Vintage comic book values have waxed and waned with the ups and downs of the roller coaster that we call world economics as well as with pop culture's level of interest in the storytelling medium. Comic books are one of those rare categories of collectibles that can simultaneously bring in nothing at all at auction and also make a person insanely rich in a private sale. Now, if you've ever thought about selling off some of your dad's childhood comics to pay for your rent, you're not alone. But, to make sure that you're getting the most money for your efforts, there are a few things that you need to know first.
What Is Comic Book Grading?
Comic book grading is a standardized process that appraisers and dealers utilize when they're looking over a comic book to measure its quality/condition. Dealers and sellers use these grades to quantify how much an individual comic book is worth. Currently, the Comics Guaranty Company's (CGC) set of standards is the most widely used of these criteria.
The Criteria Used to Grade Your Comics
Unfortunately, CGC doesn't actually release what the specific criteria that they use are, but there're a few general characteristics that they're sure to investigate during their assessments that you can actually check out on your own. Some of these criteria may include:
- Completeness - Comics with all of their pages will be graded higher than those with missing content.
- Storage - If the comic comes with its original packaging (if there was any) such as the cardboard backing or wrappings, then it's likely to have incurred very little wear and tear since it was first released, making it worthy of a higher grade than those that've been well-loved.
- Stains - With something as flimsy as a comic book, it's inevitable that there's going to be some staining that happens over time. The least amount of staining possible in your book will give it a high grade.
- Ink Saturation - If the ink has begun to fade or smudge, then your comic will receive a lower grade than those with vibrant colors.
How to Break Down the Comic Book Grading Scale
If you decide to get your comic books officially graded (which is highly important if you think you have a valuable edition on your hands), then you should know that you'll receive a grade much like the ones listed below. Most companies and dealers use a 10 point system, but CGC uses a more in-depth way to officiate their claims. The CGC's grades describe the comic book's condition, and both buyers and sellers will use these to not only attribute value to your comics but as a common parlance when referring to anything in their collection. Of course, a grade 10 comic--which is the highest mint possible-- will fetch significantly more money than the same comic that only has a grade 4.
- 10.0 Gem Mint
- 9.9 Mint
- 9.8 Near Mint/Mint
- 9.6 Near Mint +
- 9.4 Near Mint
- 9.2 Near Mint -
- 9.0 Very Fine/Near Mint
- 8.5 Very Fine +
- 8.0 Very Fine
- 7.5 Very Fine -
- 7.0 Fine/Very Fine
- 6.5 Fine +
- 6.0 Fine
- 5.5 Fine -
- 5.0 Very Good/Fine
- 4.5 Very Good +
- 4.0 Very Good
- 3.5 Very Good -
- 3.0 Good/Very Good
- 2.5 Good +
- 2.0 Good
- 1.8 Good -
- 1.5 Fair/Good
- 1.0 Fair
- .5 Poor
Quick Tips for Determining Comic Book Value in the Wild
During the Golden Age and Bronze Age of Comics, comic books were easy and cheap to print, meaning that there was an onslaught of them shooting off the presses and being sent to shelves around the world every day. Due to this, there're unmeasurable numbers of vintage comic books taking up space around the world. Because of this, you've probably tried to sift through a few of these rogue thrift store boxes a time or two and gotten discouraged by the overwhelming amount.
However, the next time that you find yourself peering into the depths of another dusty stack of vintage comics, remember these quick tips to help you separate the valuable from the (monetarily) worthless ones.
- Check the original price - If you look at the upper corners of the comic book covers, you should find a notation describing the comic book's original cost. Comics that say that they were sold for only a few pennies usually come from the Golden Age of Comics, and comics from this period have a higher chance of being worth something than those from, say, the '90s do.
- Look at the issue number - The lower an issue number, the higher chance you have of it being worth something. This is especially true for popular comic book series such as those detailing superheroes' exploits like Batman, Spiderman, and Wonder Woman, to name but a few.
- See if you recognize any of the characters - Comics that feature popular characters (even if they're not in their titular series), can be worth quite a bit more than your obscure indie releases. Thus, a Batman comic with Catwoman's first appearance is going to have a substantially higher value than one with the practically unknown Sterling Silversmith's first appearance.
Vintage Comic Book Price Guide Complexities
While there're a lot of fluctuation in the modern comic books market and it's practically impossible to condense all of the possible values for every vintage comic book ever released into one handy chart, there are a few broader themes that haven't really changed over the years. You can use these three criteria as a guide for helping you better navigate buying and selling older comics.
- Find Golden Age Comics - Comics that were made from the 1930s-1950s are considered to be some of the most valuable in comic book history, with many of the rare comics featuring the first appearance of famous superheroes selling for record-breaking numbers.
- Stick to what's popular - Demand is the large driving force behind vintage comic book sales, so you should capitalize on characters or series that're hitting the zeitgeist. Take, for instance, the rise in demand for vintage Avengers comics when the Avengers film came out in 2012.
- Pay attention to grading - The higher the grading, the more valuable the comic book is. Modern mint comics can fetch close to a $1,000, and depending on how rare the vintage comic is, they can sell for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars at auction.
Lastly, Find a Professional Grader and Appraiser
If you're nearly positive that you've got a big-ticket winning comic book on your hands, then the most important step you need to take before you jump at the chance to list it and sell it is to have it graded by a professional, such as the employees at CGC. They're going to confirm your comic book's physical condition in an industry standardized way that you can then use as leverage to increase your book's listing price. Similarly, if you're unsure where to start when it comes to pricing, you can contact an appraiser to give you a better idea of what comics like yours are currently selling for.
Clear Out Your Closet and Make Some Money
Comic book collecting is a serious business full of nuance, dedication, and knowledge, and vintage comic book values can reflect this complex market with their ever-changing amounts and criteria. However, you can rely on the professionals to guide you in the right direction to either sell those comics taking up space in your storage room or help you buy the last book in your favorite '50s series.