Interpreting Numbers

We’ve all heard the term “information age” and no where is this more true than the collector market. Armed with smart phones, buyers are able to access online resources and historical prices in order to gauge value. And when it comes to collectible back issues, the name of the game is to pick up books below market… or is it?

We’ve all heard the term “information age” and no where is this more true than the collector market. Armed with smart phones, buyers are able to access online resources and historical prices in order to gauge value. And when it comes to collectible back issues, the name of the game is to pick up books below market… or is it?

Many people like to point to sources like the CGC census to say that a book is rare, therefore it’s worth a premium… or the reverse; that a book is in decline because more books have appeared on the census. Rarity is relative so I personally don’t subscribe to this belief. I find it impossible to quantify and there are more than enough exceptions to discredit this premise. Of course, if there was a flood of a 1000 Amazing Fantasy #15’s to suddenly appear, then yes, it would definitely have an impact but this is unlikely.


End of Day, May 2
End of Day, May 2
End of Day, May 2
End of Day, May 2


Instead, I’ve got my eye on the bigger picture. Following the U.S. housing bubble which popped in 2008, the collector market sank accordingly in 2009 and throughout 2010. Not just comics, but all collectible markets including coins, stamps and my other passion… cameras. If you follow the stock market, then you know that the US economy has been steadily recovering with the NASDAQ and Dow Jones currently bouncing around its all time high. The collectible comics market reflects the greater economy and most books have recovered from their 2009 lows and are reaching new heights. The silver age has been trending upwards since late 2012 and continued to surge throughout 2013. But to my surprise, the bronze age and many modern books have kicked in as well. There are exceptions of course, mainly at the high-end bronze age. Books graded 9.8, 9.6 and some 9.4 have yet to regain their former glory. Titles like Hulk #181, X-Men #94 and Green Lantern #76 probably should never have been trading for $25,000+ to begin with. However, with upward pressure from lower grades, I’m hopeful they will being to move up soon as well, although it may be a while before they reach their peak.


From ComicLink, asking price $2800
From ComicLink, asking price $2800


Using the popular Hulk #181 as an example, let’s examine this upward pressure:

  • Prior to 2012, I was buying Hulk #181, CGC 8.0’s for $600 to $700 and 9.0’s for under $1000.
  • About 8 months ago I was shocked to see how far these books had risen. 8.0’s were selling for over $1000 and 9.0’s were selling for $1400 to $1600… and yet 9.2’s were lingering just above the $2000 mark.
  • 6 months ago, people started asking $1200 for their 8.0’s, $1800 for their 9.0’s and you could still pick up 9.2’s for $2100 to $2300.
  • Currently GPA shows recent average sales of 8.0’s slightly above $1200, 9.0’s closing in on $2000 and 9.2’s still in the $2200 range.

I guess we can theorize that all those people who stopped buying during the recession are back and the low to mid grade books (being more affordable) has become more attractive. I also theorize that if low to mid grade books keeps going up at this pace, the higher grades must move up accordingly. Trolling through eBay, ComicLink and Comic Connect here’s what I am currently seeing:

  • People are asking $1500 for 8.0’s, over $2100 for 9.0’s and people are finally starting to ask more for their 9.2’s. Veteran flipper Dan Gallo has his 9.2 listed for $2700.

So, what does this mean? The improving economy and Hollywood’s interest in super heroes seems to have reignited the CGC market in particular. Despite how the current GPA numbers read, if anyone wants a Hulk #181… buyers will have to start paying these new prices, which eventually will get recorded on GPA and push prices even higher. In other words, it’s a bit of a bull market out there for comics and it has become more difficult to pick up books below value. This is especially true for us Canadians considering the exchange rate and import charges.

There is talk of another tech bubble forming, especially where social media is concerned, but it’s difficult to imagine another recession as bad as the one we just went through. It’s important to keep in mind that the economic recovery is fragile but considering the pace at which CGC books are rising, the days of picking up books below market may be over… or at least until the next cycle. With this in mind, I can’t help wonder if the high end bronze age books, which haven’t moved much since the crash, are somewhat undervalued. One thing for sure, I’ll probably be attending more cons this year and try to source books locally.

