Upgrades

A few weeks ago I had a collector reach out to me looking for some early Amazing Spider-Man comics at CGC 5.0 or better, I found two copies that fit the bill but really did not have much coming through. I remembered that we were about to get some books back from CGC, we sent them down to get graded for a consignor that was going to sell the books through our ICE site, coming back are copies of Amazing Spider-Man #4, 5, 6, 9, 13 and 15. I sent the list to the CGC 5.0 guy and he’s waiting to see what the grades are. I asked him if he was building a run and he said no, he already has the run, he’s upgrading some low-grade copies.

I’ve never been an active upgrader but I know a couple of guys that have been upgrading their collection actively for the last 30 years. Upgraders are a certain breed of collectors, they have to be patient, vigilante and opportunistic, I can’t imagine it being an easy job being a perpetual upgrader.

The upgraders I know almost all fall into the “upgrading the personal collection” category. High-grade investment copies aren’t the main objective, what they want is a strong consistent grade across certain titles and eras. Earlier I mentioned upgraders are opportunistic, they have no problem picking up that 1.0 copy of Fantastic Four #12 or that incomplete copy of Amazing Spider-Man #2 just to fill in the run, from that point on FF #12 and ASM #2 become upgrade candidates. This is where my collecting style always differed, if the bottom grade I’ll tolerate is a 4.0, I won’t get the 1.5, at least not at market value, I guess if I happened across one super cheap I’d be a fool not to grab it. Maybe that’s true for the perpetual upgraders for some of the low grades in their collection.

Thinking it through I’d say these perpetual upgraders got it right grabbing any copy they could along the way. Think of it like buying an old fixer-upper house, in an appreciating house market you’d be much better off selling the old house to help buy the new one, much better off than the person entering into the new house market from say an apartment.

With the way comic prices have appreciated over the past two decades, it has actually favoured the upgraders. Market values for very low-grade copies have been the best performers over this time period, a collector upgrading his Amazing Fantasy #15 from a 0.5 to a 3.0 might actually be saving money doing the upgrade today versus say ten years ago. But again, the main goal for these collectors is not necessarily the financial gain on paper, that’s a bonus, the main goal is to get a better copy. And like houses I know there are upgraders who have made three or four jumps up, a .05 to a 3.0 then to a 5.5 etc.

When I started out all the upgraders were obviously collecting raw copies and what’s nice about these collectors is that raw upgrades are still very much in play today, obviously, books like Amazing Fantasy #15 will be slabbed but better copies of early Daredevil issues and Justice League of America issues are still being hunted down raw.

Are you an upgrader? Do you have comics in your collection you need to trade in for better copies? How do you do it? Sell your copy and use the money towards the better one? Do you trade it in like a used car and just add some money for the newer model? However you do it you’re an important piece of the collecting community.

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Walter Durajlija
Walter Durajlija is an Overstreet Advisor and Shuster Award winner. He owns Big B Comics in Hamilton Ontario.
Articles: 1589

9 Comments

  1. Hmmmm, I wouldn’t call myself an upgrader per se but….I have upgraded! My chief reason for upgrading is that when I display a run I just don’t like looking at that one copy thats not only ragtag but has some kids name crudely scrawled across it in magic marker! I have actually been looking for a Daredevil 4 because all the rest of my run of 60 issues look so much better then the four and…. and I remember the shop owner telling me that I would probably never get a better copy now that I had completed the run. I have to prove him wrong! On the other hand I did buy a whole run of FF from 42 thru about 82 just because I was 1000 miles away from my original run and wanted to reread it… yes this was before compilations were being printed… but I have to say with the way # 48 has been taking off lately I am glad I did!

  2. I like to buy old rare extremely hard-to-find comics from the 40s etc and have settled for mostly poor to good copies which I’ve been able to find at reasonable prices. I can’t afford to upgrade. It would cost me a fortune.

  3. I originally had Green Lantern 76-89 ranging from VG to VF+, then bought a full set of the same comics ranging from F to VF/NM. I then picked out the best of each issue and sold the lesser versions for more than I paid for the second set. Worked out great.

  4. Walt, the AF15 you have in the header of the column looks prrtty good. Why did it only rate a .5? Even in that condition, I probably couldn’t afford it.

  5. Gerald, that is hard core, you going after that FF run because your run was far away, that was such an amazing sequence of books though so I can see why you’d do it.

