What are Comic Books Worth?

What are Comic Books Worth?

When it comes to determining the value of comic books, there are several factors to consider. Just like any other product or commodity, simple economic principles can be applied to comic books to determine value. Below are listed the primary factors which one needs to consider:

  1. Age
  2. Condition
  3. Scarcity or availability
  4. Demand or popularity

If you know very little about comic books or are unsure of what you have, the following information will help you learn more information about your comic books.  It will help you determine who and when produced the comic book, and put you on the correct path to determine the value of your comic book collection.

Age of the comic book

In general, comic books can be sub-divided into 4 major categories by age:

  1. Golden Age (pre-1955)
  2. Silver Age (1955-1969)
  3. Bronze Age (1970-1979)
  4. Modern Age (1980-present)

To identify the age for a particular comic it is necessary to find the publishing information for the comic book.  This information is typically located in “fine print” on the inside of the front cover, or the first page following, near the bottom of the comic book.

Golden Age

In a general sense, Golden Age comic books are typically the most valuable comics. Most experts believe that while millions of these comics were produced, only a small percentage of these comics have survived, and typically in very poor condition.  In many cases, less than 100-200 hundred copies of particular issues are known to exist.

Single comic books from this era can commonly reach values of hundreds to thousands of dollars if found in acceptable conditions.  An issue of Action Comics #1, the comic book containing the first appearance of Superman, recently sold for over $1,000,000.

There were many comic book publishers printing comics during the Golden Age.  Some of the dominant comic book publishers during the Golden Age include DC, Timely, EC, and Fiction House.

Silver Age

Silver Age comic books are not nearly as scarce as their Golden Age counterparts.  Due to their availability, the vast majority of these comic books can be found for sale without much searching at reasonable prices.

While Silver Age comic books are not considered scarce, they are difficult to find in near mint condition due to improper storage methods used by many early collectors.  Single comic books from this era can still reach values of hundreds to thousands of dollars if found in near mint condition.  On the other hand, many books in lower condition are difficult to sell for prices as low as a dollar apiece.

Marvel and DC were the two main comic book publishers of the Silver Age.  Marvel comic books were more popular than DC comic books during this time period due to the introduction of new superheroes like Spiderman, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men.  As a result, the population of DC comic books is significantly lower than Marvel comic books for this era.

Bronze Age

Near the start of the Bronze Age, production levels of comic books began to increase.  Also, kids and adults began to learn that their comc books had value and began to handle and store them with care.  With a few exceptions, Bronze Age comic books are plentiful not only in average condition, but also in near mint condition.

While a handful of single comic books from this era can reach values of hundreds of dollars if found in near mint condition, most books have an abundant supply and will not fetch premium prices.

Marvel and DC continued to be the two main comic book publishers during the Bronze Age.  With the benefit of Neal Adam’s artwork, DC’s popularity surged during the early part of the Bronze Age.

Modern Age

By 1980, production levels of comic books began to rapidly increase. Also, dealers and collectors began buying and hoarding these comic books in volume.

During the modern age, comic books ceased being a hobby for the youth, and became a business dominated by adults. In the 90′s, new comic book companies, such as Valiant, entered the market and the amount of comic books published continued to be driven up.

By the mid-90s, the comic book market crashed due to the lethal combination of increased supply and decreased demand for the material.  Due to the severe over-supply, there remains very little demand for comic books from this time period.  In short, comic books from the Modern Age have little to no value (with the exception of a very few select issues).

Condition of the Comic Book

The condition of a comic book is paramount when determining its value. Collectors seek after and pay premiums for comic books in high grade.

The condition of a comic book is determined by many factors including the following items:

  1. Flatness
  2. Spine stress
  3. Staple condition
  4. Cover Gloss
  5. Corner wear
  6. Centering
  7. Surface wear
  8. Page color
  9. Presence and size of tears
  10. Presence and size of creases
  11. Presence and size of stains

Based on these criteria, comic books are given a number or grade rating from 1-10 to describe the condition. Please reference this complete guide on how to grade a comic book.

The value of a low grade example versus a high grade example of the same comic book can be greatly different. As an example, consider the value difference of a 1963 Amazing Spider-man #1 comic book based on condition:

  • 1 – $805
  • 2 – $1,525
  • 3 – $2,100
  • 4 – $2,750
  • 5 – $3,127
  • 6 – $6,800
  • 7 – $10,158
  • 8 – $14,500
  • 9 – $37,000
  • 9.4 – $83,650

The prices above are actual prices realized for this particular comic book in the last few years. It is important to note that grading standards are very rigid and it is very rare to find Golden and Silver Age comic books in high grade, which is why they command such high premiums.

Scarcity or Availability

This concept is really quite simple yet very important to determine value. Why is the comic book with the first appearance of Spider-man (1962) worth a fraction of the comic book with the first appearance of Batman (1939) even though Spider-man is the more popular superhero? Quite simply, the discrepancy in value is because the availability of the Spider-man comic book is much higher than the Batman book. This principle affects the value of all comic books. In general, comic books that had high production levels and are readily available are not going to have much value.