It’s difficult to say how long this surge will last. There are larger social and economic currents at play here that are more meaningful than the CGC census. Collecting is more “art” than “science”… For me, trying to anticipate change and timing the market is all part of the fun. Good luck and happy hunting.

Charlie Kim
Charlie Kim

Charlie Kim is a designer who is currently transitioning into teaching. While working for various companies, he helped develop many international brands such as the Hong Kong Airport identity, Lenovo’s sponsorship program for the Beijing Olympics and Lavasa, a new city being developed in India. Locally, he's also worked on the 1998 campaign for the Canadian Opera Company, the Canadian Innovations stamp for Canada Post and the terrible Grand & Toy re-brand (hey, they can't all be winners). Charlie’s love affair with art and design all began with comics.

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  1. Good points Charlie.

    Using the Hulk #181 as an example I found that the lower you went in grade the better return you received these past 2 years. CGC 4.0s outperformed 8.0s and the 8.0s outperformed the 9.2s and the 9.2s etc. The CGC 9.6s were flar while the CGC 9.8s actually lost a bit of ground. You can sub in books like Amazing Fantasy #15 for similar results (for say the CGC 1.5 to 7.0 range).

    So yes, the 9.4 and 9.6 grades do seem a bargain if the lower grade prices can hold their gains.

  2. Charlie – Great article.  I know my views are a bit out there and not conventional wisdom.  All along I have been a proponent of the idea of a pop culture tidal wave bringing in new investors and much higher prices on lower and mid-grade keys as they wilI invest in what they can afford.  The pop culture influence of Marvel heroes (and DC) continues to explode (I.e. Captain America Winter Soldier). 

    Interest is generational crossing all ages from kids to Grandpa.  No other hobby approaches this type of pop culture influence.  Sports heroes retire and often interest declines.  Thor, Iron man, Spider-man have never retired so unlike sports, a child can follow their heroes from cradle to grave.

    Also, international interest may diminish supply.

  3. Thanks guys. The back issue recovery really snuck up on me. I regret having sold certain books because now they’ve literally doubled in value. I’ve also been looking for certain titles but looks like I’ll have to bite the bullet and pay a slight premium just to get ahead of the curve. Other books that really surprised me was:

    DC Comics Prsent #26 – 1st New Teen Titans (Cyborg to be included in confirmed JL movie?)
    New Teen Titans #2 – 1st Deathstroke
    PP Spectacular Spider-Man #1
    X-Factor #5, 6 and 24 – 1st Apocalypse and Archangel

    I’ve always considered these to be bum books and it was very difficult to sell my copies but now they are being actively traded at relatively high prices. ASM #300, CGC 9.8 is trading between $800 to $1000 again despite the massive quantity out there.

    Peter, I’m working on another write up that addresses some of the things you mentioned. Stay tuned.

  4. Charlie. Thanks. I look forward to hearing more.

    Another possible areato keep our eye on is early appearances of the Kree which ties into the Disney cosmic them and is referred to in Agents of Shield TV show.

  5. Lower grade books should be worth more, because there is not a lot of difference between an 8.0 and a 9.2 to justify such a huge price increase. Anyone that would be willing to pay that much money for a book that is not significantly better grade obviously has more dollars than sense. I’ve argued all along that books 7.0 and above – particularly Silver and Golden Age – should see a price increase. Those at the to that are not that much better in grade – NOT.

  6. I have to respectfully disagree Tom. The difference between number 1 and 2 may be only one notch but the value is always exponential. Here are some examples:

    • Sports Equipment
    • Athletes (Michael Jordon makes big bucks not because he’s number 2)
    • Cars (Compare my Mazda to a Maserati)
    • Homes
    • Materials
    • Snow Tires
    • Fashion (Gap Tee vs Armani Tee)
    • Hair Cuts
    • Entertainment (A list vs B list)
    • Jewelry (Diamonds valued by degree of brightness)

    Quality matters and the last 10% is ALWAYS worth much, much more than the first 90%. Comics are no different… it’s a game of inches.

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