This comic book pedigree originates from Cookeville, Tennessee, nestled in the heart of the state on the scenic Cumberland Plateau. In 1925, Cookeville boasted a population of 3,600. Fast-forward to the 1940s, and Cookeville served as a charming whistle-stop for the Tennessee Central Railroad, connecting Nashville to Knoxville. Against a backdrop of lush landscapes, farming thrived as the primary occupation. Meanwhile, Tennessee Tech, the local university, was in its nascent stages, featuring just two divisions: “Arts and Sciences” and “Professional and Technical Subjects.”
During this transformative era, Leroy Mackie and his brother Jimmie laid the foundation for a remarkable comic book collection. Leroy, born in 1931, and Jimmie, born in 1933, grew up on South Jefferson Avenue in Cookeville, a stone’s throw from the town square. Saturdays became a special day as their mother entrusted each of them with a dime, prompting bike rides to the town square.
While the dime could lead them to the picture show, more often than not, the Mackie boys gravitated to Marchbanks Drug Store. It was at this establishment that they began amassing the comics that would later be recognized as the Cookeville Collection. Each trip posed a delightful dilemma – a malted or sundae, or a comic book? The brothers may have reached a compromise – you buy one and I’ll buy the other, and we can share both.
Marchbanks, owned by Iliff Congers Marchbanks, was staffed by a number of local employees, including two sisters with names commencing with “S” and “N.” In addition to their sundae-crafting duties, the sisters, knowing the young boys interest, would mark the comics in advance with their initials, holding them for the brothers.Cookeville copies are renowned for distinct characteristics, with the most prominent identifier being the capitalized “SN” on the front cover. In addition, the SMN and NN initials, though less prevalent, exhibit similar writing styles.
Occasional inscriptions of “Leroy Mackie” or “LM” on the covers add a personal touch. Despite Marchbanks Drug Store being the primary source of comics, the brothers’ comic quest extended beyond its shelves with some obtained through the mail as subscription copies.
Leroy, the primary custodian of the Cookeville collection, ceased comic book acquisitions when he joined the Air Force around 1950, marking the end of a cherished collecting era.
The “funny book room”
Leroy and Jimmie’s father undertook a home expansion, crafting an attic space for the boys to house their treasures. Affectionately dubbed the “funny book room,” it boasted built-in shelves where comic books were meticulously stacked alongside their prized marble collection. Beyond the malts, bike rides, sundaes, and the allure of comics at Marchbanks, Jimmie emerged as a fervent marble enthusiast, accumulating an impressive collection stored in a sizable bucket.
Fast forward to 1991, when Rick Frogge and Harry Thomas found themselves at the monthly Nashville Flea Market. A friend of the original owner approached them, inquiring if they purchased older collections. Word had spread that the owner intended to sell his extensive collection of Golden Age comics and was reaching out to dealers.
Curiosity led Harry and Rick to the collection. Arriving at the house, they discovered stacks of books on kitchen cabinets and the dining table, meticulously organized by title. It turned out to be “one of the seven best finds of comics in the history of collecting.”
“I went…and there were almost 5,000 books from the late ’30s to 1950…no Action Comics #1…no Detective Comics #27…no Batman #1, no Superman #1, but almost everything else. Complete runs of Captain America, All Star Comics, Leading Comics, All American Comics, Adventure Comics, More Fun Comics, Sensation Comics, Wonder Woman, and so on…”
However, another dealer entered the scene, escalating the competition. By hook or by crook Harry and Rick pulled together the funds for the entire collection, but wanted to sell some of the collection quickly and sought out Bob Overstreet for advice, who brought in Steve Geppi.
The following day, Rick, Harry, Bob, Steve, and a friend made their way to Mr. Mackie’s. The deal unfolded with magazine boxes being assembled on the front lawn, comics being brought down from the upstairs “funny book room,” and soon, the comics were en route to Nashville. Originally dubbed the “Cumberland Collection,” Rick and Harry retained some of their favorite comics. The majority of the collection found its home with Steve Geppi, who subsequently sold many of the comics to Bob Overstreet. This explains why numerous comics from this collection are featured in the Grading Guide and the Overstreet Price Guide.
In 2019, the Comic Guaranty LLC (CGC) officially acknowledged and bestowed pedigree status upon this extraordinary collection, cementing its place in the annals of comic book history.
Credit: GCG chat board.