About two or three times every day I get a phone call from someone trying to sell their collection of comic books. It almost always begins something like this:
“I have a really old collection of books, still in their plastics and I’m sure they’re worth a bunch of money,” states the eager seller.
Juett (my excellent general manager) responds, “Oh really? Are they in pretty decent shape? About how old are they?”
“Oh, we bought them in the 90′s. We have Brigade issue 1′s and Cyberforce Scratch n Sniff Berry Flavored Die-Cut Gold number 4′s!”
At this point we have to politely let them know that most likely their collection isn’t worth that much and they hang up very disappointed. So I figure it would make a good topic to discuss what makes an “old comic”. Comics have been around since the 1800′s in one form or another but we’ll skip all of this because these books aren’t what most people would relate to as a comic book. The Golden Age of comics started in the late 30′s and runs until the early 50′s. During this period we see the first appearances of Batman, Superman, Captain America, along with quite a volume of children’s books, westerns, and pulp comics. Quite frequently even the most dog eared, rat chewed, coffee stained issues are going to be worth something. If you come across a collection of 80 year old comics that are complete (no missing pages or panels cut out) you are probably looking at money. These can be legitimately called “old comics”.
So now we can roll right into the silver age with a little book called Showcase #4 which is the first appearance of the silver age Flash. During this period of rather anemic superhero titles (there were really only Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman of note during this time) it was refreshing to see something new. Sales were great so we saw a huge relaunch of DC superhero books. It took Marvel a few years to eventually get up to speed with Fantastic Four, Spider-man, X-men, etc. The silver age runs up until 1970 and there are a lot of valuable books from this era. There are so many first appearances, origins, epic battles, etc during this time period that it’s very easy to have a collection with a number of big money issues. Condition becomes much more significant because high grade issues are more common than in the golden age. These can also be legitimately called “old comics”.
After the silver age we have the bronze age which runs from 1970 to 1985. There are quite a few key issues that can be found during this period. First appearance of Wolverine and the Punisher…random awesome horror books like Supernatural Thrillers and Werewolf by Night. BUT…in general there’s a whole lot of poop during this period that’s not worth much of anything. You can pretty much roll everything from about 1980 to 2012 into one big pile of financial mediocrity with few exceptions. The 90′s saw such a huge explosive growth in speculation that not only were there a lot of crap new titles…but the print runs on them were gigantic. Spawn #1 from the early 1990′s had an estimated print run of over 1.7 million copies. In today’s market it’s considered significant if a book sells over 100,000 copies. Huge supply plus low demand equals no value. These books are not considered “old comics”. Matter o’fact I’d consider most books from this time frame as “kindling” or “toilet paper”.
In conclusion don’t be surprised if you can only get 10-20 bucks a long box (250 comics) for your “old” comics from the 1980′s and up. There’s just too much volume that can never be absorbed by our current number of readers. Even worse, I can’t even predict a time when they’ll ever go up in value. It’s true that we’re in a huge upswing in the comic industry right now due to movie and television exposure…and we are seeing new people get into comic collecting…but most of these guys are getting into current stuff and they aren’t collecting dusty 20 year old runs of Avengers. It’s very easy to tell someone, “Go grab a copy of Saga or Mind the Gap or Hickman’s New Avenger title.” Marvel and DC are both doing an excellent job of maintaining great “jumping on points” for many of their titles. It’s really difficult to convince someone to get involved in the Herculean task of putting together 200 issue runs of Fantastic Four or Action Comics by going through back issue bins in comic shops.
So bring me your comics. I’ll buy pretty much anything that’s not water damaged or full of roaches. Just please be aware of what your comics are most likely worth to avoid overwhelming waves of disappointment. I love buying stuff…I just hate hurting people’s feelings.
I’ll make sure to tell my friends to leave their Chromium Copies of “Brigade” #1 at home and remind them yet again that they are worthless.
You have a webpage now. Webpages are cool.
I enjoy going into Collectibles, etc. much more than I do watching COMIC BOOK MEN on A&E ‘cuz the guys there are nicer.
While flipping through some of my ‘old’ comics I realized that not only did I have a very large pile of garbage that no one but me would be interested in, I had read many of them so many times they were falling apart. As much as I wish the first meeting of Shatterstar and Wolverine was worth something, it isn’t. I still keep my eye out for interesting firsts, complete arcs, and quality writing, but I now collect and preserve so that my kids will have some well cared for books to pick through. Probably has something to do with a photo of my father with a signed Mickey Mantle rookie card in his bike spokes on a muddy road or something.
Since I single-handedly keep your store open, you know I have a ton of modern toilet paper in my collection. And it always cracks me up when people ask how many comics I have, then what I think they’re worth, and my estimated worth is always far lower than they expect. (Usually untold thousands lower than expected.)
IN TO WIN!!!1111one
Just kidding, this was a very informative article, I’m not really a collector or seller, but it was really cool reading about the history of the industry.
I think you are right on point about 20 year old runs of books and people not wanting to go searching for them. I think the TPB has been one of the bet ideas to help grab new readers on stories. I just wish the pubs would be a little more proactive on collecting older story lines in an inexpensive color format. I have not been a personal fan of the B&W showcases even though they have collected some good stories
“Scratch n Sniff Berry Flavored Die-Cut Gold number 4″ lol
So what’s your thoughts on stuff like TWD books? Do you think they have a chance at holding value or are they like the leather bustier Lady Death hologram covers from the 1990s, i.e. valuable for a very short period but worthless in the long run?
