An original Charles Schulz Peanuts Sunday strip, published December 18, 1966, sold for $360,000 Friday afternoon at Heritage Auctions. That is the highest price ever paid at auction for original Peanuts artwork.
Friday’s sale, which happened during the auction house’s Sept. 8-12 Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction, shatters two previous Schulz records held by Heritage.
It should come as no surprise that this Dec, 18, 1966, comic is now the world’s most valuable Schulz strip: It was published just one year after the initial airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas, created by Schulz, producer Lee Mendelson and director Bill Melendez to remind viewers of the true meaning of Christmas. CBS executives didn’t care for the show, insisting it was too slow for children; they also disliked Vince Guaraldi’s sad-jazz score, and were uncomfortable with using the voices of children instead of adults.
Mendelson frequently said CBS executives were also deeply worried about the now-beloved scene in which Linus recites from the Bible; at the time, injecting religion into secular television was considered a decided no-no. That didn’t stop Schulz from quoting from the Book of Luke in the special – “For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” – and again in this 1966 comic strip that pares down the animated special to its most defining moment.
“I knew this one was special,” says Heritage Auctions Senior Vice President Ed Jaster. “In my mind, this is the most famous passage in Peanuts history. Linus reads the verses describing the birth of Jesus and says to Charlie Brown, ‘That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.’ The most famous passage from the most remembered Peanuts television special. Even at 6 years old, I could grasp the gravity of Linus’s speech.”
CBS, of course, had nothing to worry about. Time TV critic Richard Burgheim wrote by way of advance that “CBS will carry a special that really is special. … A Charlie Brown Christmas is one children’s special that bears repeating.” And in time, of course, it would become required holiday viewing, with its score elevated to modern-classic status. Filmmaker Wes Anderson, who has nodded toward A Charlie Brown Christmas repeatedly in his films, once told film critic Matt Zoller Seitz that “if I had to list my top three influences as a filmmaker, I’d have to say they are Francois Truffaut, Orson Welles and Bill Melendez.”
To make it even more special, this Christmas 1966 strip is signed by Schulz as “Sparky,” a moniker he only used among close friends.