Determining the Value of
Old Comic Books for Booksellers

By Joe Waynick
November 14, 2012

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Should booksellers learn the value of old comic books? I think so, and for a variety of reasons.

Comics are an area that I've actively avoided until now. Let me explain.

This past weekend I was driving around the neighborhood running errands when I noticed a few signs for local garage sales.

Since I had a little extra time on my hands, I decided to stop and have a look. I figured I might be able to pick up a couple of good books to resell online.

So I stopped at the next sign I saw and approached the sprawl of goods strewn about the homeowners driveway. It appeared to me that this sale saw quite a bit of action because of the general state of disarray of the merchandise.

Plain Old Comic Books

I was all set to employ the garage sale strategies discussed on page 36 of Internet Bookselling Made Easy! when I noticed a stack of decades old comic books tucked away in a box that was practically hidden from view.

Ordinarily, I don't give the value of old comic books a second thought because I never considered them exceedingly profitable.

But as I slid the box aside so I could gain access to several piles of books right behind it, I noticed the comic on top of the stack was a September 1969 issue of Fantastic Four I read over 40 years ago as a young boy.

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You see, the story was a four part series where 'ole Ben Grimm (The Thing) was captured by the evil slaver known as the Skrull. Ben was whisked off to a far away prison planet and forced to fight for his life in a super high-tech arena as a slave gladiator. Wow.

The only reason I noticed the comic was because as a boy, the FF comics were published monthly, (I imagine they still are), and I managed to snag the first two issues in the series.

But in the third and fourth months, my favorite comic book store was sold out each time I arrived and I never found out how the story ended.

Fast forward 44 years. There I was staring at this box when the memory of that story flashed in my mind. Then on a hunch, I sifted through the box and whaddya know—I found all four issues! A lifelong mystery had finally come to an end.

How Much for These Old Comic Books?

Again, I wasn't thinking about the value of old comic books. I just wanted to know how the story ended. (Okay, you can knock off the wise cracks now.)

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For a brief moment I considered the idea of just quickly reading through the two "missing" books, but decided not only was that crude, but I wouldn't enjoy the story very much.

So I very casually asked, "How much do you want for this box of comic books? My kid reads this stuff." (A little fib, but harmless enough.)

The box contained about 25 comics. All of them seemed to be 30 or more years old. Back in the day you could buy these for 15c each. I was pleasantly surprised when the homeowner said "Gimmie five bucks and you can hav'em!"

Alright, I thought to myself. Most valuable comic books increase in price over time. I reasoned that for $5 I can solve the mystery of the ages, plus have a reason to learn something about the value of old comic books. So I took them, still not very excited about the financial prospects of selling comics online.

Hidden Money Making Opportunities

After taking my purchases home the first thing I did was solve the mystery of Ben Grimm's fate. Of course, with the aid of the other three members of the team, The Thing emerges victorious, paving the way for the blockbuster movies to premier decades later.

My curiosity satisfied, I had a sudden urge to find out if those old comic books had any value. After all, I had five bucks invested into them.

After doing a little research, I discovered that determining the value of old comic books was very similar to the methods used by antiquarian book sellers. Basically you want to follow these steps:

  1. Examine the cover. Is it intact or is it torn, creased, or soiled? If you've never graded old comic books you need to remember that condition has a huge influence on the selling price.
  2. Examine the interior pages. Are any pages missing, torn, dog eared, or soiled?
  3. Check the price guides. Comic book price guides will give you a fair idea if you actually have valuable old comic books on your hands. You might want to check several to compare how different guides value various points of issue for specific titles.
  4. Check eBay. Look for your specific issue by title and by date. To be super precise, read the fine print on the copyright page. You'll need a magnifying glass to see it.
  5. Determine what the market will bear. Be realistic. What was the highest price fetched in the last 12 months? What was the lowest? Your target price should be somewhere in between.
  6. Decide if you're ready to sell. Is the market price as high as you were hoping? If not, you always have the option of sitting on your inventory. The longer you wait, prices for old comic books could increase and you can potentially get more for your collection.

I performed the above steps and was pleasantly surprised that my childhood obsession actually had an economic payoff. In fact, I think I can actually sell comic books and have a little fun in the process.

Stumbling upon these valuable comics opened my eyes to a potentially lucrative revenue stream that I had ignored until I learned the value of old comic books.

I'm not claiming to be an expert. But after selling used books online since 2006, I think I might have a few skills from selling trade books that are transferable to the comic book industry.

Unexpected Profit

Prices for these comics varied only slightly, from a low of $8.00 (including shipping) to a high of $12.50 (including shipping). I figured I could split the difference at $10.00 and nail down $40.00 if I sold them individually. Maybe more if I sold them as a lot on eBay.

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Selling lots is one of the big advantages of selling on e-Bay. You can get a higher selling price than listing items individually by grouping titles by author, completing a book set, or by creating genre specific collections.

Determining the value of old comic books and selling them online is almost an entirely different skill set from selling used books on the Internet.

Sure, there are plenty of similarities, but you really do need to have a love of comics to get really good at it.

I made the conscious decision to maintain my focus on recently published non-fiction and antiquarian fiction and non-fiction because that's where my passion can be found.

I'm perfectly happy with only getting the occasional good deal in comics and other forms of antiquities.

That's okay, because when you're self-employed, it really is "to each his own."

Good hunting.

* * * * *

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