Long before Marvel and DC characters duked it out for the top slot on the dime-store shelves, antique comic books were elevating illustrations into literary art. While you don't often find reprints of these old collections in modern comic book stores, your great-grandparents might have a copy or two tucked away in their home libraries. If you're lucky, one of those comics just might be worth much more than the couple of cents it cost them a hundred or so years ago.
The Platinum Age of Comics
You're probably most familiar with the Golden Age of Comics, which occurred between the late-1930s through the mid-1950s. During this period, the infamous superhero genre burst onto the scene, highlighting the exploits of characters like Superman and Batman as they used brains and brawn to save their cities from harm's way. However, there was a period just before this 'Golden Age' where comic strips were taken from their newspaper catalogs and reprinted into a monograph format, creating the world's first comic books.
This Platinum Age of Comics lasted from the late-19th century until the late-1930s. Such comic book compilations to come out of this period include:
- The Adventures of Mutt and Jeff
- Bringing Up Father
- Katzenjammer Kids
- Little Orphan Annie
- Foxy Grandpa
- Barney Google
Common Characteristics That Define Antique Comics
According to comic book expert David Tosh, one of the discerning characteristics of these early comic books is their sizes. "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."
Additionally, these early books tend to come in hardcover formats, which are much different from the common thin-paper versions that have been sold for decades. In one way, these hardcovers were a blessing because they let these older comic books stay preserved for a 100+ years. Similarly, they exhibit the iconic stylings of that turn-of-the-century design in their typeface and their cartoon renderings.
How to Evaluate Antique Comic Books
David Tosh attests to the idea that comic book values are most readily determined by their condition. According to him, "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." In fact, these condition assessments have been standardized, and there are several top-name companies, like the Comics Guaranty Corporation, that will professionally grade all types of comics.
What Are Antique Comic Books Worth?
Generally, antique comic books are worth substantially more than your average comic books are today. Depending on their condition and titles, individual books can sell for anywhere between $10-$300. Given that these titles don't feature the most collectible characters and storylines in comic book history, they're slower to sell. So, if you're thinking about putting any of these to sale, then you should prep yourself for a potentially long road ahead. However, if you're ready to go all-in on these comics, then here are some which have recently been listed or sold at auction to get an idea of what your own books might be worth:
Where to Buy Antique Comics
Yet, if you're such a comic book enthusiast that you're already planning what part of your next paycheck you can put towards a new collectible or two, then you're in luck. There're a ton of places online that you can head to which offer a great selection of antique comic books for sale:
- AbeBooks - AbeBooks is a classic online retailer for all things rare books, and they have a surprising number of antique comic books available.
- My Comic Shop - One of the lesser known comic retailers out there, My Comic Shop has a large selection of antique comic books stretching back as early as 1830.
- eBay - Ebay is a one-stop shop for comic books on the fly; however, David Tosh warns against getting rare titles from the digital titan since, "you never really know who you're dealing with at eBay."
- Etsy - Similar to eBay but with different sellers, Etsy also has a small selection of antique comic books available on their platform.
If you're willing to wait to find your new favorite comic, then you can look into comic book conventions and clubs in your area to visit. You might find dedicated collectors of these antique goods who you can buy directly from.
The Do's and Don't's of Displaying Antique Comics
Their timeless hardcovers make antique comic books a delightful collectible to actually display, and the fact that they're made out of material that's not altogether dangerous or hazardous to store, they can make for an optimal decoration. However, you shouldn't ever store your antique comics in a spot that gets direct sunlight as this can fade the ink used to color the pages, and potentially destroy sections of the books themselves. Similarly, you should never put your books anywhere near a strong heat source as the pulp can catch fire, and not only destroy the book itself but maybe your home as well.
An Under-Valued Piece of Comic Book History
Antique comic books often find themselves pushed to the fringes by comic book collectors as the demand gravitates towards popular superhero titles. Yet, these older collections reflect a unique transition in the illustrative arts, when comic strips began to make their way out of the weekly papers and into their own dedicated location. Yet you don't even have to be a superhero fan to enjoy these colorful pieces of history, either.