Would you suggest holding on to them or trading them for silver age/bronze age keys?
You’ve definitely got a point, there. I am very new to buying issues, I just started in March this year. I rarely grab anything older than 2000, unless it’s a character I just can’t get enough of, and I prefer to stay within the past 3-4 years when buying back issues. Reading stuff then compared to reading stuff now, there’s less prerequisite knowledge needed to jump in a series and go without feeling lost. I can’t tell you how irritated I’d be as a younger kid reading my friend’s stuff and seeing little “as told in Issue #you’ll never find it of character you’ve never heard before.”
“in to win”
The Walking Dead has great legs. I think the issues will maintain their value as long as the tv show is thriving and even after the show ends the issues will still do well. Just look at TMNT #1…that book is still worth a gazillion dollars due to scarcity and I think that there will always be enough demand for the early Walking Dead issues to keep the value up. I do have a feeling that the issues have plateau’d in value (at least for a little while).
I’ve always said that it’s better to not start a collection unless you want to keep the stuff you’re buying, because nine times out of ten you’ll lose money on it. Very helpful to see a realistic guide on the things that ARE worth some money, though.
it’s weird growing up in the 80′s and 90′s of comic book-dom. The speculative market and Batman ‘ 89 exposed a huge range of people to books for better or worse. I had no idea what consisted of a quality written story then, Just what x-over had a limited edition skybox card in it.. On a sidenote, my rare black foil edition of Venom: Lethal Protector is still completely rad.
This can also be applied to why your box of Magic cards in your basement is also probably pretty much worthless.
Being a former owner of a baseball card shop, I recieved many of the saem type of calls. Someone always thought they had something of substantial worth only to be disappointed.
Well, at least after reading this I can rest easy that I didn’t lose out on big bucks by not taking care of my Warrior #1(written by the Ultimate Warrior). What a relief.
Well now you’ve convinced me to bring in my old comics, kinda. Also, the store looks incredible after the re-modeling, nice job fellas. ZOMG Cyber Mondayz !!!1111one1!1!!
There aren’t many(any?) products out there that will ever be worth what you paid for it when you bought it new. That being said, with comics at least you have a chance…For example, I asked to be put back on Batman for the new Joker storyline. I came in to get my books and the Catwoman #13 was in there. I mentioned that I don’t read catwoman, and Jake promptly told me that it was a connected story arc and that he would put the book back on the shelf but it was already going for like $20 on ebay. I gladly kept the book and asked to get all other books in this arc. The point is there are modern books that in my opinion do gain or at least hold there value, u can get pretty decent $ out of about any new 52 title if u want to get rid of your 1-13 or whatever. I like to put together runs and full series, 1. because i want to read them, but 2. because I have found that Brubaker’s Captain America 1-50 complete is much more valuable than 50 random books from the same time period. BTW, thanks to CE for selling me the Cap series at such a great price! I do sometimes struggle with the idea of paying $4 for a single new issue when I can walk over to the 50 cent books and get 8 books for the same price. But I tell myself that I may eventually pick up the next Walking Dead 1, whatever that may be, and I think that with the tv and movie exposure growing, there may even be a greater chance of that new Image series(or whatever) becoming a hit. Until then, I just want to fill up my long boxes!
I just recently got back into collecting and made my first trip to the store a little over a week ago and I gotta say it was a great experience. I picked up #14 of Batman the new 52 on the recommendation of the guy working the counter and Deadpool #1, after a few pages of Batman I was hooked and had to track down the rest #0-13. I realize they may not be the most valuable but it’s been a long time since I enjoyed reading a comic front to back and then jumping right to the next one. I still have all my old X-men from the 91 set and I realize I’m not sitting on a goldmine but they’re nice flip through from time to time.
You made my son’s LIFE– not just day on Free Comic book Saturday… when he met Spiderman… still talks about it. We are life long Collectibles, Etc fans!!
Because I’m a teenager: IN IT TO WIN IT!!!!1111!!!!
Because I’m a person: I know I haven’t gotten around to spending the gift certificate I have, but believe me, I have plans that will probably end in it all being spent in one trip, especially since AvX is in a big book thing and Uncanny Avengers and Hawkeye and stuff. I blame you all for getting me into this, thoug you all have been awesome in helping me find a place to start reading comics! Astonishing X-Men is fantastic!
As you guys know, Alec and I started reading comics about 2 years ago. When we started, I told Alec that we are reading comics for the stories and the characters. We were not buying them in hopes of having a fortune materialize from them in 20 years. I think this approach has allowed us to jump from one character to another and follow many different story lines. Our motto is “Stop reading comics you hate”. If the storyline in any book doesn’t appeal to us then we drop the title and move knowing that we can always come back again if we decide we were wrong. The fact that you can get almost anything in trades allows you to back up easily. This is way different than when I cillected forty years ago and you lived and died by single issues. Thanks to you guys at the store. You have been a big help in getting us started and restarted in comics.
Yeah…I’m hoping that instead of calling this particular time the “Post Modern Era of Comics” they’ll call it the “Era of the Readers” or something along those lines. Most of the speculators are gone (at least in comparison to the early 90s) so most of the people who are collecting comics are just in it for the good read.