I recently noted that the world’s most valuable comic book was for sale on eBay, a CGC 9.0 graded (with white pages) copy of Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman and the first superhero comic. When the dust settled, the book sold for a record of just over $3.2 million dollars. The final bill was over a million dollars more than the previous record holder, which was less pristine copy of Action Comics #1. I’m still unsure of whether this is what could be considered the ‘true value’ of this Holy Grail, but it at least shows that in the past few years the value of rare comics, video games and collectibles in general have gone up, up, and away.
First off, the buyer has been identified and this sale is a legitimate sale, so someone has actually agreed to pay the $3.2 million for this book. It has become very difficult to assess the value of anything via an eBay final price because of practices like troll bidding and shilling have become much more transparent than previously. Remember when news outlets when bananas over the gray cart Nintendo World Championships that “sold” for almost $100K? Well, it was all for naught because the winner retracted their bid, which came as a surprise to no one familiar with video game collecting. Even still, this prompted the immediate listing of a handful of more NWC carts, even some rare gold copies, because other people figured that if that piece of shit copy could fetch almost $100K, then a copy in better shape could be even more valuable. This farce is just a small sample of some of the chicanery and inflated value that has been attached to any tepid to hot item in collecting.
What made this particular sale of Action Comics #1 such a pillar in comic collecting is that this is THE Holy Grail of comic books. Many new outlets are quick to pull out the “Holy Grail” adjective when describing a sale of video games like the aforementioned NWC or the short supplied Stadium Events for the NES, but this book is the end all of comic books. The book in itself is the crème de la crème of comic books because it is the first and therefore oldest superhero comic and it is the first appearance of the most popular superhero of all time. What makes this particular copy unique is that of the 50-100 estimated copies that still exist, this is copy has the highest grade, meaning it is the most pristine copy of any that have been graded by CGC. Any Golden Age comic book from the ’50s and ’60s would wish to be anywhere close to a 9.0 with white pages, but because this book is from 1939 and has the distinction of being Action Comics #1, that immediately sends the value of this book into the stratosphere. But is the book really worth $3.2 million?
Unless you are an avid to extreme level of comic book collecting, you wouldn’t be aware of one glaring problem that this sale creates, in that there is another copy of this book that is said to be in even better condition that this one. Chuck Rozanski is the President and CEO of the Denver-based Mile High Comics retailer and it is well known in the comics collecting circle that he has a very crisp copy of Action Comics #1. Rozanski’s highly publicized purchase of the Edgar Church collection, which is fully detailed in multiple parts on the Mile High Comics website, was able to help Rozanski bankroll his startup into something that has survived to today.
The long story short: Edgar Church was an artist who collected thousands of periodicals as reference to help his art, which included thousands of comic books from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. Oddly enough, all of these books were stored in optimal comic storage conditions and were purchased by Rozanski. This has been regarded as the highest quality collection of Golden Age books ever and included in this was a copy of Action Comics #1 which has been hypothesized to be near a grade of 9.4, and for those unfamiliar, the value of a comic increases exponentially when books go from 9.0 to 9.4 to 9.8 (10.0’s rarely if ever exist). Many have estimated that if Rozanski’s copy would be graded at its speculated 9.4 grade that the value would approach $10 million. The benchmark left at $3.2 million is a dangerous precedent to set for future sales (and possible resale of the copy just sold), which is something that we already see in video game collection, vis-à-vis the inability to nail down a value for a Nintendo World Championships cartridge in any condition.
The upward slide of the price of collectibles is probably more noticeable from my own personal experience. In 2008, I started to dive a little deeper into collecting comic books and video games, specifically retro games from the NES, Genesis, and SNES. I would have characterized my zeal as mild, in that I was actively looking to grow those particular collections, I had a sense of the pricing of most major and minor tiers, but I wasn’t going off the deep end yet. I had found local comic shops and video game stores that I felt were reasonably priced and well stocked so I frequented those as well as padded my collections via eBay.
Because life happens, I had to fade out of collecting for a few years, until mid-2013 when I came back with a fervor, especially towards comic collecting. After I re-evaluated what I was looking to buy, I was astounded at the change in prices from not only what were typically the hot items, but for most of the mid-range and even low-range items. Comic books were a little more stable because most books are not noteworthy or special so they tend to just stay at the going rate and only books that are at least $20-$40 had marked shifts. For video games, almost everything jumped in price, where games like Castlevania that I had purchased for $12 a few years ago were now floating around $20-$25. I had always hoped to find a good copy of Snow Brothers, which I had rented from local stores a few times and enjoyed, but since it is more towards the upper echelon of games, what was a $50 game before was now $120+. Essentially for retro games, anything outside the dollar bin like Double Dribble or Bases Loaded, that stores have at least twenty copies of, had a marked price increase.
What compounded the sobering experience was the shift in emphasis to a cartridge only hobby in which complete-in-box games were more rare to a time when cartridge only is for the more basic collector and a much greater emphasis is on finding pristine copies of games complete-in-box, perhaps even sealed. This again rolls back to defining the “Holy Grail” game for video games because while the NWC cartridge is probably the least produced, the Stadium Events complete-in-box copy seems to be more of a white whale, with a highest confirmed purchase price of $22,800 for a sealed copy, of which it is rumored that only two exist. It’s not quite apples to apples when comparing comic books to complete-in-box video games because comic books can still be carefully enjoyed and still be kept in pristine condition, but a sealed copy of a video game can never be enjoyed without it losing its value. Add in to the fact that kids most likely didn’t take care or even keep the boxes from their NES, Genesis, or SNES games which makes cartridge only collecting a much simpler experience but any moderate to hardcore collector will lust after complete copies.
Another big shift in collecting is because finding any last item to check off your collection is extremely easy with eBay and online retailers. I’ll be the first to admit that I have added a large majority of items via eBay but some collectors can frown upon those that do not go through the process of actually finding and buying all of their items in person. I agree with their particular sentiments that it changes the mentality of collecting to something that doesn’t require quite as much work or commitment since items are more readily available. What I find most damaging is the instability of prices that come with the changed strategy of collecting electronically, and it especially comes with these high priced items.
There are two video games stores that I frequent most often; one is a chain back home (an hour away) and one is a store in the mall that I go to for my comics. The store an hour away has the best variety and most reasonable prices I have ever seen in a brick-and-mortar shop, this place is unbeatable, but they themselves have shifted their prestigious items to a more complete-in-box catalog, of which I’m still not sure is entirely for me. The other store, which is much closer, relies entirely on pricing their games via eBay prices, and you CANNOT do this because those prices are 1) constantly in flux, 2) extremely unreliable. The better store has copies of Robocop for the NES for a dollar, the other store has them for $10. Essentially, if I even bother to go to this store I stay about 20 seconds.
It’s hard for me to imagine that I will reach a point that I will no longer have any incentive, drive, or enjoyment out of collecting video games or comic books and then playing or reading them. The major double-edged sword is electronic collecting because it creates invalidated pricing for particular items and sets dangerous precedents for top-tier items. I’m very glad that I bought, on a whim as well, my copy of Uncanny X-Men #266 (first Gambit) when I did because I doubt I will find any that are in good shape and less than $100. Essentially my thesis is that I’m always going to light the torch for enjoying and collecting, but I’m going to get slightly fussier when it comes to finishing off my collections with those hard to find and pricier entries. Practices such as using eBay prices, of which do NOT state whether the item was actually paid for which then provides a price that can be entirely outlandish (cf. that gray NWC cart), and the changed mentality that can artificially inflate prices because buyers have easier access to these items have created a different environment for collecting.
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