Comic Book Speculators & Investors

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A man rediscovers is old baseball card collection and decides to sell it.

First, I got a couple of disconnected numbers for now-defunct card shops. Not a good sign. Then I finally reached a human. “Those cards aren’t worth anything,” he told me, declining to look at them.

“Maybe if you had, like, 20 McGwire rookie cards, that’s something we might be interested in,” another offered.

“Have you tried eBay?” a third asked.

If I had to guess, I’d say that I spent a couple thousand bucks and a couple thousand hours compiling my baseball card collection. Now, it appears to have a street value of approximately zero dollars. What happened?

(How baseball cards lost their luster)

Collectors - possibly including you - happened.

I’ve never been involved in sports cards. But I’ve sold comic books for over twenty years.

When we started selling new comic books Gordon and I were quite surprised to discover how many of our customers thought of their purchases as investments. Purchasers were guided by the assumption that almost any comic book would automatically become worth more than cover price.

It was as if Marvel and DC were branches of the US Treasury Department and comic books were a special discounted form of money.

The publishers caught on to this and began to produce comics with multiple covers. I think one may have had a dozen different cover. And the poor saps bought one copy of each.

And the ultra-spiffy variants with gatefold and foil covers.

Just about everybody who could cover a printing bill thought they could duplicate the happenstance success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And a share of customers believed that buying poorly excuted black and white funnybooks was an instant path to wealth.

I’ll always remember Scotty. He bought two copies of every b&w comic published no matter who ineptly made. Most notable of these was Jontarr. Jontarr was a badly scrawled Conan knockoff printed on construction paper and stapled at the spine.

Comic books were being produced and purchased with no thought to pleasure. Though there was probably momentary gratification as a collector bagged his investment.

There was nothing to sustain the mania. Eventually the speculators awoke from their greedy dreams and left the market for other things. When the bubble burst comic books had far few readers than than before the publishers catered to the irrationally exuberant.

Comics are probably better overall than they have ever been. But the readership is at a historic low where it may remain. If the industry doesn’t one day vanish. The profits from making movies will keep them alive for a time if nothing else.

There are still a few investor/collector bubbles and comic shops that take advantage of them. And notably silly investment scheme that I won’t mention. It too will collapse leaving participants wishing they’d been buying Google or Yahoo! stock instead.

Want to sell your collection? Don’t call me but have you tried eBay?

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