Low-Grade Silver Age

In my very first column, I promised to reveal to you some insights from the Mile High Comics database. Since that time, my columns have focused on more general industry-wide concerns, such as Marvel's no-overprinting policy, and the controversy about Comics Guarantee LLC grading of comics. Now I think it's time to return to the original concept behind this column.

The topic for this week is low-grade Silver Age. In particular, I'm referring to comics with 10, 12, and 15 cent cover prices, published from 1955-onward, in grades ranging from Fair to Very Good. This is an area of comics collecting that has been represented by most "Price Guides" as being relatively worthless, which from our experience, is completely untrue. I'm currently investing tens of thousands of dollars in issues from this category, and I thought you might find it interesting to know why.

My first reason for buying heavily into low-grade Silver Age is quite simple: they sell for us extremely well. We price our low-grade Silver Age comics at an average of between double and triple most price guides, and I still have a hard time buying them fast enough to meet demand. International collectors, in particular, are eager to purchase reading copies of comics at prices lower than those in the Fine-NM range. These collectors seek out not only books in the $5 range, but also low grade expensive issues. We're now regularly selling key Silver Age issues (such as FANTASTIC FOUR #1) in Fair, or Good.

So why is our experience different from the rest of the comics world? Because I've been an iconoclast since day one. Just because something is written into a comics price guide, I don't necessarily believe it. Several years ago (before I joined the advisory board), the team at the OVERSTREET COMICS PRICE GUIDE made the decision to radically realign prices for Silver Age comics. The NM/M category usually stayed the same that year, but all other categories went down, with Good taking the biggest hit. This resulted in massive price decreases on low-grade Silver Age throughout the country. Except at Mile High Comics. Rather than lowering our prices in response to the move by Overstreet, we kept our prices the same as they had been the previous year, and then gradually started raising them in response to the strong demand we were experiencing. To our surprise, raising prices on low-grade Silver Age didn't make a bit of difference. In fact, as we built our available supply, we found that sales on low grade Silver Age books were actually rising steadily, despite our hefty premium over "Guide" price.

What I think explains this dichotomy is regional differences in supply. During the 1950's and 1960's, the vast majority of the comics being printed were sold along the East Coast of the United States, and in the Midwest region. If you go to comics conventions in those areas today, you will still find low-grade 12 cent Marvel and DC comics in dealer's $1 boxes. There is a huge oversupply of low-grade Silver Age issues throughout that part of the country. That's the region where the Overstreet pricing team observed, quite correctly, that low-grade books simply weren't moving. Collectors in that area had no reason to buy low-grade Silver Age comics, as higher grades were still plentiful, and the prices even on those high-grade issues were lower than overall national prices.

In Colorado, however, it is an entirely different story. Not only was the population of Colorado tiny until the early 1970's, but many distributors in this area only carried Dell comics until about 1965. Finding comics prior to 1970 in Colorado is a very difficult endeavor. The same is true in many parts of the "Sun Belt," all the way from Florida, to California. Those areas all grew dramatically in population during the past 30 years, and there are far more collectors living in those regions today, then there are available supplies of Silver Age comics.

The same is true, of course, of International destinations. While there are today hundreds of retailers operating comics specialty shops throughout the world, those countries received very few American comics until the 1980's. Approximately 30% of the sales we make on older comics go to collectors with International addresses. Bear in mind, this export of old comics is almost entirely one-way. Every Silver Age book I buy at a Mid-West comics convention, and subsequently sell to a collector in Europe, is probably gone from the US market forever. Given that the International segment of our market is growing faster than the domestic portion, I foresee sending more and more low-grade Silver Age comics out of the country during the next couple of years.

Another significant cause of sales growth for low-grade Silver Age is the new demand coming in from the Internet. This especially holds true for Dell and Gold Key issues, as many of those titles were licensed properties. We list many of our older issues in some of the public online databases, and we are amazed at the number of non-comics fans that make purchases of items that relate to a given media genre. Any Dell comic that ties in with a film or TV property, no matter how obscure, now has a far greater chance of selling than it did prior to the introduction of the Internet. What's most important as regards the topic of this column, however, is that these non-comics fans could give a whit about condition. They want the comic because it satisfies a nostalgic need. As such, they actually strongly prefer lower cost issues, and thus intensify demand for Dell issues in the Good category. Clearly, this particular new audience isn't one that appears at comics conventions, but they are removing a remarkable number of low-grade Silver Age comics from the overall comics market.

Those are the insights I can provide on the topic of low-grade Silver Age. The perspectives I observe will not hold true everywhere, but I think they're worth at least considering. If you've been searching for bargains in back issue comics it might behoove you to pick up some of these Silver Age issues while the prices are still low. Not only are they available through regional conventions (where I typically purchase most of our older inventory), but also through online auction sites, such as eBay. Prices are currently pitifully low on these 35-50 year old comics, often less than the cover price of the average new comic. Why not take advantage of this temporary market anomaly to get some nice old comics for pocket change?

Next week I'll have some suggestions on investing in bulk 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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