In about a month and a half (on July 16, 2019), the new official Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide (2019-2020) will be released. The Overstreet Price Guide [OCPG], currently on its 49th Volume, was at one time an indispensable tool for the comic collecting hobby. The OCPG is still often referred to today as the “Bible” of comic book collectors and dealers. Over the last few years, however, mostly due to internet resources and the changing nature of the hobby, many have begun to question the relevance of Overstreet. Is the Overstreet Price Guide still relevant in 2019?
My goal in this post is to ask three things. I want to take a look at the OSPG and answer following questions:
(1) What is Overstreet and what does it purport to do?
(2) Should you buy a copy if you’re a collector and not a dealer? And, finally,
(3) Is the Overstreet Price Guide still relevant today?
1. What is Overstreet? If you’ve been collecting comics long enough there’s little chance you have not seen or heard of this book. Overstreet has been around since 1970. Named after Robert M. Overstreet, a coin, arrowhead and comic book collector, the OSPG began as an attempt to provide a definitive source for determining prices for the comic collecting hobby. By the late 1960s people were hungry for back issues. Around that same period comic dealers discovered that many out of print, and harder to find, comics commanded premium prices from collectors seeking to add them to their collections.
The goal of the OCPG was originally to study the dealer listings and come up with a stable reference guide to determine prices. Only a few years earlier a comic fan from Kansas City, Mi by the name of Jerry Gwin Bails (1933-2006) was organizing fanzines and, based on his data, published his Collector’s Guide to the First Heroic Age. Familiar with Bails’ work, Overstreet contacted him and made use of his data to produce what was termed the ‘definitive guide’ to the value of existing comics. First published in November of 1970, with a print run of exactly 1000 saddle-stitched copies, the OCPG was almost immediately welcomed by collectors as an indispensable tool for gaining insight into the value of comics. So popular was the Guide that only six years later, it was picked up for national distribution (see here for more details about the OCPG background). The Oversteet Guide is currently distributed by Gemstone publishing, a subsidiary of Steve Geppi’s Diamond Distributors.
2. Do you need Overstreet? Strictly speaking, if you just buy titles from your LCS and read them as they appear, month by month, you don’t really need Overstreet. If you collect or speculate on the value of your books (and most collectors ARE de facto speculators when they seek to buy or sell back issues) things are different. Causal or serious collectors will want a copy of the OCPG for a few reasons. First, it is a helpful tool to have for understanding the market. Overstreet is an important source of information, and information is essential to understanding the hobby. Also, the OCPG is not only a source for determining the value of books but is supplemented with an abundant number of essays from collectors and dealers who have experience in the hobby. Obviously, the OCPG’s data is not etched in stone- if that were so, the editions wouldn’t need to be updated every twelve months. This brings us to the last question of this post: is Overstreet still relevant?
3. What is Overstreet’s Relevance Today? The main complaint about the Overstreet Guide today is that electronic and immediately available records of sales prices for comics (from eBay and numerous online price guides – like GoCollect.com), have rendered Overstreet obsolete.
This complaint assumes two things. First, that the only thing needed for determining the value of a comic is the last known record of the price it sold for. This is short-sighted. For one thing, outlier sales happen all the time. These will affect data and can, in the short-term, distort fair market value. What this means is that myopically focusing on the last known sales price of a comic cannot foster deeper understanding of long term price trends. The OCPG data, by contrast, extends back to before digital records and, importantly, what the Guide offers is not the same thing as an authoritative fixed price for any book. This is the second assumption often made about the guide. Namely, that the OCPG promotes itself as some kind of infallible authority about the value of any given comic. Overstreet, as its name implies, is a ‘Price Guide’, I understand this to mean that it gives a framework for determining basic values for given comics over a period of time. Since values are complex and affected by psychology and other market forces, short of price fixing by the government (which would be disastrous in the long run), there is no objective fixed price for any comic.
Why is Ms. Marvel #1 (Jan. 1977) in certified 9.8 grade, worth ten times more than Omega the Unknown #1 (Feb. 1976)? The discrepancy is certainly not due to supply, age or the artistic merit of those books. Other factors, complex and multiple (including pop culture exposure, cultural trends, desirability and other intangible factors) all play a role in what a given book sells for.
In sum, in the complex world of modern comic collecting, Overstreet is no longer the only game in town, nor is it the only tool a dealer or collector needs. That said, it still has a role to play and I think the OCPG is still relevant today for helping provide context about the hobby as well as acting as a framework that can give an indication of trends and the long term value of modern comic books.