A semi-candid discussion of the degree to which Sunday examples of Frank Godwin’s original art for “Rusty Riley” are known to exist . . .

Back in February of last year, I conducted a little informal survey of Rusty Riley Sunday original art that I could more or less locate.  I said:

For the years 1948 through 1954, I noted about Sunday 12 strips (original art) in total. I noted no strips for 1949, 1952, and 1954.

For the years 1955 through 1959, I noted about 31 Sunday strips (original art) in total, at least one for each year (10 for 1957 alone).


Well, I just did another little survey, independent of the foregoing.  I won’t say that the results were dramatically different, but they were different.

In my present survey, I still saw no strips for 1954.  And I saw only one each for 1949 and 1952.  So, those years — 1949, 1952, and 1954 — are still pretty barren of Rusty Riley Sunday original art.

The new breakdown for the two eras discussed above are as follows:

1948 through 1954 (about 6.5 years):  17 examples  (up 5 from before)

1955 through 1959 (a shade less than 5 years):  32 examples (up 1 from before)

I did not consider the Heritage Auctions in the foregoing, in part because they would probably duplicate some of the strips I had already counted.  However, I saw 24 auctions for Rusty Riley Sunday original art, and I think six of them were for 1959, and that four were from 1958.  I saw only three strips from the period 1948 through 1954.  In short, the Heritage Auctions were very heavily weighted toward the later years.

I think that for 1959 alone, where there were originally only about 44 Rusty Riley Sunday strips (since the Sunday strip ended in early November), we can say that at least nine of the 44 are known to exist — none of the Heritage strips duplicated the other 1959 strips in my survey.

Now, you might say, “Tom, how many strips do you reckon are in existence, but are kind of ‘hidden.’  You know, in the collections of people who don’t discuss their holdings, and in the accumulations of dealers or collector-dealers who are just hanging on to them?”

Well, in my little survey, which was not an exhaustive search, I located 49 strips.  And one might guess that maybe half of the Heritage strips were not already counted, say 12.  That would be 61.  And if I really searched around on the internet, I would probably find 5 or 10 more, say 10, for a total of 71.  Then I suspect that there have been another 15 or so that I have seen here or there through the years.  That would account for maybe 86 that are not in the “kind of hidden” category.  The “kind of hidden” ones would be secret stashes and accumulations.  If I had to pick a figure, I might say that another 40 to 80 are in the “kind of hidden” category — maybe even more than that.

You might say, “Well, wow!  So maybe 80 Rusty Riley strips are hidden, maybe doubling the semi-known quantity.  What about Connie?  It ran for about the same length of time.  Maybe there are 80 more Sunday Connie strips!”

But no.  Different principles apply.  Let’s say there are three known Connie Sunday strips (original art).  I think the best you could do is maybe double that.  So maybe there are three or so hidden strips.  In the case of Connie, I have never heard of any strips being returned to Godwin.  In the case of Rusty Riley, it is known that many were returned to Godwin — and I suspect that all of them were, with maybe a few exceptions.  And it seems clear to me that Godwin valued the art.  And why wouldn’t he?

I have seen different figures for the amount of time Frank Godwin spent on his Rusty Riley strips, and off hand I don’t remember any of them, but the general idea was that it was a full-time occupation, and I suspect that he averaged maybe 7-9 hours per daily and maybe twice as much time on a Sunday.  My point is not that he spent a specific amount of time, but that he spent a great deal of time on most of the strips.  You don’t just toss that kind of thing out.

Note:  I wrote this mainly a couple of weeks ago, and I’m not sure whether I included any of my own Sunday Rusty Riley original art in any of the above discussion.  I think I did not.  I have one from 1948, one from 1955, four from 1957, one from 1958, and three from 1959.

—Tom Sawyer

November 4, 2013

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