"Slabbed" Books Are Here To Stay....

Returning to the topic of the current debate about the propriety of having comics "slabbed" by Comics Guarantee LLC, I have a couple of observations that expand on my comments from my second column. In that particular essay I provided seven reasons for why I now participate in the market for CGC graded comics, and why I think having third-party grading of comics is here to stay. Since I wrote that column, however, some new events have transpired in this rapidly-evolving area of comics collecting.

The first event that transpired was that I reluctantly sold a CGC 10.0 ORIGINS #1 for $1,000 last week. Most certainly, this is a record selling price for any comic printed within the same year. This book was listed on eBay for a 10-day auction, and drew over 1,000 visitors, including 10 different buyers willing to pay more than my $500.00 starting price. The final winning bid was $759.90, which I refused. I held firm to my $1,000 reserve price, as I simply didn't want to sell the book. Why? Because to me the publicity value of having the only 10.0 copy of this book far exceeded the cash value of the sale price. To be specific, any item that makes 1,000 potential buyers aware of the fact that you handle CGC graded comics is worth listing multiple times on eBay. If, after several listings on eBay, it had never made the reserve, then I would probably have lowered the reserve price. But, at the end of the first listing on eBay, I had two different buyers who wanted to purchase the book at the $1,000 price. One went home hungry...

I'm writing about this transaction because I see this sale as a very clear example of the upper end of CGC demand. Recently I read some an analysis in CBG #1463 by my esteemed editor, John Jackson Miller, that indicated that demand for modern CGC 10.0's seemed to be waning. Well, not so that I can notice. Certainly there has been some measure of recognition that the print runs of some comics printed during the 1990's were so large that the potential for additional 10.0's being discovered is quite high. SPAWN #1, in particular, had a print run well over a million copies, so I don't doubt that many more 10.0's of that issue will be discovered. I need to point out, however, that ORIGINS #1 is a far cry from SPAWN #1 in terms of scarcity. Not only was the print run of ORIGINS #1 only approximately 10% of SPAWN #1, but I've heard from a few dealers that all of their copies arrived from Diamond with a printing flaw that marred the cover. I'm not sure how widespread this problem may have been, but I do know it reduces, in some measure, the potential pool of 10.0 candidates within the already small ORIGINS #1 print run.

Before you think that I made out like a bandit on this sale at $1,000, I need to point out that only time will tell if I made a great deal, or sold too cheaply. Bear in mind, I've been around for a while, and have made many past sales that appeared insanely high at the time, but have in the end turned out to be incredible bargains. For example, I sold the "Mile High" ACTION COMICS #1 for $25,000 in 1982. OVERSTREET PRICE GUIDE #11 (1981/1982) NM/M was $11,500 , so getting 2.2 times Guide (cash) seemed outrageous at that time. Soon afterwards, however, a frenzy began for books from the "Mile High" collection, as collectors finally figured out that Golden Age books in extremely high grades were far scarcer than had originally been believed. Suddenly MH books started selling for multiples up to 10X Guide. This has progressed to the point that I've heard rumors that the current owner of the MH ACTION COMICS #1 has recently refused an offer of $1,000,000, cash. Now, instead of being admired for selling ACTION #1 for over double Guide, I have any number of people who think I was a fool to let the book go in the first place. If no other copy of ORIGINS #1 IN 10.0 ever surfaces, there might also be those who think I was a fool to sell it so cheaply in a few years hence. Only time will tell...

Speaking of increases in value, I just returned from Mid-Ohio Con in Columbus, and I saw there a strong trend toward dealers factoring estimated CGC premiums into the prices of their unslabbed Silver Age comics. In one case, I wanted to buy an unslabbed copy of FANTASTIC FOUR #1 in NM (9.4?), but couldn't afford it at the $2,000 asking price. The dealer apologized for the high asking price, but explained that he thought he could get at least $2,500 if he had the book slabbed. In another instance, I was with a fellow dealer looking at a private collection where the seller wanted 75% of NM Guide for his AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1. My friend agreed to go to that high a percentage only because he firmly believed that he could mark the book up to at least 50% over Guide, if it were slabbed. Clearly, the potential for premium pricing based on CGC certification is changing the way that dealers think about the pricing of high-grade Silver Age.

Based on those observations, if I could give just one bit of cogent advice to comics collectors right now, it would be to buy up all the high-grade Silver Age you can find at current Guide. The rush to slab these books is rapidly eating away at the available supply, and I see significant shortages looming in the near future. No one can ever make absolute predictions, but I see the prices of high-grade Silver Age comics rising very rapidly over the next year. Even if the current trend toward slabbing comics goes away, the fact that people are now actively looking for them has highlighted their scarcity. In any collectibles field, scarcity, combined with high demand, almost inevitably leads to increases in asking prices.

I think this trend toward higher prices has already begun, but will probably not be reflected in the Price Guides for at least another six months. I've gone to nearly a dozen conventions this year as a wholesale buyer, and I've seen a steady increase in the level of activity in all aspects of the comics collecting hobby. Collectors are not only seeking out CGC comics, but also comics in just about every back issue genre imaginable. There was a chill on the comics market after September 11th, but the recovery of the National Comics Show (promoted by Big Apple Conventions in Manhattan three weeks ago), and strong attendance at last week's Mid-Ohio Con, lead me to believe that 2002 may well be the biggest year in history for back issue comics demand. Already we're setting new back issue sales records almost every week at Mile High Comics, so I can easily foresee next year starting off with a strong surge in consumer demand for old comics. Let's keep our fingers crossed, but it sure looks like the good times are back! This is great news not only for comics dealers, but also for anyone with a personal comics collection. There's nothing like a vibrant and growing market to ease the anxiety of investing in a collectibles field.

Next week I'll cover pricing trends I'm seeing on low-grade Silver Age and Golden Age comics.

Please send your e-mails to chuck@milehighcomics.com, and your letters to:

Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221

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