For Golden Age (pre-1955) comic books, it can be quite challenging, and nearly impossible to find a particular comic in low grade, let alone high grade! Because these comic books have limited availability, they are highly sought after by collectors and will bring large premiums when offered for sale. On the other hand, while some of these comics are considered scarce, demand may be minimal and result in lower value.

For Silver Age (1956-1969) comic books, the production levels were high and are most books are readily available.However for comic books from this era, the scarcity/availability factor mainly applies to condition.  To better demonstrate this concept, we can look at Amazing Spider-man #1 (2nd appearance of Spider-man). In low grade, this comic book is readily available and relatively easy to find. The challenge for this book (and others from this era) is to find it in high grade condition. The low grade Spider-man #1 is worth $800-$2100 compared to a high grade copy which can fetch $15,000-$80,000.

The availability principle heavily influences comic book values in the Bronze and Modern Ages (1970-present). Most of these comic books are not only readily available, but also readily available in high grade, so comic book values are generally lower for this time period.

Demand or Popularity

The final factor to consider when weighing the value of a comic book is demand or popularity for the particular issue. A comic book may be scarce, but have little demand and result in a lower value than a readily available book that everyone wants to own. Here are the three primary factors that impact demand for a particular issue:

Featured Character

Certain superheroes have much larger fan bases than others and this affects the value of any comic books that feature those characters. For instance, Batman and Superman are considered the most popular superheroes of DC comic books, while Spider-man and the Fantastic Four are considered to be some of the most popular Marvel superheroes.

Story Content

If a comic book contains an important story it is considered a key issue. Examples of key issues would be first appearances of new characters, special appearances of characters, or deaths of major characters. These key issues are highly sought after by collectors and results in higher value for these books. To look at an example, we can compare values for Incredible Hulk #181 and Incredible Hulk #182. Incredible Hulk #181 is considered a key issue because it contains the 1st appearance of Wolverine. This book is worth around $250 in Very Good condition. Incredible Hulk #182 has no special story and brings around $10 in the same condition. The availability of the books is similar, but the much higher demand for #181 drives up the value.

Artwork

The last major factor affecting demand is the artwork featured in the comic book. Cover and interior art that is created by a popular artist will drive up the demand for that particular comic book. Probably the best example of this phenomenon is Neal Adams’s artwork. Adams’s artwork is highly popular due to the realistic and creative nature of his penciling. Because of the demand for his art, any comic with his work is valued higher than a comparable story with another artist.

-What are my cards worth?-

When it comes to determining the value of sports cards, there are several factors to consider. Just like any other product or commodity, simple economic principles can be applied to sports cards to determine value. Below are listed the primary factors which one needs to consider:

  1. Age of the card
  2. Player shown on the card
  3. Condition of the card
  4. Scarcity or availability

If you know very little about cards or are unsure of what you have, please reference this guide to help learn more information about your cards. It will help you determine who and when produced the card, and put you on the correct path to determine the value of your card collection <link to page (long term database)>

Age of the card

In general, sports cards can be sub-divided into 3 major categories:

  1. Pre-War (pre-1948)
  2. Vintage (1948-1969)
  3. Modern (1970-present)

Pre-War Cards

The first sports cards were produced and distributed by cigarette manufacturers. These “tobacco” cards were placed inside the pack of cigarettes and served as a marketing tool and also gave rigidity to the packs. These cards quickly gained popularity and were sought after by both adults and children.

The first widely distributed baseball cards were produced in the late 1880s by Goodwin & Co. and are called Old Judge cards, named after the brand of cigarette. Tobacco companies continued to issue sport cards with their cigarettes until the American involvement of WWI at which point they bowed out.

After tobacco companies ceased distribution, candy and gum companies became the primary means by which sports cards were distributed.

In a general sense, Pre-War cards are typically the most valuable cards. Most experts believe that while millions of these cards were produced, only a small percentage of these cards have survived, and typically in very poor condition.

Single cards from this era can commonly reach values of hundreds to thousands of dollars if found in acceptable conditions. The “Holy Grail” of baseball cards, the 1909-1911 T206 Honus Wagner is valued at between $100,000 to $3,500,000.

Vintage Cards

After WWII, the Bowman Gum Co. produced the first set of the “Vintage Age” in 1948, issuing their black and white cards in packs of gum. Bowman enjoyed very little competition, issuing cards annually until 1951 when the Topps Chewing Gum Co. entered the market. While having relatively little success their first year, Topps transformed the sports card market in 1952 with their introduction of their bigger, more colorful, more attractive cards. Topps and Bowman would battle over the card market for the next few years, until Bowman ultimately had to bow out in 1955. Topps would enjoy the luxury of being the primary producer of cards until the early 80s.

As for value, cards from the Vintage era (1948-1969) typically have more value the older they are. Complete sets (mid-grade) from the mid to late 50s are typically worth between $2000-$3000, while complete sets from the 60s are typically worth between $1500-$2500.

