3 January 2018,

Ka-pow! How to maximize comics at auction

Condition is always a driving factor for determining high-value comics at auction, but there are many more considerations.

By James Myers, contributor

For those seeking advice about how to manage comic book auctions, it’s not a bad idea to take it from Rob Weiman, CAI, AARE, AMM, BAS, CES, GPPA,  who famously undertook an auction of 3,000 comic books with his wife, Tina, that garnered 500-plus world records and all sold for a combined total of more than $1 million.

Auctioneer featured the huge sale was 2009, which, unbelievably, was the duo’s first comic book auction despite their having been in the auction business for eight years at that point. They’ve gained a fair amount of notoriety since then, and they’ve picked up a lot of knowledge about comic book auctions.

It’s not uncommon for Auctioneers who specialize in estate sales to run into large lots of comics, which can be a lot of work for little money. Because of this, Weiman now will run through a checklist to determine if he’ll take on the task. Among the questions he asks:

• Who is the owner?
• What are their expectations?
• What comics do they have?
• Why are they selling them?
• How old are the comics?
• What condition are they in?

Determining who the owner is can affect the worth. For instance, if it’s a well-known collector or somebody famous, they are worth more than if they come from an unknown seller. In some cases, unfortunately, some collectors have an emotional attachment to the comics, and they’ll have an inflated value assigned to the collection.

Knowing what their expectations are from the beginning can help determine whether or not this will be the right auction for you.

“You can get yourself into a heaping helping of hurting if you get in there and they have a pie in the sky expectation that they’ve got a million dollars worth of books,” Weiman said.

Weiman prefers to work with sellers who have books that are marked with an original cover price of 25 cents or less and have no bar codes, because these are the attributes of older, valuable comics that will pull in higher bids at auction.

“What’s printed on the cover?” Weiman warned questioningly. “Some of these stores will take the 10-cent comic and raise the price to 12 cents. They just ruined it because you can’t get that sticker off without ruining the paper.”

Large collections can also weigh a ton (or more), which means the Auctioneer has a much bigger task in front of them as they have to handle, sort and store them before auction. The cost of shipping them from point A to point B alone can eat into the profits, forcing the Auctioneer to take a pass. Weiman had to do so on one potential auction of 20,000 comics and 20,000 magazines because they were located six hours from his base in St. Louis, Missouri.

The condition of the comics must also be taken into consideration.

Weiman once sold a Spiderman #1 comic for $3,000 and another one for $300 due to the difference in the condition. Determining the condition and worth of a comic is also a topic that requires accurate decision-making.

Comics: What’s the grade?

For example, Auctioneers need to have comics “graded” by companies like CGC, which is an independent, impartial third party comic book grading service.

Unfortunately, there is currently a backlog in the grading process, which means unless the comic is “walked in” to CGC, it could take more than a month for the book to be analyzed. The value of the book often depends on the grade (from zero to 10) that CGC gives it.

Weiman spent $55,000 having approximately 1,400 of the 3,000 comics in his world record auction graded.

“We don’t send them off unless we think they’re worth $200,” Weiman said of the books he sends to CGC. “If the book underperforms, and you spent $19 to $35 getting it graded, you’re upside down with your seller. Even if you’re careful, it can happen.”

Shipping is also something that has to be planned out as the insurance on a single comic they once shipped cost $2,000. Instead, use Collectibles Insurance.

“If I had insurance from Collectibles Insurance,” Weiman said, “we wouldn’t have paid those exorbitant rates for shipping.”

This article was an excerpt from a presentation given at the 2017 NAA International Auctioneers Conference and Show. Want even more tips regarding this topic? NAA members can access the full audio of this presentation and many others in the NAA Knowledge Center.