In a recent Financial Analysts Journal article authors Elroy Dimson and Christophe Spaenjers provide an excellent analysis of the historical performance of artwork, stamps, and antique violins. The authors label these collectibles “emotional assets.” No, the authors did not include comic books in their study. However, the article offered a few interesting insights that apply to us comic book collectors.

I think comic books are a great example of emotional assets. They’re not like stocks or bonds which can be analyzed and valued using somewhat of a scientific framework. But on the other hand they’re not like other collectibles such as Thomas Kinkade paintings or Beanie Babies that have quick booms and busts. The comic art form has endured and grown for over 70 years. The heroes within the pages are woven tightly into our pop culture fabric. So they’re not quite stocks or bonds but certainly as legitimate as other collectibles such as stamps, violins or fine wines.

Perhaps the most interesting tidbit from the article is that the authors found that violins, artwork, and stamps all outperformed other ‘legitimate’ investments such as gold and bonds between 1900 and 2012. These three emotional assets grew by about 6.5 – 7% per year vs. about 5% for gold and government bonds. It’s no secret that comics have been performing very well over the last few years. It’s an impossible task to calculate the historical performance of comics but by just looking at historical guide values over the years and the actual auction values today versus 20 years ago I’d bet the returns are right up there with the three emotional assets discussed in the article, if not much higher.

The authors cite a 2012 survey by Barclays that found that emotional assets account for 10% of a typical high-net-worth individual’s wealth. I’m not sure if in this case wealth is equal to total assets or net worth (assets minus liabilities). I’ll assume net worth. What percent of your wealth is invested in comic books? Think about your house, cash, investments and other assets and then subtract your mortgage and other debt. What’s the value of your collection as a percent of what’s left over? My collection is far below 10%. What percent of your net worth do you feel comfortable allocating to comic books or other emotional assets? What’s preventing your from raising your allocation to comics? Or if you have close to 10% of your net worth or even more invested in comic books, why are you so comfortable with such a large allocation to comics?

A few big purchases of Silver Age or Bronze Age keys and an investor’s collection can easily exceed several thousand dollars. So the big numbers involved demand they be treated as more than just as a passing hobby. Think about comics—and other collectibles—in the context of your total wealth. The main driver of your retirement funds should be stocks and bonds. Comics and collectibles are tons of fun to collect and as an added bonus represent an alternative store of wealth. Next time your significant other scoffs at your recent comic book purchase, simply say, “I had a look at our allocation to emotional assets and concluded we’re underweight. I’m simply re-balancing our portfolio!”

 

References

Dimson, E., and C. Spaenjers. 2014. “Investing in Emotional Assets.” Financial Analysts Journal, vol. 70, no. 2 (March/April):20-25.