The most popular set from the Vintage era is the 1952 Topps set. Due to low distribution on certain cards, a complete set can be worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Hall of Famers and rookies from the Vintage era are also popular and have good value. Cards of players like Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron can be worth hundreds and even thousands of dollars.

Modern Cards

By 1970, production levels of sports cards began to rapidly increase. Also, kids and adults began to learn that their cards had value, and began to handle and store them with care.

In 1981, the Topps monopoly was busted with the introduction of two new distributors of sports cards, Donruss and Fleer, and the sports card market erupted. Dealers and collectors began buying and hoarding these cards in volume. In an attempt to gain market share, these three companies grossly overproduced cards.

During this time, sports cards ceased being a hobby for the youth, and became a business dominated by adults. In the late 80s, new companies, such as Upper Deck and Score entered the market and the cost of sports cards continued to be driven up.

By the mid-90s, cards had become unaffordable to kids, and coupled with the Major League Baseball strike of ’94-’95, the sports card market crashed.

As for the value of Modern cards, due to the severe over-supply, there remains very little demand for these cards. Complete sets from 1988, the peak production years, sell for less than $5. Complete sets from the early 80s sell for $30 and less.

In short, cards from the Modern era have little to no value (with the exception of a very few select cards)

Player Shown on the Card

Not all cards from a given year are created equal. Cards that show a “common” or average player generally will have significantly less value than that of a card that shows a Hall of Famer or rookie.

As an example, let’s say you own 400 cards from the 1968 Topps set. If all of the cards are commons, then the cards may have a value of $100-$200. However, if the cards contain a few Mickey Mantle and Nolan Ryan rookies, then the cards may be worth $1000-$2000, 10x more than in the first scenario.

From the Pre-War era (pre-1948), some of the names of the highly sought after and valuable cards are:

  • Babe Ruth
  • Lou Gehrig
  • Joe DiMaggio
  • Ty Cobb
  • Honus Wagner
  • Shoeless Joe Jackson
  • Christy Mathewson
  • Cy Young

From the Vintage era (1948-1969), some of the names of the highly sought after and valuable cards are:

  • Mickey Mantle
  • Willie Mays
  • Hank Aaron
  • Roberto Clemente
  • Sandy Koufax
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Roger Maris
  • Stan Musial
  • Ted Williams

From the Modern era (1970-present), unfortunately the vast majority of stars and Hall of Famers have little value. Even superstars like Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds rookie cards sell for less than $10. The most significant card in the Modern era is the Michael Jordan 1986 Fleer rookie, which is valued at $500-$1000 in high grade.

Condition of the Card

The condition of a card is paramount when determining its value. Collectors seek after and pay premiums for cards in high condition. To determine the condition of a card, for following 4 criteria are considered:

  1. Corner wear
  2. Centering
  3. Edge wear
  4. Surface wear/blemishes

Based on these four criteria, cards are given a number or grade rating from 1-10 to describe the card. Please reference <add link> for a complete guide on how to determine the condition of a card.

The value of a low grade example versus a high grade example of the same card can be greatly different. As an example, consider the value difference of a 1953 Topps Mickey Mantle based on condition:

  • 1 – $250
  • 3 – $500
  • 6 – $1,900
  • 8 – $12,000
  • 9 – $90,000

It is important to note that grading standards are very rigid and it is very rare to find Vintage and Pre-War cards in high grade, which is why they command such high premiums. In fact, some criteria, such as centering, are out of the owner’s hands, and are simply a result of how the cards were cut in the factory. Still, the centering of the card carries as much weight as corner wear when it comes to determining the grade. To just show how tough the grading standards are, most cards that are pulled directly from packs and immediately put in plastic holders will typically receive a grade of 7 or 8 (due to centering and printing imperfections).

Scarcity or Availability

This concept is really quite simple yet very important to determine value. In general, cards that had high production levels and are readily available are not going to have much value.

Why is a 1987 Topps Barry Bonds rookie worth $5 and a 1954 Topps Hank Aaron rookie worth $500? Quite simply, because the availability of the Barry Bonds is much higher than the Hank Aaron. In fact, this principle can be applied to nearly every card in the Modern (1970-present) era. All of these cards are not only readily available, but also readily available in high grade.

For Vintage (1948-1969) cards, the production levels were also quite high, and are still readily available, but the scarcity/availability factor mainly applies to condition on cards from this era.

To better demonstrate this concept, go back to the 1954 Topps Hank Aaron rookie. In low-mid grade, this card is readily available and relatively easy to find. The challenge for cards from this era is to find them in high condition. The mid grade Aaron rookie is worth $300-$500, but is relatively tough to find in high grade, and is worth thousands of dollars.

For Pre-War cards, it can be quite challenging, and near impossible not to find the card in high grade, but to find the card in any grade! Many cards from this era were produced with low quality card stock, had low production runs and only issued in certain regions.

Because these cards have limited availability, they are highly sought after by collectors and will bring large premiums when offered for sale.