A closer look at the factors that influence the rarity of a comic book

Sunday, May 23, 2004

A Closer Look at the Availability and Rarity of Comics


By: David Dufrene

Nowhere is the word "rarity" used more often, it seems, than in the world of collectibles. You will see the words often: it is rare, this is a rarity, very rare, etc... But what does this mean? What makes a comic book rare? Price Guides, CGC, auctions houses and practicaly everyone will tell you that what determines a comic's value is its rarity. Well, just how we determine its rarity is a question seldom answered. I will attempt to shed some light on this.

What is being described as rare by most people is not rarity at all. What is being described is availibility. Amazing Spider-Man #1 is NOT rare. "Its merely popular and availibility is limited only by the amount of money in your pocket."

What has happened is that demand has outstripped supply. Market conditions then determine that the price goes up, but the issue is readily available if you have the money in your pocket to fork over the asking price.

First Let us define rarity. Webster's Dictionary gives us this: 1. rarity (noun) Object or event: Something that happens rarely or that is particularly interesting or valuable because it is so unusual. Next Let us define availability. Again Webster's Gives us this: 1. availability (noun) condition of being available: the condition of being available, especially of being easily accessible or obtainable.

Print Run When talking about the rarity of a comic book, we must begin where the comic begins: at the printer. A print run is the number of a particular issue that was printed. We begin here because this is a fixed amount if we can know how many of a issue were produced, then we know exactly how many there can actually be before taking in to account other factors. Of course, it's not that simple - finding the print run number of an issue can be a task within itself. Also, multiple runs of an issue (e.g.: 2nd printing, 3rd printing, etc) is another factor for the overall availability of the issue in question. Although the 1st printing would still be rare, having that many more issues of a particular comic would contribute to an increase in the availability of it and an decrease in the rarity of it. An example of a low printing run can be found on Black Panther #23 (Oct 2000) - a fairly new modern comic, but due to its low print run, it is extremely hard to find, hence its value is increased. Also the 2nd comic of almost any title is almost always harder to locate than its predecessor. Anyone collecting Fantastic Four can attest to how difficult it is to locate a #2 compared to the #1.

Condition The single most determining factor in a comic book's value and its rarity is condition... the better the condition, the more unlikely it is for you to find, plain and simple. Who doesn't remember the way we treated comics as kids? How many of us realized their potential value and treated them with the utmost care? More than likely they were read, brought to school in a lunch-box or folded in half and placed in your back pocket for later reading. Even more were colored on or written on, coupons or ads were torn out as well as centerfold and panels cut-out. We all have a story of the comic book we should have given better care. The condition of a comic is a major factor in the determination of its rarity. There are many examples of this; for example, one of the rarest comics of all is Action Comics #1, which is rare indeed at any grade. Only one copy has graded above an 8.5 according to the CGC census. ,Finding one at a Near Mint grade would be the equivalent of winning the lottery twice in a row. However, it should be noted that any comic post-1970 (superhero comics in particular) are fairly easy to find in high grade--once again, if you have the asking price in your pocket. Starting in the mid-1960's folks were buying comics and putting them away for resale, and by 1970 or so folks were much more aware that condition was a factor in collecting. After Overstreet's first guide there was no stopping it, everyone involved in the trade took nice care of their books, and by the 1980's there were more very fine copies of most books than there were very goods.

Unusual What makes a comic unusual? Character appearances, cross-over appearances, first appearance of a character, death of a character, guest stars, and major events are a few factors - there are many more. In general, those events which are out of the ordinary or remarkable make a comic book unusual and contribute to its rarity. Have you ever looked at a price guide and said to yourself, "Oh shoot, I have this issue, but if I had only gotten the next issue - it's worth five times what this one is!" Why is that? More than likely the next issue contained an unusual event such as the introduction of a character or something comparable.

Demand The demand for a particular issue is another determining factor in its availability. The reason for this is obvious. Collectors are less inclined to let go of a comic if the demand for it is great. Many collectors hoard or hold on to issues that are in high demand, forcing the cost of the issue even higher. You only have to look at the recent surge in the popularity of Spider-Man due to the blockbuster film to see what demand can do to the price of an issue and to the avaliabilty of it.

Age Age in itself in not a determining factor in so much as its an association to the other factors. In general, the older the comic, the smaller percentage of the print run is likely to have survived, particularly anything printed before or during the early years of World War II, Also, the more unlikely it would be to find it in a high quality condition. Due to the many introductions of characters during the "Golden Age" the chance of having an event occur that makes it unusual is more likely as well. Lastly, the demand of older comics due to the above factors will generally be greater.

It is a widely-accepted truth that the rarity of an certain comic is one of the driving forces that determines its value, as stated by many a collector. However, the factors that may determine its rarity are seldom laid out for you. Simply stating that a comic is rare does not make it that. The ploy of some of the publishers of placing an icon stating "Rare Collector Issue" or something similar, does not in itself make it rare. However, with a bit of research, most collectors should be able to determine if their potentially rare comic is indeed in short supply. For a source of information relating to a comics rarity, I suggest the Gerber Photo-Journal Guides, massive books which attempted to define rarity as well as value for each and every comic up to the early Silver Age. They're well worth checking into. As with any determination of the value of a collectible, researching the particular comics history and availability, and judging its condition, will help you to drawn a conclusion as to its true rarity.

In closing I will leave you with one final quote... "Rarity is rarity period. It's a determination of how many actually exist." by: Rickster

For further research into the rarity of a comic issue please see "Equations to Determine the Rarity of a Comic"

Professional Assistance By: Nick Pope & Win Bent Jr. Contributions By: The Rickster Edited By: "The Schoolmarm"