If you read this column regularly, you may have noticed that most of my investment suggestions are for high-grade comics. Whenever I reference a comic’s FMV, I do so almost exclusively with respect to a CGC 9.8 copy of that book.
Does Comic Condition Really Matter?
The reason that I spend most of my word count discussing Near Mint to Mint comics is that they are the easiest books to sell and they generally appreciate at a higher rate than lower-grade comics. Very few comics receive a 9.9 or 10 grade and so 9.8 is the realistic industry standard for a very close to perfect collectible. Obviously the better the condition the higher the value, so Mint Hunting is the defacto preference within the slab collecting sector of the hobby. The sometimes awesome disparity in price between a 9.6 and a 9.8 has inspired a cottage industry of comic pressing – to get rid of spine ticks and minor surface imperfections that will prevent a book from earning that exalted 9.8.
So in that respect, condition absolutely matters.
But as pricing has gone through the roof over these past couple of pandemic years, the attainability of near-perfect comic book keys has greatly diminished. Fans who want to add Silver and Bronze Age slabs to their personal collections have had to come to terms with the fact that they just can’t afford them in high grade. Collectors of scarce Golden Age comics have for years had to suffice books rarely grading above a 4.0. We are now in an age when many people are only too happy to pick up 1.0s and even 0.5s just to be able to say that they own a particular comic. That pushes up the demand and pricing on lowest grades consistently.
Exceptions Make the Rules
If you are a condition snob, you had better be extremely wealthy or focused on relatively recent books. For many Modern Era Comics, the census contains almost no data for comics below a 6.0 because those rarely get submitted. Even Copper Age books seem very under-represented in the lower grades. This is because the shift from Newsstand to Direct Market had happened in the Bronze Age and so most Copper and Modern comics being purchased were instantly bagged, boarded, collected, and cared-for (as opposed to being read then used to roll joints on).
That provides a much larger sample pool of high-grade books and relegates most Fair-to-Good comics to a status of Reading Copies. The cost of grading and long turnaround times makes them very poor candidates for submission, but that also makes them rare.
And that may expose a major exploit that could benefit a patient and less discerning collector. If the trends among Platinum, Golden, and Silver Age books provide a template for the future of this hobby, there should be a benefit to taking advantage of the massive pricing gap on low condition Moderns now. Amazing Spider-Man #300 is a great example. There is only a single CGC 1.5 on the census, and the last 2.0 to sell (back in May 2021) sold for $475. That is inordinately high when you can get a 5.0 for only $25 more.
You Do You
At the end of the day, this is your collection and there is no wrong way to collect –especially if the endgame is the pure love of comics. You may wish to own a full set of 1.0 Silver Age Keys, which is as noble a goal as any. Once seen as a bad investment strategy, that is no longer the case. After a 9.6 copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 sold for $3.6 million last year, the FMV on a 1.0 shot up to $30K. Those were regularly available for about $6K a mere three-and-a-half years ago.
The cool thing about adding an investment component is that condition is tethered to value and your money tends to go a lot further with lower grade comics. It’s also a potential bargain if you can pick up a book already graded from a collector who was expecting to get a higher grade when they submitted it. If you want a comic with great cover presentation, you can score a deal on books that are missing Marvel Value Stamps or have Sea Monkeys ads cut out of them.
And that doesn’t even address the phenomena of collecting vandalized comics.
The “Angry Girlfriend Variant” of Amazing Spider-Man #14 is a CBCS 1.8 originally owned by some unfortunate bloke named “Chance.” It had been an otherwise Fine to Very Fine copy until it was vindictively defaced by his ex-girlfriend. It passed from dealer to dealer until someone got it graded and it became the stuff of Legend. The last time it changed hands it was to the tune of $5000! For that kind of money you could buy a CGC 6.0, but this particular comic is now part of Comic Collecting Lore.
The closest antecedent might be Banksy’s shredded “Love Is in the Bin” painting which increased in value from $1.8 to $25.4 million after a prank involving a remote control device activating a shredder built into the frame moments after the final hammer at a Sotheby’s auction.
I am no longer a condition snob. If a thing brings joy, that’s all that matters. If you really think about it, lower condition books have probably passed hands many times over the years via people who just wanted to read them. That may make them the most-loved things you can own, and that’s got to be good for you.
What’s your personal policy about condition and collecting? Comment below!