Making the Grade
Determining the Value of Your Comic Books
When it comes to collecting comic books, one of the more important skills you can possess is being able to properly grade the condition of a certain issue. This skill will allow you to purchase key expensive issues without concern that you are being ripped off in some way by a shady dealer. This is less of a concern for most modern comic books, which will frequently not cost much more than the original cover price, but for silver-age and golden-age comic books that are more than 50 years old, even the smallest bit of wear on a cover or interior page can affect the value of a book by thousands of dollars.
In order to better prepare you for grading comic books, here is a description of the different grades and what determines them for an average issue of a comic.
Best of the Best
The absolute highest-grade condition a comic book can be found in is pristine mint, which simply means that the comic is perfect in every single way. The cover to the issue has full color and luster, and every interior page is extra-white with no markings. The spine for the comic is flat and tightly-bound, with no blemishes, and properly placed staples.
Good luck finding a book like this, because pristine mint copies of any comic book issue are quite rare, and can sell for about 50% more than the typical market price for a near mint copy.
The Rest of the Best
Mint condition comics are still in top-grade condition, but may have very minor blemishes or flaws that are only noticeable upon close inspection of a book. These include minor flaws such as a spot of missing color at a corner of a page or near a staple. Still, these comics will demand up to 120 percent of the average market price.
This is the highest grade that most comic book price guides will list market prices for, and near-mint comic books should be considered as nearly flawless examples of that book. In this grade, any defects in the book are minor and typically attributable to the printing process of of printing, cutting, folding, stapling, and shipping the book. There may also be a bit of lost luster to the color of the cover, and older comics in this grade may feature discoloration because of aging.
Near-mint comic books are the grade you should be looking for when shopping for back issues of comic books, unless you do not mind some wear-and-tear from previous owners re-reading their comic before selling them.
Used Comic Books
A very fine comic book is one that shows slight signs of wear-and-tear, usually as a result of being read a couple of times. Of course, most back issues you buy from another private collector will have been read at least once. That's what these things are for, anyway. But if you buy from a dealer, it is possible that copies of the comics they sell will have never had a previous owner, and will therefore be in higher grade conditions. Learn to tell the difference, and try not to pay more than 80 percent of the market value for a book in very fine condition.
Not Too Shabby
An issue in fine condition has slightly noticeable wear to it, but is still flat with a shiny cover. There may be creases to the book, but there should be no writing on the cover, tape repairs, or dark yellowing on any pages. Expect to pay between 60 and 70 percent of the market value for a book in fine condition.
This Issue Has Been Read Many Times
It may be easier to think of a very good issue as one that has been read many, many times. The cover and pages have lost luster and show signs of discoloring. Minor markings pepper the issue, and there could even be a tear on the cover, but the book is still readable. You will find a lot of golden-age and silver-age books in this condition purely as a result of time marching on. Expect to pay about 40 percent of the market value for very good issues.
Very Worn, Average
Nothing is missing from an issue in good condition, but it could be torn, have a rolled spine, been repaired by tape, or even have browning pages.
Lots of Damage
A book listed in fair condition has extensive damage, with tears, creases, and blemishes throughout. Even so, it should be a complete issue, that can still be read and understood. If you are only looking to read an issue of something and the condition means nothing to you, fair is still as low as you want to go.
Books With No Cover
Or Books With Photocopied Covers
Issues that have no cover were originally reported as returned and destroyed in accordance with the policies of newsstand distribution and book sales. They are pretty much worthless compared to a book in near-mint or even fine condition, but if you are looking to read something you cannot find in any other condition, feel free to purchase one. However, you should not be paying more than a quarter of what the book would cost in good condition.
Difficult to Turn a Profit
A comic in poor condition is heavily damaged, either by weather, use, and/or the aging process. You want to make sure that if you buy a book like this, you want to keep it forever, because it will be exceedingly difficult to convince someone else to buy it from you in the future.
Reasons to Collect Comics
Do It The Way You Want
People collect comic books for many different reasons. You can collect them with the expectation that certain issues will increase in value and then you can sell your collection for a profit. Or you can buy back issues purely for the experience of reading a cultural artifact. Or it can be a mixture of the two. However you approach the hobby of comic collecting, make sure you do it the way you want, so that it remains a rewarding experience for years to come.