Dennis the Menace is celebrating his 70th birthday this year – with the prankster marking the occasion as the cover star of the latest Christmas Beano annual.
The hardback comic book has been a yuletide highlight for generations of children – and rare old annuals are commanding ever higher prices.
The Beano began life in 1938 and just over a year later the first annual was released – The Beano Book for 1940 (released in 1939) featured an ostrich on the cover called Big Eggo along with Lord Snooty and His Pals.
This top hat-wearing toff still makes an occasional appearance in the comic today more than 80 years later.
Running amok: Dennis the Menace, pictured with his faithful hound Gnasher, is celebrating his 70th birthday this year. Those with annuals from the early days could sell them for thousands
Dust down a copy of this earliest Beano annual hiding in your attic and you could be looking at a book worth £7,000 if in top condition.
A well-thumbed first copy sold for £3,650 five years ago at a sale by dealership Comic Book Auctions.
At the same auction, a well looked after copy of the second annual, The Beano Book for 1941, sold for a record £5,500 while The Beano Book for 1942 went under the hammer for £3,050.
Malcolm Phillips, director of Comic Book Auctions, says: ‘There is something about Christmas annuals that brings out the best in comics – they try to pull out all the stops to ensure there is something for everyone to enjoy.’
He adds: ‘The Beano is still the most popular annual and because of its great history and rarity, the earlier editions are where serious investors put their money.
‘But do not underestimate the entertainment value of later annuals and related Christmas comics as these tend to cost less – but should be no less fun for collectors to relish reading.’
The Second World War led to paper rationing, and Beano sister comic Magic – from the same DC Thompson stable that published The Dandy – stopped being printed.
The annual based on the Beano comic books is still the most popular at Christmas
But it was kept going in annual form from 1943 through to 1950 as part of The Magic-Beano book.
It meant Magic characters such as Koko, The Tickler Twins and Sooty Snowball could keep on entertaining loyal fans.
A top quality ‘unblemished’ 1943 The Magic-Beano Book sold for a record £5,600 four years ago. It included an image of a character called Tootsy McTurk on the back of the annual giving the ‘V’ for Victory signal in morse code.
Such comics and annuals during the Second World War included plenty of Adolf Hitler bashing.
It was rumoured Nazi high command considered sending the Luftwaffe to bomb DC Thomson’s factories in Dundee in order to put a stop to its comic propaganda.
Mischief-maker Dennis the Menace only started regularly appearing in the weekly Beano comic from 1951 – created by artist David ‘Davey’ Law, who also gave him his distinctive red-and-black striped jersey.
Biffo the Bear was the main annual cover star in the early years. Dennis did not appear on the cover until the 1955 annual. A well looked after annual of that year can sell for £150, but later annuals from the 1950s and 1960s rarely fetch more than £50.
As with today’s annuals, the books were released the year before the date on the hard back. This means a 1950 annual would be released in 1949, just before Christmas.
The comics attracted master illustrators such as Leo Baxendale, who drew The Bash Street Kids for The Beano from 1954 to 1962.
Stablemate The Dandy is no longer published as a weekly comic – with characters such as Desperate Dan moving over to The Beano in 2012.
The first Dandy annual, released in 1938 as The Dandy Monster Comic for 1939, sold for two shillings and sixpence, or 12.5p.
Today, an example featuring Korky the Cat on the cover can change hands for £3,000 or more. Even a tatty version in poor condition can sell for £1,000.
Phillips says: ‘We currently have for sale a Christmas issue of The Dandy for 1940. It features Korky the Cat making a snowman out of Adolf Hitler.
The sale estimate is between £200 and £300. Also for sale are a number of The Dandy Monster Comic annuals – including one from 1950 that is a relative bargain valued at between £130 and £160.’
Condition is key if you are looking to collect annuals. Near-mint (nm) is akin to brand new while a well-thumbed but undamaged comic may be classified either very good (vg) or fine (fn).
Yet a near mint comic will command double the price. Tears and marks, as well as loose pages, can slash values even further.
Duncan McAlpine is author of the Comic Book Price Guide. He says: ‘The top annuals we looked forward to for our belly laughs when growing up may have been The Beano and The Dandy. But there are also plenty of other annuals for collectors to consider.
‘Adventure lovers might consider Lion, Valiant, Hotspur or Victor while popular girls-only Christmas annuals include Bunty, Judy, Sally and Tammy.’ Early editions are the most sought after.
Annuals about Rupert Bear are also popular with collectors. His first annual came out in 1936 and can sell for about £800 without its rare dust jacket – £3,000 if one is included.
A particular rarity is the dozen Rupert annuals for 1973 that survived a culling when the printers accidentally gave him a brown rather than a white face.
Find one of these and you have the holy grail of Christmas annuals – worth £23,000.
Sadly, Rupert has struggled to keep up with the times and looks dated these days in his red jumper, yellow-checked trousers and scarf.
As well as comic book annuals, Doctor Who books can also fetch respectable sums, with editions from the 1960s being worth more than £100 at auction
But other fictional characters, such as time traveller Doctor Who, have a fan base that continues to grow with each new generation.
Starting life with the curmudgeonly actor William Hartnell on TV in 1963, the doctor soon got his own 1966 annual that now sells for £100.
But the 1967 Dr Who Annual is rarer because just a couple of months after publication he regenerated into a new doctor played by Patrick Troughton. It can sell for £140.
A trilogy of Dalek annuals – The Dalek Book (1964), The Dalek World (1965) and The Dalek Outer Space Book (1966) – can each sell for at least £100.
Beano: The Art Of Breaking The Rules is a comic strip exhibition at Somerset House in Central London. It runs until March 6 next year.