Costly hobby

Years have passed since I could actually have been said to be collecting comic books.  I still actively read them and certainly (as detailed a few times in this blog) have amassed a large quantity of them, but I stopped referring to them as a “collection” long ago.

The reasons are wide-ranging, including proximity to an active trading community (the closest convention is now in Orlando), changing tastes and general waning of enthusiasm for “the hunt” (scouring out areas, known and unknown, for issues in a comic’s run that I was missing).

Oh, and cost.  That plays more of the elephant in the room than before.

Most of you have probably heard at one time or another of the stratospheric prices paid for a comic book.  I think I read about one topping $1.5 million recently.  Ha!  Even back when collecting was first taking hold, I don’t know if any of us envisioned that!

When I was young, my comic of choice was Superman.  Call me naive, but I really dug the whole “good, clean and friendly” attitude to helping others.  As the world changed and got more jaded, I forgot to join and kept believing in “doing right because it’s the right thing to do”.  I never fed into the excessively violent “heroes”, though their popularity ultimately pushed Superman to the back of the comic book bus.  Probably explains why my book harkens to many of those old-fashioned values, though.

In those days, we had lots of local conventions and the “major” conventions had not yet hit full bloom.  Attics and garages still contained lots of old “junk” comic books and you could start filling in the holes in your collection pretty quickly.  Even back then, though, the early issues of any title were hard to come by (some even cost hundreds of dollars!).

I had gotten the idea to collect the entire run of Superman comics.  He was appearing in multiple titles at that time; Action, Superman and World’s Finest were the oldest (Action being the place of his first appearance).  I stuck with the Superman title only.

All the way up until college I spent any convention or comics show looking for older issues in nice condition (I’ll not distract you with a treatise on grading).  I managed to get almost everything back into the upper thirties, but there as no way my pre-career income could cover the first 30 or so issues.  Those copies would have run me thousands of dollars.

When I got out of college, most of my meager income went to paying bills and paying off my student loans.  Other items took precedence over comics collecting (y’know, like furniture, appliances, clothing).  By the time my income gained discretionary status, comics had priced themselves out of any sensible spending plan.

Across that time, I found that my desire for collecting had changed into simply an enjoyment in reading the comics and then giving them away each Halloween (or when I worked at a kid-oriented charity like Big Brothers/Big Sisters).  I just didn’t have the “fire” necessary to go hunting anymore.

What I did have, though, was about a half-dozen or so really old Superman comics, sitting in thick mylar plastic bags.  As comics became so valuable, there was the natural evolving of selling techniques that ultimately mimicked other collectibles such as coins.  A process was created where a third-party would “grade” the comics and then seal it in a thick plastic case with a rating of 1 to 10 (being the closest to perfection) determining its ultimate value.

I have finally decided to send these books out to have them “officially” graded and protected.  Upon researching the pricing structure for the service, I was aghast to see that I was going to have to pay more for the books to be graded than I had for the books themselves!  Great Scott!

That put me in the conflicted position of hoping the comics wouldn’t be too valuable so as to cost me too much versus the desire that they had appreciated greatly to be surprisingly valuable.  In some cases, the cost per grading could be $3,000!  That’s not bad if you’re pricing a $1.5M book, but not so much fun on something less retirement generating.

As it turns out, the books fell somewhat short of me never having to work again, though not so short that the bill for the grading might not be four figures.  Ah well, once complete, I’ll never have to worry that these rare items are not being protected well enough.

I do hope that I won’t look at these books with just a tad more than nostalgia and suddenly get the “itch” to go hunting again.  I’m not sure winning the lottery would provide enough money to complete the collection now!

2 Responses to “Costly hobby”

  1. JimmyG

    So…. would it be worth waiting until there was interest in one of the titles by a potential buyer and -then- having it graded? Seems like the real biz here is like the picks/shovels guys doing the grading…

    • JMD

      At this point, I might as well just have them protected…that will preserve their condition if I ever do sell them. You’re right, though, as with other hobbies, the balance of power has shifted to these grading “experts”. Anyone wanting to maximize their selling price almost has to use them exclusively.


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