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John Jackson Miller and other pop culture archaeologists interested in comics history.


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Chet Krause, 1923-2016: Comics Buyer's Guide publisher, and a titan in collecting

by John Jackson Miller

As many in the Krause Publications community have posted this morning, Chester "Chet" Krause has died at the age of 92. You may not be aware of the name -- there is no Wikipedia page, only one on a currency site but if you have been to the collectibles magazine and book sections of your bookstore or library, you have certainly seen his name. Chet took Numismatic News, a magazine for coin collectors started on his kitchen table in 1952, and parlayed it into the world's largest hobby publisher, greatly spurring development in his hometown of Iola, Wisconsin.

The company's line grew not only to include his own hobby interests in coins and old cars, but also sportscards, records, toys, and comics which is how I learned his name, following his 1983 purchase of the magazine that became Comics Buyer's Guide. I had been a subscriber for nearly a decade when I took a life-changing job with the staff in the early 1990s; Chet came to visit me at my desk, as he did all new employees, bringing me a signed copy of the book you see here.

Krause with the first issue of Numismatic News in 1952.
I saw him frequently following that, as he would stop by to offer advice on publishing and indexing collectibles. Early on as I struggled to find easy ways to report on all the items comics shop sold, he said he'd learned that "the only category in any hobby that captures everything is 'miscellaneous'." Later on he dropped by after we bought Scrye, the Magic: The Gathering magazine; he confessed he didn't understand the product area we were covering at all. Yet he understood there was a market of hobbyists interested in the field, and that meant Krause Publications needed to be there.

Folks in the area also thrilled to one of his other hobby pursuits, collecting many of the military vehicles from his World War II unit. A tour of Chet's tanks was a regular stop on the Comics Buyer's Guide picnic. There are old car and military vehicle shows near the publishing company's grounds to this day; the Iola Old Car Show, every July, attracts more than 100,000 annually. 

Krause at the historical marker unveiling outside his home
(Credit: Iola Historical Society)
Importantly, he arranged to sell the company to its employees, giving them all a stake in its future. The employees later sold the company as it faced internet headwinds; he was unhappy following that, wanting to take his name back. I remember suggesting at the time it might be worth renaming the town after him as he had played such a role in so many lives. Certainly I would not be working in the comics and science fiction fields today without his presence, and I know there are other writers with similar stories.

I did see him later as he continued to keep offices downtown in Iola; a couple of years ago he gave my young son several old railroad stock certificates, from yet another hobby he was pursuing. I thought it made sense: he was continuing to spread the word about collecting. Chet will be very much missed indeed.
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