I came across an article by Eric Spitznagel which I thought was quite interesting. In it he discusses the probability that those who are collecting comics as investments will never see any real financial gain. Comic properties today are hot, hot hot…and I can honestly say that many of the patrons I encounter at the shows I attend are, in fact, in it for the money. Perhaps the following article may have them think twice about buying comic books for investment.
Comic Book Collection Case Studies
Spitznagel introduces us to Barry Smith, a 44 year old man who collected comic books his entire life. And although he bought comics for fun, he also believed that these books were an investment that would one day pay for college tuition or a down payment on a house. Smith recalls thinking. “I would lay them all out in my parents’ living room, sorting them, cataloging them, writing down entries on graph paper while cross-referencing them against the Overstreet Price Guide.”
Landing a tech job in Silicon Valley following college, he held on to all 1,200 of his comic books, including several hundred early issues of Marvel’s popular X-Men series. Having researched the books on a regular basis, he did believe his collection had indeed grown in value. For twenty years his prized comics remained in a storage unit, carefully bagged and boarded. When Smith was let go from his job a few years later, he decided it was time to cash in on his investment. The whole collection sold for around $500. “I’m not too proud to admit, I cried a bit,” Smith says.
Another collector, Kevin Maroney, 47, of Yonkers, N.Y., finally decided to sell approximately 10,000 comic books, almost a third of his collection, through consignment with a few comic book stores in New York City. After several months, only 300 had sold for around $800. Maroney sort of knew there would be a lack of interest in his books. “A lot of people my age, who grew up collecting comics, are trying to sell their collections now… there just aren’t any buyers anymore.”
The Ugly Truth About Your Comic Collection
Columnist for the Comics Journal, Frank Santoro, is a dedicated collector who has noticed the same trend. “More and more of these types of collections are showing up for sale,” he says. “And they’re becoming more and more devalued. The prices are dropping.” Santoro recently broke some bad news to a friend’s uncle, who was certain his comic collection—around 3,000 comic books—was worth $23,000. “I told him it was probably more like $500,” Santoro says. “And a comic book store would probably only offer him $200.” Stories like these are really common place. I personally have been buying and selling comics for several years, and it is remarkable how many enthusiasts think their collections are worth thousands….when in reality they are worth only a few hundred dollars – if that.
The Media and Comic Book Hidden Treasure Stories
The media, for better or for worse, likes to depict comic book collecting as a sure fire way to strike it rich. That being said, the comic books reported are not the standard fair found in most collections. According to media reports, 2013 was great year for the vintage comic market place. Comic book headlines that year featured a Minnesota man who found an issue of Action Comics No. 1—Superman’s first appearance, published in 1938—in a wall of his house and then sold it for $175,000.
Thirty years earlier, a copy of the same iconic comic sold for around $5,000, which at the time was a record. In the same year, Heritage Auctions hosted a comic-oriented event in Dallas where a high-grade issue of Batman No. 1 from 1940, sold for a hefty $567,625. Even the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch website has endorsed comics as an investment strategy, insisting that they were “more predictable than stocks” and “recession-proof.” Vintage comic books, the author implied, could even save a home from foreclosure.
Ridiculous claims of wondrous windfalls makes Rob Salkowitz, a business analyst and author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture, groan with contempt. Salkowitz is also a self-confessed comic geek with a basement full of old comics. He warns that far too many people have been duped into believing they are sitting on comic book gold mines.
Which Comic Books are Really Worth the Big Bucks?
“There are two markets for comic books,” Salkowitz states. “There’s the market for gold-plated issues with megawatt cultural significance, which sell for hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars. But that’s a very, very, very limited market. If a Saudi sheik decides he needs Action Comics No. 1, there are only a few people out there who have a copy.” And then there’s the other market, where tons of comic books are bought and sold for pennies and not a soul is getting rich or even breaking even for that matter. “The entire back-issues market is essentially a Ponzi scheme,” Salkowitz says. “It’s been managed and run that way for 35 years.”
Bill Boichel, The owner of Pittsburgh’s Copacetic Comics, Bill Boichel, maintains that deals involving high-profile significant comics happen in a totally separate market place. “Ultra-high-grade books sell for as much or more than ever to doctors, lawyers, brokers, and bankers,” he says. Comics like The Amazing Spider-Man No. 1—an Ohio man recently auctioned a copy for $7,900 to help pay for his daughter’s wedding—are considered a “blue chip stock of high liquidity, in that there is always a ready buyer for it.”
The old adage which states: “you have to spend money to make money” certainly does rings true. In my own experience, I have seen a pretty good return on investment by purchasing these “blue chip” comics, holding on to them for some time, and then reselling them. If these “blue chip” books (I mean books that in some cases cost thousands of dollars) are unattainable to you, knowing when to buy less expensive key issues (as explained in a previous article), and then when to flip them can also be quite lucrative.
For those of you sitting on runs of Spectacular Spider-Man, Detective Comics, Uncanny X-Men, and any other series from the late 70s through to now, please don’t expect to sell your comics for what the Overstreet says your books are worth. In this day and age of CGC and eBay, you really need to do the research and be realistic. As clearly stated above, if a collection guides for thousands and thousands of dollars, unless you are in possession of one of those super hot “blue chip” books, expect to get between 5 and 15 cents per issue. The truth is ugly….but it is the truth none the less.
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