was set back in a dent in the box a couple of feet from the gritty sidewalk. Through the storefront windows, one could see an anonymous tangle of dark objects hunching away into blackness at the back. At the bottom of one of the windows lay dead flies and a sign painted on a plywood rectangle: in red letters on dingy white, MAGAZINES. If you had looked up from the window, you would have seen a wooden sign projecting over the sidewalk, reading H&H. On the front of the building itself, reddish-brown letters spelled out H&H FURNITURE Co. It was a junk shop, a second-hand store.

I was glad that H&H hadn’t changed since I moved away from Coos Bay seven years before. There were many changes in town – a new downtown mall, an impressive new hospital, a new driveway at the house on Cottonwood Avenue where I used to live. A mucky pond I had played by, but never in, a stagnant pool with black snags sticking out above dark water, had been filled in and leveled over with raw, yellow-brown clay for a new road. There used to be a trail in the upper part of Mingus Park, where firs grew close together and ferns and shrubs too dense to pass through pushed in on the path, so that only two or three people could walk abreast – now, that erosion-grooved trail was gone, widened out by a bulldozer so that a car could easily pass along the smooth, flat road.

But H&H hadn’t changed. I was glad to have photographed it as it was when I was on the threshold of my teens. Although I neglected to take pictures of the two houses in which I’d lived, I had H&H securely on film, images of my past captured.


While I lived in Coos Bay, I became addicted to comic books. This fascination wasn’t promiscuous. I was interested only in the production of the Marvel Comics Group, such as Thor, Spider-Man, and the Avengers. They really weren’t terribly different from or superior to the comics produced by Marvel’s competitors, but at the time it was to Marvel that I gave allegiance – passionate allegiance.

All of the Marvel characters lived in the same universe. Many of them had their own magazines, but crossovers to guest-star in other comics were common. You might start reading only, say, Thor, but to keep up with his adventures you might need to buy an issue of Daredevil. Not only the heroes flew, swam, rocketed, teleported, or bounded in mile-high leaps into other heroes’ books; the bad guys circulated too. Dr. Doom was traditionally the enemy of the Fantastic Four, but he might appear for a few issues in Daredevil’s magazine to exchange bodies with the blind superhero. Or Thor’s foe Loki, the Norse god of mischief, might bedevil Spider-man for an issue or two. Characters allied themselves with each other, fought each other, even married each other: for example, a superhero who could attain enormous height as Goliath married a superheroine who could shrink to insect size as the Wasp. And all of these crossovers and first appearances and adventures might be referred to in footnotes in later issues.

Month after month, Marvel added to its immense imaginary history. There were maybe fifteen installments in this history per month (fifteen comics=fifteen installments), not counting Marvel’s reprint comics. Sensing this imaginarium, a young reader didn’t want to miss anything.

I didn’t merely read the comics. I studied them, piecing together the complex picture of Marvel history, noting not only the exploits of the good guys and the villains, but the changes in artists, writers, even letterers. I bought the new issues as soon as they appeared on the magazine racks at McKay’s markets, or Lucky Thirteen, or Bayway Market. I eventually cottoned to the typical sequence – which new issues would appear together. Thus, if the new issues of three titles had appeared but a fourth that customarily also appeared at that time didn’t appear on the stands, I might see if I could get my dad to stop at a store in Empire or Coquille on a family outing. It shows how important these things were to me that, to this day, I seem to remember that I bought my issue of Thor#142 in Coquille (at a Safeway?) on a family excursion. If I missed an issue locally, I might ask my fellow Marvel fan friend to look out for a copy for me if he were making a trip to his orthodontist in Eugene. …I remember that I could hardly wait to get my hands on the new issues. The comics were supplied through a distributor and dropped off at stores in fat wire-bound bundles. Memory is uncertain, but I may have taken comics occasionally before they had been put on the stands. If someone in the story was supposed to count the comics to verify the arrival of a stated number, he may have come up short from time to time… My memory has been that Tuesdays were magazine delivery days.

Much had happened in the Marvel universe before I began collecting with Thor #140, dated March 1967 and, so, probably sold in January of that year. Marvel’s line of superhero comics dated back to 1961. I’d missed hundreds of issues. Somehow – I wish I remembered how – I found out that H&H bought and sold used comics. I think they cost a nickel each; this was when new issues cost 12c (although the thick reprint comics were 25c each).

H&H became one of my haunts. Once or twice each week, maybe once after school and again Saturday morning, I descended on the store, allowance (or what was left of it) at the ready. After a while, the proprietor recognized my interest. “Any new ones?” I might ask; “Yeah, got a few,” he might reply.

The floor of H&H was boards. My memory is that they were black and oily-looking. I think now that they had probably been treated with some kind of fluid to discourage termites from eating the wood. I’m not sure that the boards had been planed smooth, as you would encounter with, say, 2x4s at a lumber supply business; my impression is that the boards were wider than that and the wood was still somewhat rough, although perhaps they had been smooth once and were now worn. Anyway, I hastened to the corner in that dark, grimy, cold, musty room where a stack of beat-up comics, most of which I would have combed through on my last few visits, awaited me. Sometimes treasures turned up, issues from two or three years ago. For years I have wondered how it came about that this comics appeared every so often, never more than a few at a time – as if some mysterious person were doling them out.

