Antique Comic Books

antique comic books
David Tosh, Heritage Auction Galleries

Recently LoveToKnow interviewed comic book expert, David Tosh, about antique comic books.

The Development of Comic Books

LTK: How did you become interested in vintage and antique comic books?

DT: I grew up reading comic books; in fact, comics helped me learn to read as a preschool-age child. Like most children, I lost interest in them until I graduated high school and studied to become a graphic artist. At the school I attended I made a friend who had saved all his 1960s era comic books, and I became fascinated with them all over again.

LTK:How did comic books develop?

DT:The roots of the modern comic book as we know it began with American newspaper comic strips. The first comic books were reprints of popular strips like Mutt and Jeff, Bringing Up Father, and the Katzenjammer Kids. These were hardback books of various sizes and formats. Eventually, publishers hit upon the idea of printing on newsprint with a slick paper cover featuring an anthology of reprinted newspaper comic strips. The first of these was called Funnies on Parade, published in 1933 as a promotional giveaway for Proctor and Gamble. In time, the format proved to be so popular that comic books began to be sold on newsstands for a dime apiece.

When the supply of reprinted strips started to thin, publishers turned to original material specially created for comic books. In 1938, the first issue of Action Comics debuted, and the world of costumed superhero crime fighters was born with the introduction of Superman. It wasn't long before such "mystery men" were all the rage, as more and more publishers jumped in. By the time of World War II, almost everybody was buying and reading comic books.

Collecting Antique Comic Books

LTK: When is a comic book considered antique?

DT: There are certain years that comic book collectors refer to as "Ages" - 1936 to 1955 is generally considered the Golden Age of comics; 1956 to 1969 is the Silver Age; 1970 to 1979 is the Bronze Age; and everything after is considered Modern Age.

We here at Heritage generally look for comics published before 1965. In 1966, with the introduction of the Batman TV series and the Pop Art trend, more and more people saved their old comic books. Before that, they were looked upon as disposable, cheap entertainment aimed mostly at children. Although there were plenty of old comics saved before 1965, very few copies in unused condition from that time are found, and those that do turn up command premium prices from collectors today.

LTK: Is there a difference between a vintage comic book and an antique one?

DT: Other than stylistic changes, the biggest difference is one of size. A typical comic book in 1940 was 64 pages, and measured approximately 7-1/2" x 10-1/8". Today, most comic books are 32 pages, and measure 6-5/8" x 10-1/8". Of course, the cover price has changed a lot, too - from ten cents to $2.99 and more.

LTK: How are antique comic books evaluated?

DT: The value is determined by condition, much like with rare coins. It's mostly about the amount of visible handling wear on the covers. A comic book that looks basically brand-new, never-read, no matter how old it is, will be what the collector wants.

Most important, collectible comics are now sold with certified grades, and encapsulated in a hard plastic case. There are several companies that professionally grade comics; Heritage uses Comics Guaranty Corporation (CGC).

LTK: What is the best way to store and display them?

DT: In addition to having the books hermetically sealed by CGC, comics are also kept in Mylar sleeves. A rigid, acid-free cardboard backer is kept with the book to avoid it getting bent, and special boxes are sold at comic stores to keep your books in. Displaying is another story; I really don't recommend it. Any exposure to direct sunlight can fade comic colors over time, and it's not a good idea to let everyone know that funny book up on your wall could be sold for hundreds or thousands of dollars.

LTK: What makes a comic book collectible?

DT: It's like any other commodity - supply and demand. A certain old comic may be extremely rare, with only a few copies known to exist, but if no one wants to collect that title, it won't bring much. On the other hand, there may be thousands of copies of Amazing Spider-Man #129 still floating around out there, but as long as collectors want the first appearance of the Punisher, nice copies are going to sell for good money.

That's not to say the whole thing couldn't reverse itself in time - if the Punisher fades in popularity, the AS-M #129 book could go down in price, while that obscure book might be discovered by someone writing a blog, and suddenly, the demand goes up, along with the asking price.

LTK: Who are the most popular collectible comic book characters?

DT: There are all sorts of popular comic characters. The big-name superheroes like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America and Wonder Woman are always popular, but so are Archie and his Riverdale pals Jughead, Betty and Veronica. There are certain characters that come and go, and sometimes come back again, like Captain Marvel. He was huge in the 1940s, often outselling Superman, but dropped out of sight in the mid-1950s. In the early 1970s, he was brought back, and sold pretty well… for a while. Sometimes, a popular movie will revive interest in a comic book character.

LTK: What should a novice collector look for?

DT: When shopping for old comics, do your homework, and research what you're looking for. Go to a comic book convention with your want list in hand and try to do a little comparative shopping - often, more than one dealer with have copies of the same book, so look at everything you can before spending your money. Buy what you like, not just what seems like the hottest thing at any given moment.

LTK: Where is the best place to shop for comic books?

DT: I don't think you can go wrong with a good auction house, like Heritage. It's the place to look for the best items currently on the market, and you can shop from the comfort of your own home. Plus, if something isn't right with your purchase, you can send it back in for a refund. You can't do that after buying a comic at a big comic convention, only to find it's missing a centerfold after you get it home.

LTK: Is shopping on eBay for comics a good idea or not?

DT: For lower-value items, sure, eBay is great. For big-ticket books, though, I'd only trust an established auction house. You never really know who you're dealing with at eBay.

LTK: Is there anything you would like to add?

DT: It's a good time to be a comic book collector. We've gone from being considered nerds to savvy investors, and Hollywood pays close attention to what we like and spend our money on.

For more information about collectible comic books and comic book appraisal you can contact David at Heritage Auction Galleries.

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