A long time ago in a land far away, I heard of mythical, ancient tomes of great value. These artifacts of bygone times contained the treasures of decades past. But, they were sealed not in Mylar D, polyethylene, or tamper-evident protective cases. Not at all. Original owners and comic book publishers locked these ancient writings in hardback covers! These bound volume comics epitomized the stuff of legends…at least in my youthful and naive mind.
The question: will you join the quest for these ancient Rosetta stones of comic lore, or limit your grail searches to comics that can be individually stored, slabbed, and sold with speculative impunity?
Seven volumes of EC comics such as Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt from the personal collection of EC artist Al Feldstein. Sold through Heritage Auctions for $35,850 in 2017. The VG 4.0 value of these 1950s comics totaled $13,663 at the time of the sale.
Treasure ‘Bounds’ Never In Dollar Bins
In part 1 of my article on Bound Volume Comics, I want to focus on some historically significant comics that were collected together four-score years ago. We’ll drool over pictures of items (probably outside our economic reach). But, I also want to look at these “ancient tomes” from an investor perspective. Though these items may appear to be of incalculable worth, we’ll review the sales prices compared to individual comics of similar condition. Past sales also paint an eye-opening picture.
First, what is a “bound volume”? Basically, papers, magazines, and comics can be bound together typically with a hard cover. Check out a video (One example of comic book binding) showing an example of a binding process. Staples removed, stitched, and glued spines, hard imprinted covers. Most of the time, the comic books are trimmed as part of the process as well. Notice how the binding company trimmed the edges of Detective Comics #35 as part of the process. In this particular binding, spiral wiring rather than stitching holds the comics in place.
Detective Comics 25 – 48 collected in two bound volumes sold for $107,550 in 2014 through HA. The spiral binding is not typical and creates additional damage to the comic books. The VG 4.0 value at the time of the sale totaled $311,477. Other than the trim, the comics are in otherwise spectacular condition for the age. Note: the two books include landmarks Detective Comics #27 and #31 along with the introduction of Robin in issue #38. BTW, Graded 5.5 Detective 38 sold for $86K in 2020. The second volume featuring issues 38-48 sold by itself for only $20K in 2019.
Tell Me Why?!?
Why would anyone collect perfectly good comics into a bound volume? Of course, university libraries have bound magazines and trade journals for decades. It’s excellent for storage and long-term readability. Binding magazines like National Geographics for private collections is fairly common. My Dad owned a nice set. I pulled a dusty bound volume of Harper’s Weekly magazines from 1893 out of a speaker case for this article. (By the way, Harper’s Weekly first published Sherlock Holmes stories in America. The January 14, 1893 issue featured the first story, The Adventure of the Card-Board Box.)
With all that history and practice of binding, is it a good idea to bind your comic books? Should a speculator buy comics in this form? I’ll focus on a recent Golden Age example in the market. As we go, let’s also look at what the comparable values would be had these comics been kept individually.
Bound Volume Comic Sales – Winning or Losing
First, let’s discuss the most amazing item actually FOR SALE since I started looking a few months ago. This collection includes Golden Age Action Comics 92 through 103 and features Superman. All but two of the comics were described as VF 8.5 qualified grades. Keep in mind, those grades are qualified, since Very Fine comics are not trimmed on the sides or glued together. Also of interest, the seller indicated it is a DC file copy, likely bound for reference purposes by the publisher.
The seller initially listed the book for $13,500. That price was a premium to Overstreet values for individual issues based on the assumed grades. In subsequent listings, the asking price eventually dropped to $11,500. It may have been pulled at that point in order to focus on other sales avenues. For full disclosure, though this collectible is outside my price range, I consider it nearly as unique as buying a piece of original art. While I think it was priced too high, as a DC file copy, maybe not. Its form makes it one of one–or one of few. You may absolutely jump at this opportunity if it is still available.
Even More Precious by Leaps and Bounds
The Heritage Auction employee who described the next item correctly stated:
Having the opportunity to turn the pages of Action Comics #1-24 consecutively while examining the books to write this description was a unique thrill, and we’re more than a bit envious that the winning bidder will be able to do so whenever he chooses.
I’m doubtful a more remarkable comic book collectible will ever come to market. OK, let’s examine that statement. First, this was not and will not be the highest priced comic-related collectible. I think the final hammer price will surprise you. Next, art from Action Comics #1 would exceed this set significantly. However, I don’t believe it exists. Finally, a skeptic of my statement would say, what about Action Comics #1 itself? I agree that the highest-graded copy or copies of that landmark are historically relevant. But, crazy as it sounds, many copies of Superman’s premiere issue exist. Possibly, only one set of Actions Comics 1 through 24 exists in this form.
So what did this two-book set cost someone? First, consider the comics within are “superbly preserved” with consistent page quality. Besides exceptional interior condition, it would be nearly impossible to find all 24 issues if purchased separately. Also, a collector who obtains better than barely readable copies would pay astonishing prices for each. Now, to temper expectations, this sold in 2010. Did it cost 3 million dollars…how about a million? Incredibly, the twenty-four issue set that includes an exceptional copy of Action Comics #1 sold in 2010 for only $143K. Unbelievable! Oh, by the way, it sold again the next year for $131K. Whoops…what just happened!
Shocked, but What it’s Worth is Still Subjective
I would be curious how it would do today since we’ve seen tremendous comic book inflation. Nonetheless, the primary inflation resides with individual graded comics. Just to further illustrate the amazing purchase by some lucky dog (sorry… envy). The individual comics for the 24 issue set appraised at $147,912 in 2009. Note, the condition of these comics APPEARS FINE and better for some. However, HA lists bound volumes with an estimated value based on VG 4.0 prices as a standard. In 2011, the Overstreet values for the individual comics in VG 4.0 came to $232,000. So, not only did it sell lower the second time, it sold for just over half the appraised value!
As mentioned, the qualified or apparent condition is better than VG 4.0, but there’s no turning back once comics are bound! In truth, some have tried to separate bound comics for individual sale. The prices I believe are worse because they have to be sold as restored.
Final Thoughts on Bound Volume Comics Part 1
In the second part of this article, I’ll review items currently in the market that you may want to consider. For part two, we’ll also compare collecting a bound volume versus collecting similar slabbed comics. If you prefer CGC graded landmarks, check out Sarah Lee’s Batman #1 blog.