Who Is Robert M. Overstreet?
Robert M. Overstreet was born in West Virginia and grew up in southeast Tennessee. He collected comic books, fossils, mineral specimens and Indian relics and became a serious comic book collector in 1952 buying the popular E.C. comics off the newsstand. He continued to seek back issues over the decades ahead to complete his title runs.
However, in the 1960s, his first book project was a price guide on Indian arrowheads. He began researching and drawing examples of each point type to be included in the book. It would be a compilation of pen and ink drawings that would encompass the entire United States. But, during this time the comic book market was booming with prices going up every year. Since the relic market was stable, he decided to shelve the arrowhead guide and began researching a price guide on comic books. Overstreet collected coins in the 1950s and knew the value of Yeoman’s Red Book on coins. The local coin collectors and dealers would have a Red Book party every year when the book came out. Overstreet dreamed of the day when comic books would have their price guide and become accepted as a legitimate collectible.
Beginning in the mid-1960s Overstreet worked for the woodlands division of Bowater Southern Paper Corp. located in Calhoun, Tennessee. He was their statistician, librarian and was in charge of their map department where he drew all the company maps. He platted new acquisitions from deed descriptions and produced all the company maps for the district offices that covered five states. He worked with state mapers to make sure state and company maps were the same. He also operated the home office base station radio and handled communication between mobile units, spotter planes, water bombers used in fire surpression and district offices. He received weather reports from the state meteorologist every day broadcasting it to each district office. With his years of drawing maps, cataloguing technical publications and compiling statistical documents he was well prepared to compile a price guide on comic books.
After exhausting his extensive library of dealer lists, letters and fanzines to create the initial listings for his book, he began soliciting cooperation from the leading comic experts, collectors and top dealers who provided even more information. Soon, the style and form of the very first Comic Book Price Guide was created. Overstreet’s very first book, The Comic Book Price Guide was published in 1970.
The first edition was very successful selling around 1800 copies. The world at large was completely unaware of this small underground market. Overstreet’s price guide was the very first to list all the American comic books with pricing information. It was the first of its kind and enthusiastically received. It was quickly accepted and used as the only authoritative reference and pricing tool in the market. It was also one of the first price guides outside of stamps, coins and antiques. It was the first price guide ever to provide complete information of where to buy and sell by allowing advertising to dealers and collectors. Simply by buying this book, you would know the retail value of comic books as well as where to buy and sell them. This single tool brought the whole market together. With the valuable information in this book now available to anyone, the market began to grow rapidly.
After a few years, the Overstreet price guide became established as the #1 reference tool in the market and was seriously used and accepted by the majority of dealers and collectors from coast to coast as well as Canada, England, Europe and Australia. In 1976 the guide achieved national distribution, placing valuable market information in the hands of tens of thousands of people. Many became dealers during the 1970s selling their newly acquired inventories through mail order or at comic conventions. Some of these dealers began to open stores which stocked new comics as well as the valuable old comics. Soon, stores and chains of stores began opening in the larger cities and eventually everywhere. In 1980, Associated Press released a news story about Overstreet and comic books creating a huge demand for the Overstreet price guide with an additional 10,000 copies being reprinted late in the year. The Overstreet name was rapidly becoming a household word.
In the meantime, Phil Seuling, one of the largest and best known dealers at the time, approached the comic book publishers about distributing new comics directly to this new market of developing comic shops on a non-returnable basis. At that time, all comic books were distributed on a returnable basis through newsstands. Phil Seuling began the direct distribution of new comics to comic shops which has grown into a multi-million dollar industry today.
In looking back, the event of direct distribution which saved the comics industry may not have happened if not for the Overstreet price guide. The price guide provided the tool needed by dealers to understand the market, and these dealers eventually opened comic stores making it possible for direct distribution which today is completely provided by Diamond Comic Distributors.
In July, 2010 the 40th annual edition of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide was released at the San Diego International Comic-Con which Overstreet attended, as a special guest of the Con, to celebrate the event. With over 130,000 attending, dealers throughout the Con were receiving, displaying and selling the new 2010 Overstreet guides. The San Diego Comic-Con which started as a small convention at the El Cortez Hotel in 1970 has now grown to the mega media event it is today.