Somehow I learned that the proprietor’s name was Elmer Newton. I don’t remember how. My memory is that he often wore fatigues and army-type boots, so now I wonder if he was a disabled veteran. Or perhaps he had worked in the logging industry and been injured. Perhaps he was a man who just didn’t have a lot of opportunity and ambition. Surely he sold hardly anything; how did he make the rent? I don’t remember ever seeing anyone other than himself in the store, although I couldn’t swear to it that no one else ever was there. He was perhaps in his thirties, with a crew cut, glasses, perhaps a fairly solid build. When I bought something, he gave me change from his pants pocket rather than from a cash register. He was quiet, perhaps forlorn, harmless. We never attempted to get into a conversation. Years later, perusing a 1968 city directory, I discovered that Newton’s residence was the same as H&H’s address. H&H was where he lived. He must have slept in a back room. I now think there may have been something of a smell of sweat. Perhaps Newton had only a sink and washed himself with a towel, lacking a shower or bathtub. I don’t know.

It was, I think, only after my family moved from Coos Bay in 1969 that I began to order comics from dealers who served the collector market. Howard M. Rogofsky’s catalog was a thing of dreams, for all its humble appearance. His prices (laughably low compared to what you’d pay now) were far out of my reach for more than a few modestly-priced comics at a time. H&H held out the possibility of wonderful finds for 5c each – even if the magazine was worn, torn, scribbled in, wrinkled and rolled from being stuck in some kid’s back pocket, likely enough with the cover coming loose from the staples. How I gloated over my finds. Now, though, I wonder how many comics I really found there over the months. Maybe it was only a couple of dozen.

Even before we moved, H&H seemed to be drying up and the magic departing from that dirty palace of dreams; but for a year or so it would have been fitting if that crude sign over the sidewalk had read, in words from The Phantom Tollbooth, “Welcome to the Land of Expectation.”

1977, 1979, 1982, 2014


Browsing my Coos Bay directory, I note there was a section for Second Hand Dealers; there were quite a few of them, I suppose reflecting the depressed economic conditions of the time.

Ann & Lee's -- Empire-Charleston Highway

Bandon Exchange

Coquille Second Hand Store

Empire Second Hand Store, 135 S. Empire Blvd.

H & H

L & E Traders, Empire-Charleston Highway

Schroeder's Thrift Store, 1756 Union, North Bend

Simpson's Bargain House, 640 Newmark, CB

Strickland Second Hand Store -- Allen Building, Bunker Hill

Trash & Treasure Second Hand Store, Empire-Charleston Highway

Of these, I’m sure that I visited H& H, of course, and Strickland’s, but I’m sure I didn’t visit most, at least, of the others. On drives with Dad, I might have entered one or two of these other than H & H and Strickland’s.

(c) 2016 Dale Nelson

That's a picture of H&H in the mid-Seventies. The building is gone now.
...And we went to a place called ... uh... my brother will remember.. but, it was 5 cents per used comic, or two-for-one trade. Early sixties, Marvel comics became IT. Grabbed every one we could - including Amazing Fantasy 15, Spidey 1, FF 1, Hulk...* A million bux worth in mint condition today.
This store was not a comic store, it was something else, like HandH it was furniture or clocks and watches or something.
J Riff, if you remember more details about that used comics place, I'd enjoy reading more. It seems to me that in the 1960s and 1970s there may have been a whole "phenomenon" of used book and used comic stores as well as second-hand stores and junk shops where one could look for old comics with a pretty decent chance of finding some, as I've suggested at the end of my H & H piece, where I listed a bunch of such stores each of which was within a few miles of the other. After my family moved from Coos Bay, in other Oregon towns I found comics in junk stores elsewhere. I must mention "Paperback Bob Kennedy's" rambling store in (I suppose) north Medford, because out front there was a cage with a monkey in it. This "roadside attraction" reminds me of the cage full of rattlesnakes in Spielberg's Duel movie. Kennedy's place wasn't a good outlet for comics, though I think I found one or two items, but, as I recall, my dad was excited when he found there an LP record on which was a recording of a march by John Phillip Souza that was new to him, or at least he didn't have a recording of it.

These places weren't "curio shops," such as appear in so many old Twilight Zone-type stories, nor were they antique stores (whether they claimed to be or not), although one might hope to find some interesting "old" item there.

But I don't know if such places are common any more. It may be that some of the people who'd have found operating such stores 50 years and more ago would now do other work or not work at all.

And the elegant lady pictured on this book cover would have been way out of place in the kind of stores I remember.

The store interiors shown in the Google Images I came up with when I tried to find pictures that might suggest what my old haunts looked like, were ridiculously well-lit, tidy, and organized.

For a related thread, see here:

Mourn for Bygone Used Book Stores Here!
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Well we were in smalll prairie towns, and we went to a nearby small city where the comic/junk/curio/furniture/ store was... actually I tink it was called the Central Book Exchange or something.. but it had other goods on the walls... can't remember. There were bins of unsorted comics, 5 cents each. We would trade in a few dozen, and spend a buck each (20 comix!) and leave with piles of goodness.
Marvel comics were grabbed first and foremost, and even then the early DC/Superman stuff, the 10-cent stuff, was being collected, and Superman was getting tired by then. But, the early Marvel stuff was there, so I remember snatching up ALL the eaRly ones... ouch, ow... owww... a millyum bux worth today.... all long gorn of course... but things like Xmen came along and all was great until about age 12 when comics became passe.

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