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Art and Value
"What is it worth?" One of the most frequently asked questions in collecting. Why is it asked? Many collectors are just preoccupied with financial value in collecting. So much so that collecting anything today is viewed much more for it's cash value than for it's aesthetic value. Unfortunately, collecting for cash, also known as investing (!) is not the best reason for collecting.
Comic book collecting was born in the early forties by folks who were looking to complete a particular run of comics so that they could be read over & over again whenever one wanted.Years later, in the late fifties, hobby pioneers such as Phil Seuling, Ken Mitchell, Robert Brown & Howard Rogofsky began to buy & sell "collectors issues", and at prices that frequently were above the nickel or dime that you paid at the used book store, which was the primary source for old comics at the time.
Seuling reportedly had a comic shop in Brooklyn, New York as early as 1957! It has been said that a Sensation Comics #1 was priced at a phenomenal two dollars (!) in his store & that Superman #1 or Marvel Comics #1 would sell for even more.
Art enthusiasts on the other hand were paying higher prices going back decades earlier. One such enthusiast, Murray Harris, had collected since the late twenties. Many pieces were gotten by contacting the artists, the news syndicate or otherwise - undoubtedly including cash purchases.
In the 1950's King Features syndicate would sell any daily strip available for the exorbitant price of five dollars, while Sunday strips commanded ten or fifteen. Alex Raymond "Flash Gordon" or Hal Foster "Tarzan" & "Prince Valiant" pages were only acquired for the princely sum of twenty five bucks!
It is doubtful that many of these art collectors would consider these "investments" and therefore likely that they were bought solely for appreciation of the art itself. Same goes for comics. One can only speculate to the reasons that publishers like Bill Gaines, Jerry Iger, Will Eisner or Marvel Comics kept original art for years in their respective vaults.
When collectors sought out needed issues at the 1968 New York comicon they promptly retreated to a corner to read their new finds, before going back into the comic book jungle to find more. When each collector got to the end of his cash, he usually went back into the dealers room and traded off already read books for others not yet seen. Rarely did collectors talk of cash value on these books or art, because it was almost always the last thing on one's mind at the time.
This changed after the Overstreet price guide was first published. It immediately turned material that was collected for fun into collecting for profit. The advent of the "price guide" reduced collecting to the level of commodity. What previously had a somewhat invisible cash value now had a specific cash value. Guide value!
In the twenty five years since the 1968 comicon we have seen a frenzied run with comics & comic art escalating in value at an exponential pace. The same Superman #1 that Seuling would have sold for a few dollars is now priced as high as sixty thousand today and it is known that $150,000. has been offered for the "Mile High" Marvel Comics #1. Original Flash Gordon pages can sell for as much as $15,000. or even more and a Ditko "Spider-Man" page which would have sold for a mere few dollars in 1975 would now sell for $500. and up.
With such comparatively high prices it is understandable why price is now such a preoccupation with so many people. It would be comforting to know that after spending $60,000. for a comic or a piece of art that you could sell it again yourself & recoup your purchase price, or better yet make a profit. But should it be such a major consideration when you buy or sell? Probably not.
Realistically collecting is just for fun if you are a true "hard-core" collector. For the hard core collector value usually gets in the way of wanting the item as opposed to anything else. Think about it. If you collect to keep the material "forever" does it really have a cash value at all? Can you get a bank loan or buy food with comics? Even comic art is not recognized as this type of asset. So the answer is simple, while the art (or comics) is invaluable, it is also worthless! Even the 50 cent comics are invaluable if it means a lot to you to have the books. But the most expensive items are worthless (or priceless) on the same level if your intent is enjoyment instead of investment.
So let's ask again "What is it worth?" The answer? If you enjoy it, it's worth the world. But if you don't enjoy it, can it be worth anything?