Bob retired from Bowater in 1980 to pursue his publishing career. He added two new books in 1981, The Paperback Price Guide which struck out with the second edition and The Complete Guide to American Pocket Watches by his long time friend Cooksey Shugart. The cover to the watch book was designed by a famous comic book artist, L.B. Cole, a close friend to Overstreet. Overstreet prodded Shugart to put his book together for years and finally he decided to commit. Shugart and Overstreet made a trip to the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors’ museum in Columbia, Pennsylvania to photograph their many rare watches for the book. The museum gave them a key to all the cases and they were allowed full access to the museum. Overstreet has expressed that “It was amazing to actually hold a Hamilton pocket watch, serial #1, serial #2, serial #3, etc. in ones hand.” Later, Overstreet flew Shugart to New York to meet with his publisher Bruce Harris at Crown Publishing. He had a complete mechanical layout of the entire book with him to show Mr. Harris. Harris loved it and immediately ordered 10,000 copies! Robert told Cooksey on the way home, “That will pay the printing bill - we’ve hit a home run!” After publishing the watch book for ten years, Robert encouraged Cooksey to take it over himself and run with it which he did. Today this book is the number one book in that market and still comes out annually.
During the 1950s, Robert Overstreet purchased a boat and began hunting the local Tennessee TVA lakes for Indian relics. In the fall of each year, TVA would lower the water level of all their lakes which exposed the sand bars that were the high points along the original rivers where the Indians built villages and hunted. By searching the sand bars in the fall and winter months you could expect to find all kinds of relics just laying on top of the surface waiting for someone to come along. During these months, heavy storms would come through dumping rain causing the lake levels to rise and fall creating more and more erosion on the sandbars and river banks. Overstreet would be there to walk the sandbars after each storm where fresh relics would be washed out just laying there for the taking. On one such trip he found a Clovis in the morning and a Cumberland on the LeCroy site in the afternoon. On another trip he found a perfect drilled boatstone that had washed up on a sandbar on the Hiwassee River.
Overstreet got to know Archie LeCroy who hunted and sifted the sand bars along the Tennessee and Hiwassee rivers back in the 1940s and early 1950s. The famous LeCroy site at Tennessee River mile 485 yielded many fluted points as well as a bifurcated point that was named after LeCroy. Since LeCroy had quit sifting points about the time Overstreet began, he sold his sifting apparatus to Overstreet, who after LeCroy, began sifting the same sites again although it was several years hence. Overstreet found that LeCroy did a thorough job not leaving much to be found. Plowed fields along several rivers in eastern Tennessee were also hunted. Overstreet would always find over 100 complete arrowheads every time he went out. His first purchased point, a small Cumberland, was from John Parker, who was selling relics out of his home in Etowah, Tennessee. This was long before Parker began Smokey Mountain Knife Works in Sevierville, Tennessee, now the nation’s largest knife distributor. John later hired Kevin Pipes to originally run the relic part of the business. Overstreet met Kevin about the time they were selling the larger Porter Womac Tennessee collection of points. Tables were stacked full of relics and by the time Overstreet was able to make a trip to Sevierville, most of the points were gone.
During the 1970s and 1980s Overstreet would occasionally attend local relic shows and with the success of his comic book guide decided to go back to his earlier plan to publish an arrowhead price guide. He began photographing points, slowly building his library of photographs and finally publishing The Overstreet Indian Arrowheads Identification and Price Guide in 1989. He abandoned his earlier attempt at using pen and ink drawings to using detailed photographs. The first edition was released at the Waverly, Tennessee show and was a complete sell-out. The second edition, 1991, was distributed by Ballantine Books in New York reaching book stores all across the nation. The third edition, June 1993 through edition #6 were picked up by Avon Books in New York. Editions 7 through 11 were published by Random House’s House of Collectibles. Over the years the Overstreet arrowhead books have grown in advisors, pages and illustrations becoming the absolute authority in the relic market.
As the years went by, the Overstreet guides in both markets have reported the market’s growth in an accurate, conservative even-handed fashion. They have shown slow, steady predictable growth attracting more and more investors into the hobbies. When the market was chaotic, the Overstreet guide was always there to provide stability. Today, thanks to Overstreet, both markets are doing well and they continue to be an excellent hobby for fun, excitement and investment.
In today’s markets, the name Overstreet is synonymous with the name comic book and the name arrowhead. The phrase “look it up in Overstreet” is used everywhere.