    David H, don’t you love it when a plan comes together!

    Klaus, yeah its hard upgrading those scarce Golden Age books. Yes, that AF #15 looks better than a 0.5 but the page 12 inside is a photostat so I think they gave it that grade. No Chipping !!

  6. Oops, missed this one last week. Crunch time in the retail business, as Walt you well know.

    I don’t think I am quite the “perpetual” upgrader, but it does feel like that. 50 years ago I settled for Golden Age as low as it goes, fair, cfo, etc. But I would upgrade my favorites issues or runs, such as Planet Comics, better Quality runs like Police, Plastic Man, etc. Now I need just 3 or 4 Planet upgrades, all before #30, and still lack just #1.

    But as you say, those low grade copies were an investment. I put together mostly a complete Fiction House and Quality Group collection, and happily enjoyed then all in all grades. The oversized Jumbo #1-8 you can only find in low grade, but I have one lovely restored 8.0 issue. They are impossible to find otherwise.

    Then a few years ago I started going through lesser titles, rebagging them in mylite, grading them for my want/have list (if they were not already, I keep the dealer info or write it on a backing board), and decided ones I wanted in better shape. Usually this means upping things as high as a rough VG to copies more in the VG+ or Fine range. For Gold, that’s enough, since I collect so much across the board.

    My old dupes used to go to shows with me. Now I mostly use MyComicShop to sell them on consignment, and on rare occasions, Heritage.

    Walt didn’t mentiin the “new acquisition” aspect of upgrading. For instance, i have always thought Atlas westerns, circa 1950-1964, were and still are underpriced. That is additional incentive to upgrade, and damn, it’s like getting an entirely new book when I score glossy, bright copies in Fine or better. So for years I have been happily upgrading even solid VG copies that don’t quitevoresent well, and never spending much doing it.

    The market is still soft on these, but I have a couple buddies who will sometimes buy my old copies. And cgc copies are startting to turn up in the Heritage auctions, and my bids of twice guide, even more, are often losing out! I’d prefer a raw copy anyway. I just bought a cgc 8.0 Two-Gun Kid for $150, and then my favorite dealer turns up a collection with one for half that price, raw. I felt a bit stupid, but those lovely John Severin, Heath, Maneely, Kirby, and Jack Davis issues, especially covers by them, just don’t come up all that often, except forvlater Kirbys. So overall I am still very pleased with my near-perpetual upgrading.

    It is often like getting a book all over again, when that old scrappy copy gets replaced and I go through it again. And that scrappy copy did let me read or examine the comic, and learn (in the case of non-reprinted, more obscure Golden Age) if I really wanted a nicer copy or not. My buddy Jim Vadeboncoeur NEVER collected for condition, just for reference. In that way, he amassed a complete (yes sir, complete) Atlas collection which I then went over to decide which which issues to collect myself, not wanting runs on any of them, just the ones with good art. So it served us all well, plus much of them got scanned and posted online for everyone to enjoy free (he collected much more, but Atlas was his one completionist run).

  7. You mention the consistency across grade Walt. I want certain strains in specific grades. For some higher end books the 6.5 is a favourite but while I’m an upgrader I’m ALSO a downgrader. The FF 48-50 trio as an example, both the first two I had in 6.5’s for the longest time. I couldn’t find the affordable copy in a 6.5 of FF 50 so I found a deal on a 7 and leveraged it to someone I knew for their 6.5 and a few other raw books to even it out and even came out a bit ahead. Everyone came out happy 🙂

  8. Jamie that’s an excellent point. I know a guy what had CGC 2.5s in AF #15, FF #1 and JIM #83. He had a CGC 4.5 Hulk and made a few trades and ended up with a 2.5 Hulk a 3.0 Strange Tales #110 and something else but I don’t remember what. The 4.5 was actually bugging him. I would have kept the 4.5!

  9. An aspect that can cause people to be upgraders is lack of supply and that can be triggered by location.

    I’m down in Australia and when I started collecting in the bad ole days (aka pre-internet) you only had a small number of comics in the country…you took what you could get! I didn’t buy an X-Men #94 in a 6.0 because of the cost, I got it because it was the first time I’d ever seen one!!!

    So then global connectivity occurs and forward 20 years and I can find an 8.5 if I so choose (from the states!) anytime day or night.

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